Centre must forthwith notify norms of teacher-pupil ratio for special schools: Supreme Court

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CwSN, National Capital Territory, B.Ed, A M Khanwilkar, NCT

The Supreme Court Thursday said the Centre must forthwith notify the standards of pupil–teacher ratio for special schools as also separate norms for special teachers who alone can impart education and training to Child with Special Needs (CwSN) in general schools across the country. The apex court said until the competent authority formulates a comprehensive action plan on this, as a “stop-gap arrangement”, the recommendations made in 2019 by State Commissioner for persons with disabilities, National Capital Territory of Delhi, be adopted.

The 2019 recommendations said that number of special education teachers in a particular disability should be determined based on the generally accepted pupil-teacher ratio of 8:1 for children with cerebral palsy.

A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar delivered judgement on petitions espousing the cause of teachers having B.Ed. (special) and D.Ed. (special) degree or diploma courses and fully trained to cater to the requirements of children or CwSN, including to impart them education and make them independent.

“The central government must forthwith notify the norms and standards of pupil–teacher ratio for special schools and also separate norms for special teachers who alone can impart education and training to CwSN in the general schools; and until such time, as a stop-gap arrangement adopt the recommendations made by the State Commissioner, NCT of Delhi in the case….,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar, in its 100-page verdict.

“As a stop-gap arrangement….we are persuaded to adopt the pupil-teacher ratio ascertained in this decision as 8:1 for children with cerebral palsy; 5:1 for children with intellectual disability, ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and specific learning disabilities; and 2:1 for deaf–blind and a combination of two or more of the seven disabilities mentioned in the recommendation….,” the bench noted.

The petitioners were represented through advocate Shoeb Alam in the matter.

The top court said a “multi-pronged approach” needs to be adopted by the concerned authorities with immediate effect, including to create commensurate permanent posts as per the just ratio to be specified by authority for rehabilitation professionals/special teachers who can cater to the needs of CwSN.

It said the appointment process to fill–in vacancies for the posts so created for rehabilitation professionals/special teachers for being appointed on regular basis be initiated and the same be completed within six months from today or before the commencement of academic year 2022- 2023, whichever is earlier.

The bench said to overcome the shortage of rehabilitation professionals/special trained teachers, the training schools or institutions must take steps to augment the number whilst ensuring that the norms and standards specified under the governing laws and regulations, including that of the Rehabilitation Council of India, for grant of recognition and registration are fulfilled.

It said until sufficient number of special teachers are available for general and special schools, the services of special trained teachers can be availed as “itinerant teachers” as per ‘Samagra Shiksha’ – an integrated scheme for school education – within the school block (cluster schools) to optimize the resource persons and as a stop-gap arrangement.

The bench said other teachers and staffs in general schools be given compulsory training and sensitized to handle CwSN, if admitted.

“The authorities may also explore the possibility of merging unviable special schools with relatively viable special schools in the neighbourhood, so as to entail in consolidation of assets and resources for better delivery to the requirements of CwSN,” it said.

It directed the state commissioners appointed under section 79 of The Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, to forthwith initiate suo motu enquiries regarding compliance and then make recommendation to the appropriate authority, as may be necessary.

The bench said state commissioners may submit report in the court in respect of compliances by end of February, 2022.

It made clear that the court is not deciding on the working conditions of special teachers.

The court posted the matter in first week of March 2022 for consideration of the reports to be received from the state commissioners.

The bench also issued notices to the secretary of Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and Secretary of the Ministry of Education in the matter.

“They are also expected to take necessary corrective and remedial steps in light of this decision, to the extent applicable, including to issue directions to all concerned for reporting compliance,” it said.

The bench noted that as on today, there is a dearth of rehabilitation professionals or special teachers, recognized and registered by the council, who alone can impart education and training to handicap person or CwSN and this disparity would have to be addressed by National Council for Teacher Education.

“As aforesaid, the persons with disabilities in India constitute over 2.21 per cent of the total population of the country, as per the census figures of 2011. At present, there are only 1,20,781 special educators registered with the council,” it said, adding that as per data available with the unified district information system for education, there are around 22.5 lakh CwSN in the country.

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