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Special Education: Does India really give it enough importance?

Sunday, 20 October 2013 - 6:07pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna Web Team

Special education in layman's terms is the education of students with special needs in a way that takes into consideration the child's particular needs and understands their limitations. Within this stream of education, the child is involved in individually planned teaching procedures and is monitored by a trained professional. There also maybe the use of adapted equipment and materials as well as comfortable settings to ensure the comfort of the child. Special needs institutions aim to raise the level of personal self sufficiency and success in the day to day lives of the children. 

It has only been over the last few years that special needs education has been gaining momentum in India. But has it really been given the importance it deserves? Has India taken the necessary steps to ensure that children with special needs are given the best education and taught how to venture forth into the real world? I've decided to take it upon myself to find out.

(Talia D'Souza and her sister Daniela D'Souza)

I've spoken with a young teacher of 24-year-old, Talia D'Souza who has recently gotten into the field of special education over the last few years. Here's a little bit about her; she's completed her B. Ed. (Bachelor of Education) in special education from SNDT Centre of special Education and specialised in MR ( Mental Retardation). The term isn’t used anymore its Intellectually disabled now. She has also worked for a year at Arushi – the learning centre, at the SNDT campus and at SPJ Sadhana at the Sophia college campus. Talia is currently pursuing her Masters in Special Education.  

I met with her and discussed a few key points related to the field. Here's what she had to say.

Why did you get in to special education?

My youngest sister has Down Syndrome, a genetic developmental disability. So from a very young age I have been involved in the same; dropping her to school, taking up school work , etc etc. Since I've been doing this all my life, it all came very naturally to me. I didn’t always want to be a special educator, it was just what I felt the most passionately about after my graduation.

What are the differences when teaching special needs children as opposed to regular children? Are there added difficulties?

When we teach our students, for any task we teach be it academic or non-academic we task analyse, i.e. we first break down the task into smaller steps. (for example, brushing teeth would be - identifying a brush, identifying toothpaste, holding the brush in the dominant hand, applying paste over the brush, etc). This helps us know exactly how to go about the activity, where the child is stuck, what his/her strengths and weakness are, what we can work on etc. Also children have multiple intelligence (Howard Gardener) so we don’t stick to the traditional methods of teaching we use different mediums to teach one task. we give different audio, visual, tactile (touch) and kinaesthetic (by doing) inputs to the students. We give them constant reinforcements even for the smallest achievements in the lesson, this motivates them to learn more. Ideally I feel that even the “regular children” should be taught in this manner

Are the organisations/institutions you work supportive in terms of financial backing, being up to date with the latest equipment/teaching methods etc.

Ok now every institution will have a financial constraints that put up certain limits. But honestly, the teacher just has to put in more effort and make good use of the different materials, aids and methods at their disposal. I have been very lucky at both my work places, and in spite of being a beginner I was allowed to express my views and use my own ideas to teach the students. One has to take it upon themselves and continuously read and attend workshops to be attuned  with the constant developments in the education system. Of course a good organisation always holds workshops for its teachers to update their skills.

There have been quite a few developments in the field. Have these developments been implemented in India?

Now in the Scandinavian countries, Europe, and most notably America, the special needs children are taught in the same classroom as their peers. 'Inclusion'  is the school of thought here. The children are sent to the resource room for additional help. Also these individuals lead independent lives with minimum support (depending on the level of disability) they travel alone, live alone and even go out socially and on dates.

See we have got to understand that they don’t have the strength of the class that we have in our regular schools, they have at least 2 teachers plus assistant teachers to assist a class of maybe 30 students. That being said I strongly believe all individuals should be treated equally and be given equal opportunity. Our government has implemented the RTE(right to education act) and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which states that no school can deny the right to education to any child regardless of disability. Some of the private institutions in Mumbai are educating special needs children in regular schools. We are admittedly far behind most developed countries in our way of thinking and living but we are making small steps towards inclusion. And I think it's only a matter of time before we catch up.

Putting aside that you're a teacher, do you as an individual think that special education is given enough importance?

See, let me ask the readers how many differentially abled people do we see in restaurants, theatres malls etc, Do we see these adults at night clubs etc. would we assist this individuals, look strangely at them feel sorry for them, make considerations? I think that we as individuals tend to feel sorry for people with special needs. As children did we ever visit visually impaired, hearing impaired, intellectually disabled schools. Did we have friends who were different from us. I think from a very young age we need to start inculcating in children that people have differences, different needs, and we need to start accepting, and including all kinds of people, I'm not just talking about special needs here, the same can be said even about people from the lower strata of society. The education system is changing, but are we? The whole outlook needs to change. I do see schools nowadays have camps with special needs children or a visit to the school. I do see these as small steps towards not marginalising these children and feeling sorry for them.I see this as positive steps towards including these people into the rest of the population.

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