New India, experts believe, will need overhaul of its education system. In an exclusive interaction with PWi, Dr. Swaroop Sampat-Rawal shared her insights into the reforms Indian education system need to be transformed into a system based on innovation, life skills and inclusion. Former Miss India and Bollywood superstar, Dr Swaroop Sampat-Rawal has been recently conferred an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Worcester to recognise her contribution to the field of education and inclusion.
Dr Swaroop Sampat-Rawal studied for a PhD in Education at Worcester, graduating in 2006. Her doctoral thesis was on the theme of using drama to enhance life skills in children with learning disabilities. When Dr Sampat-Rawal proposed to teach life skills in the government primary school in her home state of Gujarat, its then chief minister, and now India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, instantly agreed to extend support to mission.
She is a member of the Governing Council for Save the Children, whose mission is to create lasting change in the lives of disadvantaged children in India, and worked with UNICEF to conceptualise a training curriculum for Jeevan Kaushalya, an adolescent girls project in Gujarat.
Here are the selected excerpts of the e-interaction:-
PWI: As to the advantages of deploying Drama as a learning tool for children with disabilities?
Dr. Swaroop Sampat-Rawal: A life skills educational programme needs to be incorporated into schools in the interest of the children’s mental well-being. A competent life skills programme should be concerned not only with the prevention of emotional and psychosocial problems but should also be focussed at management and enhancing pro-social behaviour. Researches have all stressed the need for an innovative and a child-friendly curriculum in mental health education.
Teaching techniques that integrate active learning need to be incorporated into a life skills educational programme to increase its efficiency. As life skills education is a dynamic process it cannot be learned or enhanced on the basis of information or discussion alone. Expecting children to change their behaviour merely by providing information is impracticable . It must also include experiential learning. Experiential learning involves a ‘direct encounter with the phenomena being studied rather than merely thinking about the encounter, or only considering the possibility of doing something about it.’ .
Teachers need to move beyond lecturing to create a stimulating learning environment as life skills learning cannot be facilitated on the basis of information or discussion alone. Moreover, rote-learning style of Indian education cannot facilitate life skills enhancement as participants merely sit passively taking in information and subsequently merely memorise the lesson. Importantly, the lessons need to be designed creatively to understand diversity in learning styles of children especially children with SpLD.
Life skills learning is facilitated by the use of participatory learning methods and is based on a social learning process which includes: hearing an explanation of the skill in question; observation of the skill (modelling); practice of the skill in selected situations in a supportive learning environment (scaffolding); and feedback about individual performance of skills.
I perceive drama as a natural vehicle for active and experiential learning as it is an extension of the imaginative, pretend play of childhood. This diploma highlights the effectiveness of drama in enhancing the psychosocial aspect of a child’s growth and suggests that drama can play an important role in education. This makes drama a suitable approach for delivering a competent life skills curriculum.
Moreover, I believe drama creates an opportunity for vicarious learning that is learning by observing others. ‘Modelling’ can have a powerful effect on learning. Modelling can be exploited to broaden horizons- to teach new ways of thinking , can be effectively used to teach new behaviour and used to encourage already learnt behaviour. Moreover, modelling facilitates learning life skills in the safe environment of the school. Scaffolding is also used here- this means of assistance of adults and able peers as supports. The support could be clues, reminders, and encouragement, breaking the problem down into steps, providing examples, or anything else that allows a student to grow in independence as a learner. I believe Bruner’s method of ‘scaffolding’ is similar to the methods used in drama.
I perceive drama as an effective tool for the implementation of a life skill enhancement project. Drama enables children to make connections and understand complex life situations and human intricacies. Intrinsically drama is a multi-sensory mode of learning, and can increase awareness of self and others. It can enhance communication skills, creative thinking skills and interpersonal skills through experiential learning. At the same time drama democratise the classroom for the reason that it relies on co-creative input. Collaboration, mutual decision-making and problem-solving are central to the process of drama. Additionally, role-play in drama allows the participants to imagine what life is like for another person; even in a situation they are not familiar with, thus encouraging empathetic skills.
PWI: How special are these children and do they end up contributing their bit effectively?
When we deal with Inclusive Education we need to remember that it is not only about disabled children and children with learning difficulties. Inclusive Education refers to an education system which takes into account the learning needs of all children and young people; street children, girl children, ethnic minority group children, children from economically poor families, children’s whose family migrate for work, children from nomadic families, children with HIV/AIDS. Inclusive education ensures that these children are offered equal rights and opportunities to education.
Inclusive education is based on the simple idea that every child and family is valued equally and deserves the same opportunities and experiences. Inclusive education is about children with disabilities – whether the disability is mild or severe, hidden or obvious – participating in everyday activities, just like they would if their disability were not present. It’s about building friendships, membership and having opportunities just like everyone else
PWI: How cinema help such children learn and enjoy their lives I a more empowered manner?
One of the most effective methods of reducing barriers is by mainstreaming psychosocial care and support. Schools are ideally placed to address the psychosocial needs of many children. Through increasing their focus on psychosocial support they may become caring environments where all children are encouraged to reach their full potential as human beings. Life skill education can do that. Therefore, if teachers are trained in psychosocial care and support such as life skills education are scheduled during the school day as an integral part of the total school curriculum they would be able to deal with most of the problems at the classroom level. Difficult cases could subsequently be referred to mental health professionals. This will lead to a more complete and well-integrated service system.
Teaching practices in the regular education classroom has not changed enough to benefit special needs students who are integrated into the classroom. Most classrooms tend to teach to average level students. This makes it difficult for the marginalised children and the vulnerable children to keep up with the pace of the classroom. Regular education teachers may resent slowing the classroom pace for the few special needs students, as they feel it might be detrimental to the majority of students in the classroom.
This is because in reality, a school that is not good for all children; is inevitably bad for disabled and other marginalised children. That is why inclusion is not just about ‘inserting’ disabled children into an existing rigid system. It is not about adapting a child to the system, but adapting the system to all the children. Even the most flexible teacher can have difficulty. Due to continued demands for standardised testing or other academic standards, she may be unable to be as creative in teaching as she might otherwise be. Importantly, for the process of inclusion to be successful, both common sense and research suggest that reduced class size is essential. Teachers agree class sizes should be reduced to fewer than 20 students if those with disabilities are to be included
Secondly, teacher training is not adequate and affective. Regular education teachers often do not have the appropriate training or education to understand the needs of students who have disabilities or have diverse challenges in learning. A regular teacher is not able to provide special needs students with enough care or attention in the classroom; consequently these students fall behind or have additional behavioural /emotional problems.
For the reason that teacher beliefs about the value of the disabled and their professional responsibilities toward them correlate with teaching practices in serving children who are exceptional, complete inclusion and acceptance of students with disabilities will only happen if there are long term changes in the attitudes of educational professionals. In order to become effective with students who are disabled, teachers need more than high levels of personal, interpersonal, and creative abilities: they must also be receptive to the principles and demands of inclusion
While early studies have investigated the academic performance of children with disabilities in inclusive settings, there has been increased interest in and attention to the social adjustment and social functioning of children with disabilities in inclusive settings.
A line in confirmation of participation in the said editorial invite will be a great help! The feature can be published on International Disability Day 2018 along with some pictorial help.
Full inclusion is a radical reform to be approached cautiously. Barriers remain complex, diverse, and numerous. Implementation is dogged by weak teacher attitudes, large class sizes, inadequate teacher training, lack of outside supports, and concern about the inclusion of certain groups of students. I believe – Disability is not an Inability!