-By Rohit Gajbhiye
The youngest country in the world, India, has the largest number of students enrolled in the schooling system. The Indian school system boasts of catering to over 250 million students. Another 38.5 million students are engaged in higher education in the country. The 2011 census revealed that around 2.21% of the country’s population can be categorized as differently-abled. The education system in the country has largely been under-considerate towards the differently-abled people. A study by the UN suggests that 75% of differently-abled kids in India never see the school. Even the majority of those who enroll in the schools, drop out after the first few years of basic education. Some studies have revealed that less than 13 percent of the students enrolled in primary education are able to complete their education till class 12. There have been many reasons for this unfortunate happening.
Differently-abled people need special care. Over the years, the large expanses, cultural & geographic diversity, large population, and various other factors have posed serious challenges in the spread of education to many parts of the country. In a country where people in many areas face serious issues while accessing education, the situation for the differently-abled people has been far worse. Lack of supporting infrastructure, training for teachers and fellow students, and the attitude of the society pose serious challenges to the children with special needs.
The advent of technology however is changing the scenario. It is noteworthy that when online education was abruptly enforced due to the lockdown, many experts suggested that children with disabilities or special needs might not be able to cope with the new form of education and many may drop out. Online education and ed-tech were quick to react to the situation and gradually adapted to suit the needs of the differently-abled student. The ed-tech sector realized that children with special needs cannot be ignored. The education sector for the differently-abled offers huge market potential and most edtech companies are coming up with ideas and innovations to cater to this segment. Not only does it build an ecosystem for a segment but it also facilitates the removal of any kind of barriers that account for the degrowth of human resource development in the country.
Accessibility: Digital technologies have removed the constraints of time and place from the education system. Infrastructural support is one of the biggest challenges faced by people with special needs. More often than not, the local topography also makes things difficult for differently abled people. Now with digital education, differently-abled students can study from the comfort of their homes where they have family members to assist and support them. Differently-abled people are generally accustomed to the surroundings at the home and can easily access facilities like washrooms with or without the support of family members.
Affordability: Edtech has made education affordable to all. The cost of education in India has always been on the higher side. A lot of differently-abled children dropped out of school for this reason. In financially difficult times, if parents had to choose between funding the education of a normal child or a differently-abled child, the normal child gets the priority in the majority of the cases. By making education affordable, ed-tech has somehow helped in overcoming this barrier.
Flexibility: As the terms suggest, most children with special needs require innovative and out-of-the-box ways of teaching and evaluation. Earlier, most teachers were not trained enough to cater to the needs of such children. Neither did they have time or patience enough to deal with any different situation. Edtech has enabled schools and educators to design personalized courses to suit the needs of individuals with disabilities. Personalization of education is proving to be a game-changer in the field of education for differently-abled people.
Equality: Another tangent of viewing the technological intervention in the knowledge delivery is the sense of equality that it provides to the segment of people who are often disintegrated with the mainstream. The technology may exhibit a blanket approach but it can definitely bridge the gaps which are psychologically created and are artificial in nature.
There are more than 4500 ed-tech start-ups in India. Many established corporate players are also foraying in the field. The majority of these companies have special programs for people with special needs. Corporates are not only seeing education for differently-abled persons as a business avenue but also as their contribution to the welfare of society. There are examples of start-ups even founded and run by differently-abled people. Despite already having 6 ed-tech unicorns in the country, many experts believe that India’s ed-tech revolution has just begun. The government’s vision for inclusive education, changing perception of the society, and the rise of technology in the education sector are promising a bright future for the education of people with special needs.
The author is the founder and CEO at Financepeer.