Asmita Centre for Slow Learners and Mental Health, Lucknow

EducationWorld September 08 | EducationWorld

A not-for-profit organisation, Asmita functions as a day-care-cum-training and education centre for slow learners who fall in the grey zone between normal (IQ above 80) and the mentally challenged The modest single-storied exterior of the Asmita Centre for Slow Learners and Mental Health, Lucknow gives little indication of the pioneer role played by this institution which is North Indias first dedicated centre for educationally challenged learners (IQ 50-80), a numerically sizeable group that has been completely neglected by the countrys educational planners. Promoted by Krishna Dutt (55), a clinical psycho-logist trained at the Central Institute of Psychiatry, Ranchi and the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, the centre is focused upon children who according to its estimate constitute 5 percent of the countrys child population (i.e. 22.5 million) and receive none of the attention that goes the way of the mentally challenged whose number is estimated at 10 million countrywide.
Slow learner children fall in the grey zone between normal (IQ above 80) and the mentally challenged (IQ below 50). These children dont display overt behavioural abnormalities, but have to be repeatedly explained simple tasks and routinely fail in school despite studying committedly. Based on their IQ, they are divided into two groups. The first group with IQs between 50-70 can absorb primary education (up to class VII), while the second (IQ 70-80) can be educated to high school level (class X). These children, explains Dutt, are placed in a difficult situation. They cannot compete with normal children, yet if placed in special schools for challenged children, they suffer irreversible harm.
Moreover according to Dutt, although children with IQs below 50 are classified as challenged requiring special education, there is a tendency to club them in the slow learners category due to the more politically correct connotations of the term. It is unfortunate that parents tend to delude themselves that severely challenged children are slow learners, he says.
A not-for-profit charitable organisation, the Asmita Centre (estb. 1989) functions as a day-care-cum-training and education centre for slow learners. Within its five classrooms, two bathrooms and kitchen, 50 children between the age of five-15 learn the three Rs as well as ways to manage simple, everyday tasks, for seven hours every week day. A specially designed curriculum ensures that education is through play and experience rather than memorisation. Classroom content is divided into easily understood lessons with the institutional focus on developing specific abilities rather than multiple attainments. The centre also boasts a computer room with two terminals and a small auditorium, the latter a favourite with students who love singing, dancing and play acting. While there are no formal classes, based on their learning capabilities, children are divided into pre-primary, primary, secondary and final year groups.
Dutt, who has emerged as a committed crusader for slow learners through staging seminars and workshops for parents and principals, believes this condition has only recently gained acceptance. While the Hindi feature film Taare Zameen Par has made a great contribution towards creating greater awareness of this condition, the solution offered in the film is unrealistic. Slow learners are also not to be confused with dyslexics who experience difficulties with the written word. While slow learners might excel in a particular field, they seldom demonstrate all-round progress. At Asmita our endeavour is to create sensible and practical expectations within our parents community. The most our children will be able to do is clear the class X exam of the National Open School, which permits writing one paper at a time. Yet there are parents who despite knowing that a child is a slow learner, will condemn him to a wretched existence in mainstream schools, where teachers have neither the time nor patience to deal with them, he says.
Over the past 19 years since this unique NGO was promoted in Lucknow, it has earned an excellent reputation. Consequently for every five-seven children admitted annually, almost 30 are refused admission into Asmita. Admissions are determined by need. There have been instances when we have counselled and trained parents on how to care for their children and they have done well, coming to us only for the occasional consultation, says Dutt. The needs-based admission policy mandates that children with more complex problems (spastics, hyper activity, autism, speech disabilities) get priority.
An NGO which does not insist on fees and where most children pay only their bus fares, Asmita is run largely through Dutts own earnings and the donations of well wishers. Its annual budget of Rs.6 lakh is also met in part by the Chicago chapter of the US-based Education Foundation. Nevertheless it employs ten teacher-cum-trainers (including a slow learner), full-time sports and computer teachers in addition to part-time speech therapists, physiotherapists and health professionals who visit regularly.
Refreshingly there is great encouragement in Asmita of co-curricular education, which banishes much of the gloom which is characteristic of special schools for challenged children. Students participate in cultural programmes, and compete with like schools. Last year, ten Asmita students participated in the national level games for special children and won six medals. My plan is to promote a fully-fledged vocational training centre linked with the job market market, says Dutt.
The centre spread over 2,500 sq ft in Indiranagar, Lucknow is constrained by space and resources. However Dutt, helped in his mission by wife Madhuri and daughter Urvi (18), says: We do not have a magic wand but we are encouraged by growing public awareness about the peculiar problems of slow learner children. With patience and dedication, funds will be found for the expansion and replication of Asmita Centres across northern India.
Amen.

Admission and fees

New admissions take place in June and December and are mostly limited to areas serviced by the centres bus. The tuition fee is Rs.400 per month while conveyance charges depend on the distance to be covered.
Based on the childs IQ she is enrolled into the pre primary, primary, secondary or final year class. Classroom learning is supplemented with vocational training. There is, however, no guarantee that every child will be able to progress through all the classes. Thus, though most children at the centre are between the age of five-15, a few of them are much older.
Besides, an expert panel comprising a physician, pediatrician, psychiatrist, neurologist, speech therapist and physiotherapist examines and works with the children on a regular basis.
For more information contact Asmita Centre for Slow Learners & Mental Health, 18/444, Indiranagar, Luknow 226016. Ph: 9415104155; e-mail: [email protected] com; website: www.asmita.org.

Vidya Pandit (Lucknow)

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