Promoting Inclusive Education
Subha Chandrashekhar, a participant of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Program for International Teachers, works to make education inclusive for children with special needs.
Subha Chandrashekhar is head of the mental health department at Delhi Public School (DPS) Rohini in New Delhi. She has over 22 years of experience working in the field of inclusive education in India. She is one of the pioneers of inclusive educational practices for children with special needs and children from the marginalized sections of society in mainstream schools.
Chandrashekhar is a participant of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Program for International Teachers in 2019. The focus of her research is learning new and flexible curriculum pedagogy that can be adapted by mainstream schools in India and be effectively implemented in heterogeneous classrooms. She is an advocate of pedagogical practices that can promote greater inclusivity and use of assistive technology in classrooms in both India and the United States.
What is inclusive education and what are some of its main goals?
In the 21st century, classrooms across the globe essentially have heterogeneous learners. Inclusive education is providing equitable, accessible education to every child, irrespective of differences in abilities, and cultural, economic and social backgrounds. To me, inclusive education is an active ongoing process where both the teachers and the students participate and communicate. The goal is to make sure that no child is left behind. It requires continuous revisiting of strategies and methodologies to ensure that students become goal-directed and lifelong learners.
Could you tell us about your work integrating special needs children and marginalized groups into mainstream schools in India?
I started working on inclusion of children with special needs in 1999. I used to visit mainstream schools to provide guidance to teachers to help them teach the children with different abilities already enrolled in these schools. In 2001, I joined Delhi Public School Rohini, as a full-time special educator and counselor. I created modules for in-service teachers working at different levels to sensitize them about learners who struggle in the classroom and fail to perform as expected. These modules included information about different categories of disabilities and their characteristics, and were designed for teachers from different departments i.e. modules for language teachers, modules for science and mathematics teachers and so on. There were different modules for primary, middle school and high school teachers.
I also introduced a Special Education Program for students diagnosed with disabilities. This included providing remedial education on a one-to-one basis for them.
The next step was to help the teachers make the curriculum flexible to enable the students to perform better in the classroom. This involved training in remedial methods that could be used in the classroom, behavioral strategies to motivate the underachievers and accommodations that could help the students perform in the assessments without affecting the assessment criteria.
I also continuously conducted training sessions on multiple intelligences, effect of rewards and positive reinforcements, and gender equity, to help teachers understand their students better. Simultaneously, I worked with parents of the underachievers to help them understand the needs of their wards and to support them in the right way.
By October 2001, I was conducting awareness programs for teachers of satellite schools under the aegis of Delhi Public School Society (DPSS), thereby pioneering inclusive practices in schools other than the one I was based in.
Over the last 18 years, I have conducted innumerable training programs for in-service teachers, principals and special educators to initiate and sustain inclusive programs in their respective schools.
Since 2016, I have been training teachers to implement Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a curricular approach given by Dr. David Rose from Harvard University and others, which aims at making curriculum flexible to accommodate diverse learners.
What has changed in 22 years of your work in the field?
Earlier, I was focusing on inclusion of students with disabilities. Since the last few years, I have focused on providing inclusive and equitable education for all struggling learners. These include students who are struggling with English, those who are the first-generation students to attend school, students from economically weaker sections of the society as well as ensuring that the high performing students are not at a disadvantage due to curricular changes. I have also continuously worked to sensitize students about life skills, which includes handling their emotions, dealing with stress, communicating effectively and dealing with setbacks.
How did the Fulbright program impact your career?
The Fulbright program has left an indelible impact on me. Apart from enriching me in multiple ways, including expanding myself professionally and culturally, it has made me realize that I have a huge responsibility to give back to my country and contribute to the field of special education.
You have studied and observed inclusive education practices in the United States. Are there any special practices that you feel will also work in India?
Some of the practices which will work in India are:
• Coordination between special educators and general educators.
• Flexible and accessible curriculum.
• Career and technical education (CTE) in the United States is called vocational education in India. CBSE has provided plenty of such courses, but not all schools provide these options to students. A lot of importance given to academic courses in comparison to vocational courses.
In India, the CBSE offers alternative subjects for CWSN [children with special needs] from Class IX, which can be studied in lieu of subjects like maths and science, which may be challenging to many students with disabilities. These alternative subjects can allow the students to pursue a degree or diploma at the undergrad level. The United States does not have this flexibility. This is a commendable aspect of the Indian education system.
What is the role of technology in facilitating inclusivity?
Technology is a huge boon in facilitating inclusivity. Starting from low-grade assistive technology, like pencil grippers, classrooms today are equipped with smart interactive boards that can provide audio-visual input to all types of learners. In the near future, flipped classrooms and use of the Internet to augment and support learning and aid in assessment will lead to better inclusivity.
Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.