THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:Over the past three years, the number of Children With Special Needs (CWSN) in the state has been on a decline. From around 1.8 lakh in 2013, it went down to 1.5 lakh in 2014 and has now dropped to 82, 319, according to statistics available with the state unit of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). SSA claims a low figure was arrived at this year after a ‘fool-proof’ enumeration using Unique Identification (UID) number of students and by cross-checking the data with schools.
However, a section of resource teachers who impart training to such children under SSA have raised serious doubts over the figures. Incidentally, a sizable section of the 1,276 resource teachers in the state are set to lose their jobs this year due to the drop in the number of differently-abled children.
After repeated pleas from resource teachers, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy shot off a letter to Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani early this year. In his letter, a copy of which is with ‘Express,’ Chandy stated that there are 1.58 lakh differently-abled children in the state and urged the Union HRD Minister to retain all the posts of resource teachers for 2015-16.
‘’The Centre had sanctioned funds for 1.5 lakh differently-abled children last year. This year, the number curiously dropped to less than 83,000. We believe that the number of children was deliberately watered down by the SSA state unit in order to terminate us from service,’’ said Devpal D, secretary, State Organisation of Resource Teachers (SORT).
However, E P Mohandas, State Project Director of SSA told ‘Express’ that the survey of CSWN was done in a fool-proof manner this year. The UID-based enumeration of the children ensured that there was no duplication. Also the numbers were cross-checked and strict criteria was put in place for selection of beneficiaries, he said.
According to sources, the state unit of SSA was forced to present a realistic number of CWSN this year after the Centre pulled it up for inflating the figures. ‘’According to the census figures, the national average of differently-abled children is around 1.8 per cent of the total population. Surprisingly, in Kerala, the number was as high as three to four per cent,’’ sources said.
Experts in the field of disability studies do not buy this argument. “The census cannot be a reliable yardstick to assess the number of differently-abled persons. Firstly, the enumerators may not have the expertise to identify various types of disabilities. Also, the people surveyed need not disclose disabilities associated with their children due to certain influences,’’ said Samuel N Mathew, Executive Director of National Institute of Speech and Hearing.
Sources said a realistic, reliable third-party enumeration of the number of differently-abled children in the state was one of the suggestions given by Union Ministry of Human Resource Development when the fluctuating figures were presented before it for funding.
State Disability Census under way
The state Social Justice Department has embarked on a State Disability Census, the first of its kind in the country. “The findings of this census, which is currently underway, will help remove the ambiguity surrounding the actual number of differently-abled persons in the state,’’ said Samuel N Mathew, who is also a member of the Committee on the State Disability Census.