Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Review: Published in Asia Pacific Journal of Education (APJE) (Routledge) 2008

Handbook of inclusive education for educators, administrators, and planners: within walls,
without boundaries, edited by M. Puri and G. Abraham, New Delhi, Sage Publications, 2004,
309 pp., GB£15.99 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-7619-3266-6

Visually impaired from early childhood, studied in an inclusive set up, graduated in Mathematics
from St. Stephen’s College, did post graduation from Delhi University, worked as an advertising
professional with two of the largest advertising agencies for over nine years, organized two World
Cups, was honored to run with the Olympic Torch at Atlanta and had the privilege of being a part of
the elite Discovery channel series called Discovery People – a reasonable success story, don’t you
(Abraham, 2004, p. 97)

This is just one of the many success stories of people with some kind of impairment who have
had the good fortune of inclusive education.
Beginning with children’s right to education as laid out by the United Nations, the authors
explore the various initiatives taken by national and international organisations to meet the
educational objectives of disabled children in India. According to them, one of the main reasons
for the objectives not being met, particularly in the Indian context, is that education for disabled
children is treated as a welfare programme rather than a necessary part of their growth and
development as individuals.

Inclusive education is to bring children who are disabled or who experience learning
difficulties into the mainstream schools as early as possible. By doing this, it enables these
children to be more aware of the real world and thereby gives them more access to knowledge
and information. Excluding them and keeping them in prolonged association with other children
who share their impairment makes them unprepared to face the challenges in the real world after
they complete their schooling. However, the authors do acknowledge and discuss the challenges
that will have to be faced in order for inclusion to be successful.

The book is systematic in its presentation. The first part, Unit 1, focuses on what inclusive
education is, the laws and policies that are in place for the disabled, and the kinds of such
education available in India.

Unit 2 focuses on the different impairments and provides an excellent resource for those who
wish to work with these children. Experts in diverse areas such as hearing, vision, orthopaedic
and intellectual impairment, learning disability, cerebral palsy and autism spectrum disorder
have contributed useful chapters which provide detailed information on ways to help these
children. A valuable inclusion in the chapters on each impairment are fact sheets that give the
reader some general background of the disorder and a number of pointers on how these children
can be educated in school.

Along with the facts are interesting vignettes on the lives of some of these children who have
succeeded in such inclusive schools in spite of their impairment, and these truly gladden and
inspire the reader. One such example is a vignette of a 15-year-old boy, Pavan, studying in a
New Delhi school. He suffers from a genetic condition called Noonan’s Syndrome. It is a
common condition of those suffering from congenital heart abnormalities and affected persons
may have learning difficulties, apart from impaired physical and mental functioning. Pavan
narrates his experience in the school, the lessons he likes and those he dislikes, his anguish when
he is teased by his classmates but also his willingness to learn and do his best, come what may.
His father also shares his experiences of raising a special child and the challenges involved,
particularly when Pavan moves on to classes at a higher level. “When the going gets tough, the
tough get going” is the motto that inspires them and keeps them going.

Educating a child with special needs requires the active co-operation of special educators,
parents, the school and the child working as a team. How this was planned and carried out,
together with its difficulties and rewards, is skilfully presented in the case of a child suffering
from autism spectrum disorder in the chapter by Mythily Chari. These examples and case studies
serve as an excellent resource for people working with special children, who are constantly in
search of ways to reach out to these children.

In the chapter on children with orthopaedic impairments by Anjlee Agarwal, sketches of
rooms, doors, ramps, wash sinks and toilets are provided with detailed measurements so that
school building planners are able to design them suitably to meet the needs of these children.
Classroom accessibility and seating arrangements are other important aspects to be borne in
mind for children with this impairment and designed with care. The chapter is well thought out
and the author shows how all these can be achieved.

Many things can be done for children with special needs, but the greatest barrier to progress
is prejudice and ignorance, especially in rural schools. The author of the chapter on Schools in
Rural Areas, Indumathi Rao, provides guidelines for school administrators on how to deal with
these barriers and develop a curriculum with the involvement of the parents and the community.
Again, a case study of such an initiative in a village in Karnataka, a state in Southern India,
provides the reader with a practical approach to the challenges of inclusive education.
The last segment of the book discusses the role of special schools, issues for policy makers
and school administrators, and amendments that need to be made to the law and policy. This
wraps up the issues discussed in the book and, at the same time, alerts the reader to the path that
still lies ahead.

The editors have done a brilliant piece of work by providing a list of appendices, which
includes frequently asked questions and standard rules on the equalisation of opportunities for
persons with disabilities, among other useful ones. The book also gives us a glossary of
important terms and is well indexed. And in case you want to know who the contributors to the
various chapters are, their brief biographies appear at the end of the book. However, it would
have been a good idea to provide the contact addresses of these experts, as people working in the
field of special education may want to consult them. This is one minor shortcoming of an
otherwise excellent book.

Handbook of inclusive education for educators, administrators and planners: within walls,
without boundaries truly lives up to its title. Though it is focused mainly on the Indian context
and all the contributors are Indian, they have been successful in making readers aware of the
universality of inclusive education. This makes the book relevant to all cultures and societies.
For a long time, we have built our education systems on the premise that all students are the same
in terms of physical and mental capacities. This book urges us to recognise the differences in
students and appreciate their uniqueness so that we can build a society suitable for all human
beings, each one working on his or her strengths and achieving their maximum potential.

Radhi Raja
UniSIM, Singapore
2008, Radhi Raja