Kudumbashree’s approach addressed the following issues relating to the special school system as they existed in 2007.
- Religious and other charitable organisations had to finance their institutions on their own; this had been causing difficulties to most of the groups forcing them to levy a fee for enrolling and maintaining the children at the centres. This had led to a situation where in most areas, poor people were not able to access such services. There was a case for setting up schools that catered to the poorest of the sections.
- Remote places as well as children with higher levels of special needs were excluded by the existing institutions. Covering remote areas was impractical for institutions run on a commercial basis; children with relatively higher needs were difficult to handle and therefore avoided.
- The Reading-Writing-Math approach adopted by most of these schools were not consistent with the latest trends in educating people with intellectual disabilities the world over. The Integrated Education for the Disabled (IED)/Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) scheme had been criticised as making people pass examinations without functional literacy and essential skills.
- The vocational training programmes instituted by the schools had a focus on different trades, which was not suitable for training intellectually challenged persons for employability.
- The existing institutions did not offer services to intellectually disabled people above the age of 18 years.
The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights, and Full Participation) Act 1995 defines mental retardation as ‘a condition of arrested or incomplete development of a person which is specifically characterised by sub-normality of intelligence’. Such persons typically have single or multiple skill deficits among the following.
- Motor deficit
- Self-care problems
- Communication deficit
- Socialisation skill deficit
- Academic skill deficit
- Vocational skill deficit
- Recreational and aesthetic deficiency
- Deficiencies in safety precautions
- Health care deficiencies
- Family life deficiencies
In order to address the challenges of mental retardation, special pedagogic approach is necessary.
National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped (NIMH) Hyderabad had developed a strategy and scheme for intellectually challenged persons. The scheme focused on functional skills and employability training. The scheme was drawn up based on the belief that ‘employment was the ultimate aim for education of mentally challenged’.
NIHM’s was not the only scheme available at that time. State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) had developed a curriculum and syllabus; this was yet to be operationalised. Madras Development Programming Schedule (MDPS), developed in Tamil Nadu was also in use in Kerala’s special schools. However, the Reading-Writing-Math approach was still the dominant one in Kerala.
Kudumbashree Mission decided to adopt NIMH’s curriculum and syllabus for special schools. The syllabus was based on a set of checklists, which categorised intellectually challenged children and progressively measured their improvement in five areas, achieved through systematically administered educational content. The five areas of skills were the following.
- Adaptation for Daily Living (ADL)
- Personal – Social Skills
- Language – Speech, Reading, Writing
- Environmental Sciences