Dr Romesh Sharma
Introduction: Poor academic performance of students in the classroom is not always due to negligence; it can be due to undiagnosed disability conditions like Learning disabilities. This primarily occurs in cases of disability conditions where symptoms have very little or no visual manifestations that can be easily identified by parents or teachers. Since the general public is less familiar with the recently added disability conditions such as Specific Learning Disabilities, Mental Illness, Intellectual Disability, and Autism, they are frequently overlooked and go undiagnosed. Disability assessment in schools can help identify and support students with disabilities to ensure they receive the education they deserve. The Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009 ensures Free and Compulsory education to all children, including Children with Special Needs (CWSN). Provisions of the RTE Act of 2009 and the RPwD Act of 2016 suggest that all children with disabilities should be identified as early as possible, that their special needs resulting from their disabilities should be suitably addressed, and that they should be assisted in realizing their full potential.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) was implemented in India by the Indian Parliament through the enactment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act, 2016. This Act recognizes 21 Disability Conditions viz: Blindness, Low-vision, Leprosy Cured persons, Hearing Impairment (deaf and hard of hearing), Locomotor Disability, Dwarfism, Intellectual Disability, Mental Illness, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, Chronic Neurological conditions, Specific Learning Disabilities, Multiple Sclerosis, Speech and Language disability, Thalassemia, Haemophilia, Sickle Cell disease, Multiple Disabilities including deaf-blindness, Acid Attack victim, Parkinson’s disease, and recommends various provisions for Persons with disability..
PRASHAST: Central Institute of Educational Technology (CIET), a constituent unit of NCERT after rigorous surveys, brainstorming, consultations, and field testing has introduced a new disability screening tool & mobile app called PRASHAST (Pre-Assessment Holistic Screening Tool) for schools, aimed at enhancing the education system’s inclusivity by identifying the specific needs and requirements of students with disabilities. PRASHAST is a disability screening checklist for schools that helps regular teachers and special educators to screen children at preliminary levels and refer them for further identification at assessment camps. It presents the behavioural manifestations of the 21 disabilities, mentioned in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPwD) 2016. The objective of PRASHAST is to screen and tentatively categorize existing disability conditions into the disabilities recognized by the RPwD Act, 2016 to facilitate further identification and certification. It has been developed in 23 languages, including all 22 languages included in the VIII schedule of the Indian constitution, to ensure easy access for teachers, special educators, and school heads from all parts of the country. It is divided into two parts, Part 1 for use by regular teachers for first-level screening and Part-2 is for use by special educators/ counselors/ school heads for second-level screening and tentative listing of disabilities in accordance with the 21 categories of disability conditions recognized by RPwD Act 2016. The result of the second level screening is to facilitate further identification and certification of disabilities. Involvement of teachers, special educators, counselors, school leaders, and the school management committee in the screening process is mandated by thehe PRASHAST.
Need and benefits of PRASHAST App.
There was a lack of a uniform disability screening checklist for schools that covers the 21 disabilities. The lack of identification and screening tools hinders appropriate and timely identification of the CWSN. A survey was conducted in the year 2019, revealed that 52.9% of states were observed to face difficulty or confusion in understanding characteristics and/or symptoms of some disabilities. A majority of the states claimed to face confusion with the disability conditions like Mental Illness, Speech and Language Disability, Learning Disabilities, Parkinson’s disease, Haemophilia, and Thalassemia. PRASHAST app has come up as a standardized comprehensive tool that has reduced the chances of misdiagnosis. It will help for school-based screening of 21 disability conditions recognized in RPwD Act 2016, and generate the school-level report, for further sharing with the authorities for initiating the certification process. It is a screening tool that does not promote unscientific labeling of any kind.
It goes without saying that early and appropriate diagnosis of a disability condition helps to ensure that the necessary educational intervention is implemented with special attention. Consequently, this has the potential to significantly impact the lives of kids with disabilities. Early implementation of need-based interventions in inclusive educational environments promotes self-esteem and confidence of children so that they can actively participate in society. Even though many impairments are frequently incurable, early detection and treatment can help provide the best possible care and avoid making the resulting disorders worse.
PRASHAST will improve the standard of inclusive education by facilitating the prompt and appropriate screening of children whose learning may be impeded by the existence of a handicap. Prior to using government facilities, CWSN must be quickly identified and certified. Teachers now have protection against drawing hasty and unscientific conclusions. Its application is intended to make the child’s condition more understandable. Early identification of handicap issues helps avoid needless, unscientific labelling of youngsters and helps ordinary instructors focus their attention on students with special needs.
Role of teachers/special educators/HOIs in disability screening
Teachers are able to interact with and observe kids in a variety of contexts, such as the classroom, playground, and library, for extended periods of time. Thus, teachers are in a unique position to recognize behaviours associated with different types of disabilities. Class teachers are supposed to administer PRASHAST Part-1 to students. School heads are supposed to register themselves on the app with their school email Id linked to CPIS. After that they have to approve the registration of teachers and special educators. Teachers with the help of school heads will share their observations with parents/ guardians of the screened students based on the Part-1. Before using PRASHAST Part-1, teachers should observe the student for 2 weeks or more in different contexts, for example, academic, social, behavioral, mobility, and orientation. Information related to the screened students is confidential and is to be shared with concerned parents/guardians and authorized personnel only. Special educators, resource teachers, and counselors have the responsibility of obtaining the completed PRASHAST Part-1 form from school administrators, using PRASHAST Part-2 to confirm the results of Part-1, and offering advice and counselling to educators and parents/guardians of the screened pupils. Following the screening process at the school level and the gathering of relevant data, the pupils will be directed to assessment camps in order to determine and certify their disability. School heads should make sure that special educators, resource teachers, counselors, and other staff members correctly instruct regular teachers on how to use PRASHAST for student screening.
Prashast app is not only a screening tool but an orientation app for all the stakeholders. Each school should conduct a preliminary screening of all the students using this comprehensive application. PRASHAST Part-1 is to be administered for all students in the class. This requires immediate training and sensitization of every teacher in the school about the CWSN and PRASHAST app. Each regular teacher is to be provided one copy of Part-1 of PRASHAST per student. It is only for screening and referral. It cannot be used to label or diagnose. It is a screening tool and does not promote unscientific labeling of any kind. All the disability checklists in PRASHAST Part-2 may/may not apply to all the students listed in the table “Suspected Disability data”. Teachers and special educators should be careful while using this checklist and always remember that PRASHAST is an effective preliminary screening tool and is not to be used as a diagnostic tool to arrive at needless labels to describe a child as having a disability.
(The author is a Counselling Psychologist)
Dr Romesh Sharma