The Central government recently made an Amendment to the Right to Education Act 2009, which prescribes a revised Pupil Teacher Ratio (PTR) to account for the need of special education teachers in all schools.
This development comes in the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s direction in Rajneesh Pandey vs Union of India, a prolonged judgement which directed the Central government “to notify the norms and standards of pupil teacher ratio for special schools and also separate norms for special teachers who alone can impart education and training to Children with Special Needs (CwSN) in the general schools”.
In our previous pieces, we had discussed the judgment to shed light on the importance of special educators for imparting inclusive education and highlighted that the Central government's approach towards appointing special education teachers leaves room for further segregation of children with disabilities (CwDs).
This amendment prescribes appointment of 1 special education teacher for every 10 CwDs for classes 1 to 5, and 1 special education teacher for every 15 CwDs for classes 6 to 8.
Considering the general apathy of the RTE Act towards CwDs, this amendment to PTR requirements is a welcome move that can help in providing inclusive education for CwDs. At the same time, it is also necessary to be aware of the finer details of the Amendment to understand its implications for the education of CwDs.
First, neither the amendment nor the RTE Act define ‘special education teacher’ or their required qualifications. It does not refer to the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) (the nodal body in charge of special education teachers) which has already laid down such criteria.
The amendment also fails to account for the nature of disability and diverse student needs. Prescribing a standard PTR for special education teachers is not sufficient to ensure true inclusion of CwDs in education.
There is a need for accompanying provisions to account for varying PTR, as per the nature of disability. This approach was already adopted in the case of Ms. Reshma Parveen v. The Director, Directorate of Education, but fails to find a place in the amendment.
Finally, as has already been highlighted in the judgement as well as the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(RPWD) Act 2016, there is a need to pedagogically train all the teachers to teach and engage CwDs meaningfully.
Further, excessive reliance on utilising the services of itinerant teachers can be seen in the judgment of the Supreme Court as well as the amendment to the RTE Act.
However, it must be kept in mind that the services of itinerant teachers should only be utilised when there is a shortage of special education teachers. More importantly, active steps must be undertaken by the government to ensure that there is no dearth of special education teachers, so that the reliance on services of itinerant teachers can be minimal. It is vital to note that by providing for utilising the services of itinerant teachers within the RTE Act itself, the amendment falls short of truly creating a minimum number of posts for special education teachers in all schools.
The exceptions mentioned in the amendment, through note 2 and 3, also raise some crucial questions.
While note 2 places a limit of a maximum of 4 schools per itinerant teacher with each of them located not more than 5 km from each other, note 3 places the condition that Note 2 would apply only if at least fifty percent of the PTR is met.
The insistence on itinerant teachers to make efforts towards bringing more CwDs to the classroom to maintain the PTR, raises further challenges. Placing such additional responsibilities can overburden the itinerant teachers, thereby deprioritizing their core function of teaching.
In cases where the condition of maintaining fifty percent of PTR is not met, the amendment makes the provision for ‘adding nearby schools’ one by one until fifty percent of the PTR is met.
This approach further burdens the itinerant special education teachers as it makes it practically cumbersome to travel long distances between multiple schools and at the same time pay adequate attention to the educational support required by CwDs.
It can disincentivise such teachers from paying undivided attention to their core function of teaching. In effect, it also fails to impose any clear obligation on the State to ensure the availability of an adequate number of special education teachers in all the schools. Therefore, it is imperative that measures be taken to ensure that the exceptions provided in the amendment do not become a common practice, continuing the vicious cycle of exclusion of CwDs in education
Pooja Pandey is a Research Fellow working in the area of education at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.
Avinash Reddy Pichhili is a Project Fellow with Education Team at Vidhi.