By Avinash Reddy and Pooja Pandey
Pupil Teacher Ratio (PTR) is an important determinant of the quality of education delivery and can also be used as a means to assess the workload of teachers and their subsequent performance.
The RTE Act, in its schedule, provides clear norms for PTR in primary (30:1) and secondary levels of school education (35:1). However, an ideal PTR could vary, depending on the stage of education as well as the learning needs of a child, including for inclusive schools.
In this article, drawing from the recent judgment of the Supreme Court in Rajneesh Pandey vs Union of India, we try to understand how PTR operates in schools providing inclusive education, especially in relation to children with disabilities.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act provides a clear definition of inclusive schools, i.e., schools imparting education to both children with and without disabilities by making the necessary adaptations to the curriculum, pedagogy, infrastructure etc. to make education accessible for all children. In such schools, the delivery of educational and allied needs of students with disabilities are delivered by two categories of teachers: general teachers and special educators.
The latter belong to a specific category of teachers with differing norms of employment and are overseen by the Rehabilitation Council of India(RCI). A detailed account of the landscape of special educators in the framework for inclusive education has been covered separately by the authors in another article.
In October 2021, the Supreme Court in the case of Rajneesh Pandey vs Union of India directed the Central government to notify the pupil teacher ratio for special educators who alone can teach children with disabilities even in inclusive schools.
In response, it has been reported that the Ministry of Education filed a compliance affidavit before the Court stating that it has accepted the pupil teacher ratio for special educators in inclusive schools as recommended by the Rehabilitation Council of India (‘RCI’) – i.e. 10:1 at the primary level and 15:1 at the upper primary, secondary and higher secondary level.
In this judgment, the Supreme Court had referred to the case of Ms. Reshma Parveen v. The Director, Directorate of Education, more specifically to the recommendations made by the State commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (PwD), National Capital Territory of Delhi. The said recommendations acknowledged the dynamic nature of enrolment of students with different disabilities in the schools, and stated that there is no rationale to make a provision for special educators per school.
Further, it differentiates between the varying need for support among children with disabilities, by prescribing PTRs based on the nature of disability, i.e. “1 : 8 for children with cerebral palsy, visual impairment and hearing impairment, 1 : 5 for children with intellectual disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Specific learning disabilities; and 1 : 2 for Deaf-Blind and a combination of two or more of the seven disabilities mentioned above.”
As a stopgap arrangement until the Centre notified the pupil teacher ratio, the Supreme Court had directed the adoption of the pupil teacher ratios for different disabilities, as recommended in this case. It, therefore, provided a reasonable yardstick, accounting for the varying needs of children with different disabilities and reflecting them in the classroom PTR.
However, the reportedly accepted pupil-teacher ratio of 10:1 at the primary level and 15:1 at other levels of schooling does not account for the varying levels of support required by children with different disabilities.
Further, this pupil teacher ratio is ill-thought-out due to the following reasons -
a) The appointed special educators may not be trained to teach the enrolled Children with Disabilities (CwD), unless all such special educators are equipped with cross-disability training; b) In the absence of a clear set of regulations to utilise the services of special educators either through a bilingual mode of teaching or as shadow teachers, such a PTR may also result in the segregation of CwD even within the schools to facilitate their education.
It can further result in clubbing of CwD across different classes such that they can be taught by the special educators.
Crucially, the positive implication of prescribing the PTR for CwD by amending the RTE is that it will provide a much needed push for creating permanent posts for special educators in all schools, as against the prevailing practice of appointing itinerant special educators which not only overburdens them but also affects the access to quality education for children with disabilities.
It also offers a further possibility of changes by ensuring that the prescribed PTR in the RTE Act accounts for varying needs of the different CwD, while also providing for special educators as shadow teachers.
Lastly, for inclusion to truly happen, special educators and general teachers must work in tandem. This approach requires the respective governing bodies [i.e. the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) and the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE)] to coordinate effectively with each other, efforts for which have happened in the past through an MoU between the said bodies.
However, this is still no clear indication of the effectiveness and impact of such synergies. The prerogative of inclusive education can never be achieved if only the special educators are made responsible for teaching CwD, without meaningful participation of all the other actors in education, including the regular teachers.
Avinash Reddy is a Project Fellow at the Inclusive Education Team of the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.
Pooja Pandey is a a Senior Resident Fellow, Inclusive Education, at Vidhi.
Vidhispeaks is a column on law and policy curated by Vidhi. The views expressed are of the fellow and do not reflect the views of Vidhi or Bar & Bench.