By : Keshav Pariat
Shillong(Meghalaya): It is a sad fact that people with disabilities still suffer from discrimination despite progress made in society – both government and civil society – to break down barriers.
One of the ways to do is to start early through ‘inclusive education’, where students with special needs spend most or all of their time with mainstream students. Such an example in Shillong is found in the sister schools of Dwar Jingkyrmen and Stonyland, which are located in the Dhanketi area of the city.
Dwar Jingkyrmen was started some three decades ago as a school for children with special needs. Stonyland, a mainstream institution, is much younger, having only begun in 2010 with three children.
The school now has 91 and teaches up to Class V, with an expansion to Class VI next year in the works.
At Stonyland for every 10 mainstream students in a class there is one with special needs.
“We have found that this ratio works,” school founder Zeenat Ali said on Tuesday. “Any more than that and the teachers find it difficult to give the amount of attention and care that a child with special needs would require,” she added.
Singing, games and drills, however, are conducted with the students of Stonyland and Dwar Jingkyrmen together.
Besides bringing children together, the two schools decided to hold a student concert today with a special emphasis on getting the parents of mainstream children and those with special needs to interact and get to know each other better.
“This was because usually parents, whether of children with special needs or mainstream, often just come to the school to drop their kids off without really interacting,” Zeenat Ali’s husband and co-founder Sajjad Ali said.
Some of Shillong’s smaller schools have taken in students with special needs and now more and more of the larger ones are doing so as well.
Zeenat Ali sees this as a positive trend as maintaining a school solely for special needs students is very expensive.
Extending Stonyland to Class VI is also going to require the construction of new classrooms and funding is a constant worry. Nevertheless Zeenat Ali is positive about the move.
“I’ve always been an optimist. Over three decades Dwar Jingkyrmen has had many obstacles and hurdles but we’ve overcome them,” she said with a smile.