To compile the 2020-21 league table of dedicated special needs schools, C fore field personnel interviewed 485 parents of children with disabilities and special needs educators in six cities. They were asked to rate dedicated schools on ten parameters of education excellence
According to Unesco’s State of the Education Report for India 2019 — Children with Disabilites — India grudgingly hosts 7.8 million children with disability — a gross under-estimate. The Mumbai-based Adapt (formerly Spastics Society of India) estimates the number of children with special needs (CWSN) at 20 million.
Be that as it may, informed opinion is unanimous that the country’s large number of CWSN have been chronically short-changed by the education system. This despite educators consistently unanimous that with minimal additional facilities and attention, special needs children can be transformed into highly educated and productive citizens. A prime example of an individual with disability who was nurtured and enabled to transform into a distinguished theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and professor of mathematics at Cambridge University (UK) is Dr. Stephen Hawking (1942-2018). Dr. Hawking was enabled by UK’s supportive education ecosystem to make huge contributions to advancement of theoretical physics and space science.
Unfortunately, although post-independence India has also produced distinguished scholars and scientists with severe disabilities, they have succeeded despite unsupportive environments, not because of them. However, the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, proclaimed in end-July, acknowledges the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, and its provisions for inclusive education. It endorses non-discrimination in schools, accessible infrastructure, reasonable accommodation, individualised support, use of Braille and Indian Sign language in teaching. The policy document mandates recruitment of special educators with cross-disability training and incorporates disabilities awareness within teacher education.
en advocating inclusive education and enabling environments for CWSN ab initio. For instance, way back in 2011, special needs education was selected as one of 14 parameters for rating and ranking India’s Top 1,000 schools in the pioneer annual EducationWorld India School Rankings (EWISR). “Schools that don’t provide enabling facilities for CWSN are penalised in EWISR,” says Premchand Palety, promoter-CEO of Centre for Forecasting & Research Pvt. Ltd (C fore) which conducts field surveys to provide the perceptual data for the annual EWISR which over the past decade, has evolved into the world’s most detailed and largest primary-secondary schools survey. Moreover since 2015, the country’s schools dedicated to educating severely challenged children have been ranked separately.
To compile the 2020-21 league table of India’s Top 25 dedicated special needs schools, C fore field researchers interviewed 485 parents of CWSN and special needs educators in six cities. They were asked to rate and rank special schools on ten parameters of education excellence — teacher welfare and development, competence of faculty, quality of program, rehabilitation, co-curricular education, individual attention to students, leadership/management quality, safety and hygiene, infrastructure provision and value for money.
This year, The Aditya Birla Integrated School, Mumbai (TABIS, estb.2014) promoted by philanthropist Neerja Birla, which was ranked #3 last year, has been voted the country’s #1 special needs school with top score on four of ten parameters of special needs education excellence.
“This promotion to #1 is a matter of great pride for TABIS and we would like to thank your sample respondents for taking note of the commitment of our teachers and staff to provide new technologies-enabled learning environments. Our latest initiative is to offer our students the more flexible IGCSE programme of the UK-based Cambridge International board from the new academic year beginning June 2021. This gives our students the option to choose between the national NIOS and an international curriculum,” says Piya Marker, an education postgraduate with specialisation in learning disabilities of SNDT University, Mumbai, and director-head of school.
In the Top 5 table Tamana Autism Centre — School of Hope, Delhi promoted in 1992 by celebrated educationist Dr. Shayama Chona, retains its #2 ranking with top scores under the parameters of teacher welfare & development, teacher competence and leadership quality. However, the Academy for Severe Handicaps and Autism, Bengaluru (ASHA, estb.1995), ranked #1 in 2019-20 has been voted #3 this year, followed by SPJ Sadhana School, Mumbai #4 (4) and Mata Bhagwanti Chadha Niketan (MBCN), Noida (4) completing the Top 5 table.
Fionika Sanghvi, principal of SPJ Sadhana School, Mumbai (estb.1973) — “the country’s first specialist school that nurtures severely challenged children through utilisation of innovative therapies and pedagogies” — is satisfied that the school has maintained its Top 5 ranking. “We thank your respondents for recognising the commitment and passion of our highly qualified teachers and staff, and look to higher ranked schools to share their best practices with us. It will motivate us to strive towards continuous improvement. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to devise online pedagogies which is not an option for CWSN in normal circumstances. But there has been a visible attitudinal shift from scepticism to surprise and satisfaction from our parents community to our online academic and vocational programmes, which are showing excellent results,” says Sanghvi, an education and commerce alumna of Bombay and Madhya Pradesh Bhoj universities, with a diploma in education from the Rehabilitation Council of India, Delhi. Currently, SPJ Sadhana School, Mumbai has 127 students mentored by 42 teachers and staff.
The Top 10 table of special needs schools is completed by the Sweekar Academy of Rehabilitation Sciences, Secunderabad ranked #6 (#5 in 2019-20) followed by Asha Kiran Special Needs School, Bengaluru #7 (6), Sanchetna, Noida #8 (9), Aatman Academy, Thane #9 (7) and the previously unranked Srishti Child Development & Learning Institute, Delhi and Sunderji Institute of Special School, Pune (7) jointly ranked #10.
Sharmila Chatterjee, principal of Sanchetna, Noida (estb.2009) — promoted by the Billabong High International School, Noida over a decade ago — is delighted with the school’s continuous rise in the special needs schools league table. “Our improved rank this year reaffirms that we are moving in the right direction. The credit for this should be given to our teachers as also to our pupils and parents for reposing their faith and trust in us. I’m especially pleased that we are top-ranked under the parameter of rehabilitation as this is a core priority of our vision and values,” says Chatterjee, an alumna of Delhi University and Indian Institute of Human Rights, New Delhi. Currently, Sanchetna has 52 students and 17 teachers on its muster rolls.
Further down the league table of India’s most respected special needs schools, most institutions have marginally ceded rank because of the debut of two previously unranked institutions — Shristi Child Development & Learning Institute, Delhi at #10 and Brindavan Education Centre, Bengaluru at #18.