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From Research to Reality: My Journey in supporting Inclusive Education in India

School poster with slogan Every child should get the joy of being in school.

My doctoral research went beyond academic inquiry; it was a passionate advocacy for better educational opportunities for children with disabilities. It focused on the development of inclusive education systems, specifically examining the perceptions and practices within government schools operated by the NGO Muktangan in partnership with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). This academic endeavour was not just an intellectual pursuit but a deeply personal mission to understand and advocate for better educational opportunities for children with disabilities.

After earning my degree, I embarked on a professional journey with , a non-profit organization in Mumbai dedicated to supporting children with developmental disabilities and their families. My role at Ummeed allowed me to immerse myself in the practical aspects of inclusive education, working directly with schools and communities to implement the principles I had studied so rigorously. This transition from research to practice has been both enlightening and humbling, providing a unique vantage point to witness the real-world implications of inclusive education policies and practices.

Image supplied by Seema Nath

Over the past three years, I have had the privilege of working with, training, and learning from thousands of teachers, special educators, mental health professionals, social workers, developmental paediatricians, therapists, and other professionals who are dedicated to making inclusion a reality. This collaborative effort across various professional roles highlights the critical need for a multidisciplinary approach to truly support inclusive education. Each professional brings a unique perspective and set of skills, creating a more comprehensive and effective support system for children with disabilities.

Reflecting on my journey, I feel profoundly privileged to have the rare opportunity to work as a practitioner in the very field I researched. This unique position has enabled me to remain deeply engaged with the stark realities of exclusion and the ongoing efforts toward inclusion. One profound insight I have gained is the pervasive nature of exclusion. For children with disabilities, simply gaining access to education remains a formidable challenge. Despite the best intentions of many teachers and schools, systemic support is often lacking. There is a persistent underestimation of the potential of children with disabilities to learn, compounded by an educational system that increasingly emphasizes uniform performance levels. Consequently, the threshold for exclusion continues to lower, making it ever more challenging to foster truly inclusive environments.

At work, I have witnessed firsthand the struggles and triumphs of children with disabilities and their families. I have seen how the lack of appropriate infrastructure, inadequate teacher training, and rigid curricula can create barriers that are often insurmountable. Yet, I have also seen the incredible resilience and potential of the children when given the right support and opportunities. These experiences have reinforced my belief in the importance of a holistic approach to inclusive education鈥攐ne that considers not just access but meaningful participation and empowerment.

Image supplied by Seema Nath

Another important reflection is the invaluable role of mentorship and a supportive community in continuing one’s post-PhD professional journey. I have been incredibly fortunate to have had the guidance and support of my PhD advisor, Prof. Nidhi Singal, and her research group. Their unwavering encouragement has been a cornerstone of my professional growth. Additionally, my peers from my PhD cohort at Cambridge, along with colleagues and professors working in the field of disability-inclusive education in India and other parts of the Global South, have provided a nurturing and intellectually stimulating environment. This network has enabled me to stay grounded, continuously engage with the latest scholarship, and refine my approach to inclusive education through research, critical thinking, and meaningful dialogues.

These relationships have been more than just professional connections; they have been a source of inspiration and learning. Engaging with a global community of scholars and practitioners has broadened my perspective and deepened my understanding of the complexities surrounding inclusive education. The shared commitment to improving educational outcomes for children with disabilities creates a powerful sense of purpose and community, driving us all to push the boundaries of what is possible.

Looking back, the support I have received from this community has been a rare privilege. It has allowed me to navigate the challenges of implementing inclusive education with a sense of confidence and resilience. It has also highlighted the importance of creating similar supportive structures within schools and communities to foster inclusive environments. Mentorship, peer support, and professional collaboration are crucial elements that can enable educators and other professionals to effectively address the diverse needs of students with disabilities.

As I continue my professional journey, I am committed to pushing for systemic changes that support inclusive education. This includes advocating for policy reforms, engaging with communities to raise awareness, and working with schools to develop and implement inclusive practices. The complexity and urgency of this work cannot be overstated. It requires a multifaceted strategy that involves not just educational reforms but also a cultural shift in how we perceive and value diversity in our educational systems.

Reflecting on my journey, I am struck by the profound impact of collaboration and community. The interdisciplinary nature of my work has shown me that inclusive education is not the responsibility of any single profession or sector. It is a collective effort that requires the combined expertise and dedication of educators, health professionals, policymakers, and community members. Together, we can create an educational landscape where every child, regardless of their abilities, can thrive.

In conclusion, my journey since completing my PhD has been one of profound learning and growth. It has deepened my understanding of the challenges and possibilities of inclusive education and has strengthened my resolve to continue advocating for systemic changes. As I look to the future, I am inspired by the progress that has been made and motivated by the work that remains to be done. The road ahead is challenging, but with the support of a committed community and the shared vision of a more inclusive society, I am confident that we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of children with disabilities. This is a journey I am honoured to be on, and one that I am committed to seeing through to ensure that every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Finally, I want us to be able to continually reflect how can we, as individuals and communities, actively contribute to promoting and implementing inclusive education practices in our schools and society?

Author

  • Seema Nath

    Seema Nath is currently the Associate Director of School Services at Ummeed Child Development Center in Mumbai, India. She is committed to fostering safe and inclusive teaching and learning environments for students and teachers alike. Seema's work centers on strengthening teacher education programs, supporting diverse learners, and implementing whole-school approaches for inclusion of children with disabilities. With a background in developmental psychology, inter, and research, she leverages her experience to drive systemic change and empower all stakeholders in the education system. Seema holds a doctoral degree in Education with a specialization in Inclusive Education, and an MPhil in Social and Developmental Psychology from the University of Cambridge, UK.

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