Different strokes for differently abled
Meghaa Aggarwal, 14 Nov 2018

Founder-President of Tamana Association, an NGO supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Dr Shayama Chona shares her thoughts with Meghaa Aggarwal

Q. Much has been said about having special educators in traditional schools versus separate schools for children with special needs. What is your opinion?

A. It is important to have inclusive education as per the Right to Education Act. But all disabled students cannot be in regular schools due to the severity of their disability.

Disability is of many types, physical, intellectual, emotional -- (some like) dyslexia and hyperkinesia can be integrated more easily than others such as blindness. All schools need to have psychologists who can assess a child before admission to understand if she or he has special needs and if these can be met by the school. 


If in a class you have some children with very specific needs, the other children may find it difficult to pull along with them, while they may feel angry or frustrated about not being able to cope. This can lead to antipathy among the children, as they don’t understand each other and unfortunately, neither do the adults around them. 


Teachers in traditional schools are often unable to deal with such a situation by engaging in effective differentiated teaching. We need a separate paper on special education in our B.Ed programmes because every teacher needs to have a basic knowledge of teaching children with disabilities.


Traditional schools do not have the resources to meet the needs of students with disabilities. They also need therapeutic intervention, such as speech and physiotherapy, (and) necessarily need training in skill development for future employability.


There is also a lack of flexibility in the curriculum. CBSE makes it mandatory for children to study Maths till class 10, unless they produce a certificate of disability! We offer Class 12 certificates to our students through the National Institute of Open Learning as it allows them the flexibility they need.


Q. Teaching methodologies for the differently-abled have yielded some fantastic approaches to education. Any ideas you think can be introduced into traditional education in India?

A. Differentiated teaching is very important in all classrooms. Also, instead of point-to-point percentages – 98.1, 98.2 – we should have grades to avoid unnecessary comparisons and demotivating children. For college admissions, only grades in relevant subjects should be considered and we should also have course-specific aptitude tests.


Q. Has vocational training picked up?

A. When my daughter Tamana was born, people didn’t understand disability. She had cerebral palsy and they thought I was cursed to have a child like that. Today, she is 49 years old and there is a marked shift in people’s understanding. We have a PwD Act, Accessible India campaign, books on children with disability. People have far more exposure and this has certainly helped. However, skill development and jobs remain very limited.

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