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Akshar School, Kolkata

EducationWorld November 04 | EducationWorld

The passion and dedication which the teachers of Kolkata’s showpiece school display for mainstreaming challenged children is in conformity with a growing global movement for inclusive education

Established as recently as 1998 under the aegis of the Rajpal Khullar Memorial Trust to provide quality education to all children, with a special mission to mainstream challenged students, Kolkata’s Akshar School bills itself as a “co-ed inclusive school firmly rooted in the culture of India”. The moving spirit behind the school who has made the right of “all children to be included in the mainstream” of primary and secondary education his top priority is Deepak Khullar, chairperson of Akshar and a successful Kolkata-based restaurateur who believes it’s time to move away from stereotypical norms in Indian  education.

“There was an evident void in the education system when it came to quality education for special children. Akshar was born out of the urgent need for an institution that would provide all children the right to be included in the mainstream,” explains Khullar. Teaming up with accomplished educationist Neena Singh and wife Kavneet, a skilled special educator, he set up Akshar as an inclusive school ab initio. And the Khullars’ effort to establish a breakthrough school with special emphasis on mainstreaming challenged children is supported by Prof. Yashpal, well-known scientist and former chairman of the University Grants Commission (the chief patron of Akshar) and a host of other notables including trustee and vice chairperson of the Spastics Society of Eastern India, Sudha Kaul.

“Standardised assessments are inappropriate for children with learning disabilities; hence we assess their potential and make our evaluations based on research and practical work by renowned educators and doctors worldwide,” says executive director Neena Singh.

Adds principal Kavneet Khullar: “Right from the start our dream was to provide a platform for regular and special children to mix and grow together thereby contributing to each other’s development. In Akshar we set individual goals for students with special needs whom we welcome rather than discourage into mainstream education.” Currently this caring and compassionate school affiliated with the Delhi-based Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) offers personalised education to 380 kindergarten to class IX students instructed by 32 teachers.

Each class whose strength is restricted to an upper limit of 24 students, includes three special needs children. “The ceiling restriction on the number of children per class enables teachers to cater to the specific learning requirement of every child. Moreover each class functions with a trained teacher assisted by a co-teacher, both implementing the curriculum mandated by CISCE. The role of the co-teacher is to supplement the efforts of the class teacher by assisting special needs children, who are given additional tuition in specially-equipped resource rooms as well,” says Kavneet.

Although the Khullars and the school are committed to integrating special needs children, they are appreciative of the patience and talents of teachers who have qualified as special educators. “There will always be children for whom mainstream education is not feasible. Children with severe learning disabilities, major physical handicaps or behavioural problems may not benefit from the curriculum of mainstream education. The learning difficulties experienced by these children makes it unrealistic for them to share the regular curriculum. Therefore we have made provision for such children and they are entitled to the best education to the limit of their capabilities,” says Neena Singh.

The passion and dedication which the teachers of Kolkata’s showpiece school for inclusive education display is in conformity with a growing global movement for inclusive education. Though most headmasters and teachers in India seem unaware of it, as early as the mid-1980s, the National Education Policy (1986) recommended that every effort should be made to integrate physically and mentally challenged children into mainstream schools and within the community as equal partners, to enable them to face life with courage and confidence. In particular the NEP mandates that “wherever feasible, the education of children with motor handicaps and other mild handicaps will be common with that of the others.”

Likewise the Kochi Millennium Declaration, a resolution adopted following a four-day international convention held in Kochi, Kerala in January 2003 which attracted the participation of over 150 delegates from 30 countries resolved: “We call on national, state and local governments and international and donor agencies, to take immediate action to implement the agenda presented in this declaration and ensure inclusive education for all.”

Unfortunately despite awareness that this is ‘good practice’, there are very few schools in India which conform to the ideals of integrated education for all children.

At Akshar, the principal and staff are making a concerted effort to attain this ideal. For example special emphasis is given to developing communication skills. The institution fully supports the efforts of any child to interact with linguistically competent peers to develop his/ her language skills. In the case of children with specific learning disabilities like Down’s syndrome, teachers are cognizant of the need to integrate in the early years of schooling. This helps them develop language and cognitive skills faster than those educated in segregated schools for special needs children.

Not surprisingly Akshar’s students give a good account of themselves in inter-school competitions. All students, especially the integrated children, have numerous achievements in other areas of the curriculum such as music, gymnastics and dramatics to their credit. At last year’s annual school event, the entire student body presented a musical, which received excellent public response.

“We believe inclusive education is not just an academic issue, it’s also a human rights issue. No child should be denied access to the normal world of childhood in her community. All children need to grow and learn in the real world and their peers need to grow and learn together with them. Currently there are an estimated 40 million children across India with major and minor disabilities. We are convinced that the overwhelming majority of them have the capability to become full, participative and contributing members of society given the benefit of enabling inclusive education. In Akshar School we are working towards creating a replicable academic environment to make this happen,” says Kavneet Khullar.

Wind in your sails!

 

Admissions and fees

AdmissionFormal entrance exam for senior school (class IX-XI); KG-class 1: Reading, comprehension and math skills are tested conversationally.

FeesRs.1,050 per month.

Affiliation: Council of Indian School Certificate Examinations, Delhi. Applied for affiliation with the National Open School for Secondary Education.

For further information contact: 35, Diamond Harbour Road, Kolkata 700 027.

Phone: 24492810/3851.

E-mail: [email protected].

Shivangini Arora (Kolkata)

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