[Vidhispeaks] Pupil-Teacher Ratio for Inclusive Education – Successes and Failures

[Vidhispeaks] Pupil-Teacher Ratio for Inclusive Education – Successes and Failures

The , in its appendix, provides clear standards for the PTR at the primary (30:1) and secondary levels of school education (35:1). However, an ideal PTR can vary depending on the stage of education as well as the learning needs of a child, including for inclusive schools.

In this article, drawing on the recent Supreme Court ruling in Rajneesh Pandey vs Union of Indiawe try to understand how PTR works in schools providing inclusive education, especially with regards to children with disabilities.

The Disability Rights Act () provides a clear definition of inclusive schools, i.e. schools providing education for children with and without disabilities by making the necessary adaptations to curriculum, pedagogy, infrastructure , etc. to make education accessible to all children. . In these schools, provision of the educational and related needs of students with disabilities is provided by two categories of teachers: generalist teachers and special educators.

The latter belong to a specific category of teachers with different employment standards and are supervised by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). A detailed account of the landscape of special educators within inclusive education has been covered separately by the authors in another .

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 was reported that the Department of Education has filed an Affidavit of Compliance with the Court stating that it has accepted the student-teacher ratio for special educators in inclusive schools as recommended by the Rehabilitation Council of India (“RCI”) – i.e. 10:1 at primary level and 15:1 at upper primary, secondary and upper secondary level.

In this judgment, the Supreme Court had referred to the case of , more specifically to the recommendations made by the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (PwD), National Capital Territory of Delhi. These recommendations recognized the dynamic nature of enrolling students with different disabilities in schools and indicated that there was no reason to have special educators per school.

In addition, it differentiates between varying support needs in children with disabilities, prescribing PTRs based on the nature of the disability, i.e. “1:8 for children with cerebral palsy, visual impairment and hearing impairment, 1:5 for children with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and specific learning disabilities; and 1:2 for deafblind and a combination of at least two of the seven disabilities mentioned above.

While waiting for the Center to notify the student-teacher ratio, the Supreme Court had ordered the adoption of the student-teacher ratios for different disabilities, as recommended in this case. It therefore provided a reasonable criterion, taking into account the varied needs of children with different disabilities and reflecting them in the class PTR.

However, the student-teacher ratio of 10:1 at primary level and 15:1 at other levels of education, which would have been accepted, does not take into account the different levels of support required by children with different disabilities.

Moreover, this student-teacher ratio is poorly thought out for the following reasons –

a) Appointed special educators cannot be trained to teach enrolled Children with Disabilities (CwDs), unless all such special educators are equipped with multi-disability training; b) In the absence of a clear set of regulations for using the services of special educators either through a bilingual mode of teaching or as shadow teachers, such a PTR may also lead to the segregation of children with disabilities even within schools to facilitate their education.

This can further result in the clubbing of CwDs into different classes so that they can be taught by the special educators.

Fundamentally, the positive implication of prescribing the PTR for CwDs by amending the RTE is that it will provide a much-needed impetus to create permanent positions for special educators in all schools, contrary to the common practice of appointing educators traveling specialists who not only overburden them but also affect access to quality education for children with disabilities.

It also provides an additional opportunity for modification by ensuring that the PTR prescribed in the RTE Act takes into account the varying needs of different CwDs, while also providing for specialist educators as shadow teachers.

Finally, for inclusion to really happen, special educators and generalist teachers need to work in tandem. This approach requires that the respective governing bodies [i.e. the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) and the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE)] to effectively coordinate with each other, efforts for which efforts have been made in the past through an between the said bodies.

However, this is still not a clear indication of the effectiveness and impact of such synergies. The prerogative of inclusive education can never be achieved if only special educators are responsible for teaching children with disabilities, without the meaningful participation of all other education actors, including regular teachers.

Sallie R. Loera