Shortage of special educators, equipment for differently-abled kids ails block resource centres in Jharkhand

Shortage of special educators, equipment for differently-abled kids ails block resource centres in Jharkhand

Shortage of special educators, equipment for differently-abled kids ails block resource centres in Jharkhand

Two teachers manage 200 differently-abled children at the BRC in Jharia, while the teacher-student ratio should have been 1:10  

Jharia, Jharkhand: Life came to a standstill for Raju Ram, a private electrician in Jharkhand’s Jharia, when he learnt that his daughter Pammi Kumari had cerebral palsy, a developmental disorder that affected movement and muscle tone or posture. Now 17, Kumari’s condition has improved due to the training she received for over a decade at the state government-owned Block Resource Centre (BRC).

Catering to the needs of physically and mentally challenged children, the BRC imparts training thrice a week. However, in Pammi’s case, constant care has improved her condition to such an extent that just one session in a month or two is enough for her now.

Despite being of help to dozens of children, the facility suffers from severe manpower and equipment shortages. "When my daughter joined the centre in 2013, four special educators were managing over 100 children. The situation has only worsened since then as two teachers have been transferred to other centres due to staff crunch there,” said Raju.

Echoing his sentiments, Hasina Khatoon, the grandmother of cerebral palsy-affected Md Sajjad Ansari (15), said, "My grandson could not stand or walk. He had the issue of drooling too. Before enrolling him at the BRC about seven years ago, we were not sure if he would ever lead a normal life."

Things improved gradually for Sajjad once he was put on training that included exercises like joint rotation and stretching “Now, he often plays cricket with his friends. Had the BRC not been there, his condition would have been different,” said Khatoon, adding that they could not afford private training due to the meagre income of Sajjad's father Imtiyaz Ansari, a daily wage labourer whose six-member family includes two other sons and wife. To supplement the family income, Khatoon works as a housemaid in the neighbourhood.

“The BRC does not have physiotherapy equipment and cerebral palsy chair. But the special educators make up for all these shortcomings through their personal efforts. I cannot forget how physiotherapist Dr Manoj Singh and speech therapist Akhlaque Ahmad never let the training be interrupted, even during the COVID-19 period, by making house visits," said Khatoon.

Akhlaque Ahmad, a speech therapist, trains visually challenged students with the help of braille equipment (Photo - Shabbir Hussain, 101Reporters)

The training at BRC is supplementary, with the children receiving formal education in nearby schools. Also, the number of sessions required and the frequency of visits of a child to the BRC depend on the severity of the case. Children are divided into groups as per their common needs to make training easier. Additionally, the BRC staff address the training needs of bedridden students by visiting their houses.

"As per the norms, each school should have at least one special educator to address the training and care requirements of special children. But the irony is that even the resource centres meant for children with special needs are deprived of the required number of teachers,” Dr Singh told 101Reporters.

Crippled to the core

The BRCs function under the Inclusive Education Programme of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), now subsumed under Samagra Shiksha. Most of them were operational even before they came into the SSA fold. Forget better or new facilities, the only thing that changed with the SSA inclusion was the increase in workload for teachers as more students were enrolled, starting from screening in anganwadis to the start of training from Class III.

According to Dr Singh, the ambit of training of the BRC was Class VI to Class X students. Later, it became from Class III to XII. “This increased pressure on us. But at the same time, the manpower continued to decline," said Dr Singh, adding that they had held protests across the state to bring to the fore the pitiable condition of resource teachers who get meagre honorariums, but without much success. 

“Acute manpower shortage is the biggest handicap of the BRCs. Every centre should have at least one physiotherapist, speech therapist, occupational therapist and clinical psychologist. Unfortunately, many of the 200 BRCs in the state (which has a total of 260 blocks) operate only with one teacher. Our centre has two teachers,” Ahmad told 101Reporters.

The BRC employees are contract staff who get an honorarium of Rs 15,460 per month. In contrast, the private/health sector pays for the same work. “As a result, even the existing teachers are compelled to leave the job for private ones,” said Ahmad.

Established in 2005, the BRC in Jharia offers training to 200 children with conditions such as cerebral palsy and autism, those with hearing difficulties and the visually challenged. The resource staff were hired for a period of one year in 2005, but their contracts were not renewed in the following years. However, they continue to get their salaries to date.

 Dr Manoj Singh, the physiotherapist at Jharia's block resource centre, carries out an examination  (Photo - Shabbir Hussain, 101Reporters)

All the BRCs are housed in existing schools, block offices or anganwadis. Meetu Sinha, Assistant Programme Officer of the Inclusive Education Programme, said, “There are no separate funds at the district level for these facilities, but the state education department meets the salary expenses of teachers. Equipment is also provided by the state department… We have recently sent a proposal to the education department for the construction of ramps at Jharia and Purbi BRCs.”   

All the BRCs were recently provided with some equipment. “But considering the load of students at each of these centres, the entire infrastructure seems insufficient… The rooms are too small to accommodate all the students at one go. So, they have to attend in shifts on alternate days," said Ahmad.

Non-compliance with norms

"As per the norms of the Ministry of Education, the teacher-student ratio at the BRC should be 1:10, but here it is 1:100,” said Ahmad. In larger blocks in the district, where the geographical terrain is too complex, the job of teachers becomes difficult as they are also required to carry out surveys of all schools in their respective blocks to ensure early detection, identification and medical assessment of children with special needs. For this, teachers need to be in touch with the primary health centre of that particular area.

The BRCs should keep a record of children with special needs in the block and provide them with training in one form or the other. They are also required to monitor that all schools in the block are barrier-free and disabled-friendly.  

Acknowledging the poor condition of BRCs in Jharkhand, Pramod Kumar, the State Nodal Officer of the National Trust, told 101Reporters, “Instead of one BRC, at least two to three such centres should be functioning in each block. Moreover, the existing BRCs do not have the necessary equipment. They are also deprived of teachers.”

A statutory body of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the National Trust is set up under the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999.

Compared to Jharkhand, the situation is far better in Rajasthan, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh. “In Rajasthan, every centre has at least two special educators. Recently, the state government also initiated the process of recruiting 4,000 more special educators so that each school at least has one such teacher at the school level itself. This can bring down the workload of BRCs,” Kumar said.

Students from Jharia's BRC carry out an awareness drive (Photo - Shabbir Hussain, 101Reporters)

“Jharkhand’s schools also need to have a resource room and special educators. The private schools affiliated to the CBSE and ICSE should not hesitate in admitting special children," Kumar, also the Director (Academic & Projects) of Deepshikha Institute for Child Development and Mental Health, said.  

Not just training, special students also face difficulties in accessing their disability pension. The other two financial help they can avail of are transportation aid from home to school and back, and assistance from the welfare department for their study, ranging from Rs 50 to Rs 100 per class, depending on their seniority.

Jharia-based Nikhat Parveen, whose 17-year-old daughter faces difficulties in hearing, said, "My husband works at a tailoring shop in Jharia and earns less than Rs 5,000 per month. Irregular receipt of disability pension is a big issue for people like us who are not financially well-off."

Cover photo: The Block Resource Centre in Jharia, Dhanbad (Photo - Shabbir Hussain, 101Reporters)

Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli


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