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India: Inclusion in education is the focus

Today, we are in Mumbai –  by the way, Indians still call it Bombay, its only the English and officials who use its new name. Had a short flight from Jaipur to here early in the morning, and after a quick catnap and lunch, we were off once more.

We visited a school this afternoon, right in the centre of Mumbai. It’s a government state school but very unusual in that they have 2 classes for mentally disabled children. It was wonderful. They all sang for us and then split into groups for a maths lesson which was right up my street.

I sat with children who were learning about money. They were shown the various denominations and had to repeat back their value, and they could handle them and play with them. It was fabulous. I must admit I was the naughty one in the back who kept distracting the other kids from their lesson with my camera.  They wanted to see themselves on the video screen, which they thought was very funny.

It was great to sit and talk to the kids, although they hadn’t a clue what I saying, and to hold hands. I’m hoping today we’ll be able to put some photos on the blog, so perhaps you’ll see a picture of Bivya, he looks tiny on the photo, guess how old he is. Go on guess…  He’s 10.

Lots of the children are small, because of malnourishment. The project director said, unless you treat that lack of nutrition before they are 2 years old, the children will then always be stunted and will never catch up. Also, if they are not receiving the required nutrition at this vital time, then brain development and function are also affected.

Inclusion in education is the focus of the project here. Not just targeting girls, and the very poor, but in this case children with mental disabilities. Of course anyone with a disability, physical or mental, in this society becomes bottom of the heap. So these classes are a real breakthrough. The aim is to educate them as far as possible to a level where they will be able to earn a living after the age of 18. So life skills are vital.

We watched the children learning to make garlands and bouquets  – which might provide them with an income. The parents were very vocal about their concerns and hopes for the future.

Save the Children has drastically improved the learning environment with colourful pictures and words all over the classroom walls. They are hoping to get a disabled toilet and ramp installed, non slip tiles in the bathroom and to improve some of the school furniture.

When we asked the teacher what she wanted, she said more man power. They currently have 2 teachers to 31 children, which is very inadequate for these children. And a therapist for speech and also a physical therapist to help the children with coordination. The parents wanted musical instruments, as some felt their children had musical talents that were not being encouraged.

But improving the environment and the inclusion is a start, with all these things, they will take time and there is always so much more that needs to be done. Everyone there felt there had been significant improvements since Save the Children had joined partners with the school.

Well that’s about it for today, very interesting again, and different to the work we’ve seen so far. Save the Children have a diverse range of projects in India, but underlying everything is the Rights of the Child. The right to life, the right to an education and a right to the future.

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