At a time when educational institutions are straining every nerve to try and bridge the “learning loss” in students owing to the pandemic-induced prolonged online teaching or home-schooling, children with learning disorders have coped up and benefitted from the online classes. Tools and applications like the Immersive Reader, Grammarly, etc have helped them tide over and level with the other students – a task that otherwise was not that easy during pre-covid times, says Swati Ganguly, a seasoned special educator with 13 years of experience and co-founder of Edufiq.
In a tete-a-tete with EducationWorld, Ganguly enlightens the readers as to how did the children with learning disabilities immensely benefitted from the virtual classrooms and online teaching during the covid begotten lockdowns. A post-graduate in the comprehensive management of children with learning disorders, from the Spastic Society of Karnataka, Ms. Ganguly also spoke about their daily struggles, challenges, needs, diagnosis, and ways to overcome them.
Q. What are the regular challenges and ordeals does one with a learning disability face?
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) bats for inclusive education where children with learning disorders like Dyscalculia (trouble with understanding Maths), Dysgraphia (trouble with writing) attend classes with mainstream students, and hence, it is extremely difficult for the latter to fathom the contents of the curriculum being covered and to keep up the pace. Learning disability as a condition is often detected very late in most students and hence for a considerable period, they are just compartmentalized, stigmatized, bullied by being termed as lazy, hyperactive, or talkative, or disruptive. Also, they are generally left to fend for themselves in schools. The teachers are unable to give individual attention because they must take care of the whole class and ensure that the syllabus is covered as per the curriculum of the Board. Hence, the needs of these students suffering from these conditions remain unattended and lack of special guidance prevents them from improving or excelling in their studies.
Many suffer from the total lack of awareness that something called a “learning disorder” exists and which has nothing to do with a mental disorder. These students are generally termed as “inattentive” and “disinterested”. The film Taree Zameen Par played a major role in spreading awareness amongst the masses about things like “learning disorder” and “Dyslexia”. It is a condition that needs attention, sometimes medical treatment and at other times curriculum change. For example, a child in Class V can only comprehend the things taught in the first grade. In this case, he or she needs to be sent to the remedial center where the concerned child is imparted the knowledge at the pace at which they can comprehend and hence would not be forced in doing something that is beyond their capacity.
How have these students with “Special Needs” managed during the pandemic? Things must have been harder for them?
Surprisingly enough, it’s a No. Technology has been surely a blessing for these kids. A child with Dyscalculia or Dysgraphia or even Dyslexia found it hard to cope up when regular classes were on. But during the online classes, they had the advantage of leveraging technology by using the computer or tablet. Also, various tools like Immersive Reader and applications like Grammarly acted like a boon for them. They were able to use these and improve during class hours which otherwise was not possible. If they had the correct access to technology even during physical classes, I am sure they would have been able to cope much better. We have requested the schools to adopt technology-based studies in classrooms but most of the schools do not yet have the means or the infrastructure to implement the necessary changes and adapt these high-end facilities. The students need to be in a regular classroom for emotional, physical, and social requirements but hybrid learning will benefit the students with special needs and learning disabilities as they would have the option of using the available technology to their advantage.
Q. What happens after the students are diagnosed with these conditions? Are they shifted to other schools?
These conditions are diagnosed through clinical assessments and the entire case history is given out to their parents and scoping out their limitations and strengths. Depending on these they can either be sent to a special school or allowed to stay back in the same school.
Q. What does a Special Educator do?
A Special educator undergoes various therapies for the child, like playing, making music, writing therapy. They learn in a resource centre better as they are not intimidated there. For example, if a child has handwriting problem, he or she will do tracing on sand tray and dotted lines. Every child has their own individual education plan (IEP) where the respective short-term and long-term goals are followed according to their class.
Q.Do these children develop an inferiority complex? How do they deal with the same?
Yes, definitely. According to CBSE rule, every school must have a special educator. These educators help them to feel accommodated. It is their responsibility to see that these children do not feel left out.
Q.Once a learning disorder is detected, how do the parents react?
The most difficult part is for the parents to accept that their child is facing issues in learning. Most of the time, parents are in a denial. India gives more stress on numbers and the marking system and this is mental torture. It is important for the parents to give that space for their wards to develop critically rather than compete with each other for marks.
Again, it is important that parents look after their homework. Homework is redoing of classwork at home. These students easily forget whatever they study. Henc, it is important for parents to keep the continuation.
Another thing is that, one must know “learning disorders” cannot be cured. It is a continuous and slow process which if taken care of can be dealt with. Whenever a student looks outside, we term it as “distraction” but in the case of these students, it is always not so. It is possible that he is a visual learner. He or she is trying to assimilate where she /he has seen a particular thing. Probably, the child has seen a picture of an apple but he has a problem in writing double words. But whenever he remembers the picture of an “apple”, he can easily write the spelling of an “apple”.
For children with these disorders, they learn one language instead of three. Their syllabus is also comparatively lower. They are given options to give their examinations from Open Schools. Their academic pressure is kept lower for them to flourish all around. We also have scribes who help them or write for them in their examinations.
I have had students, who have drastically been unsuccessful in academics but are outstanding in painting. Probably, the depth at which he paints, mainstream candidates cannot fathom that. They can do stuff which you and I cannot think of.
How do they cope up later and how do they slowly create their future?
Let me share a story. A few years back while travelling to the United States of America, I had a halt at London Airport. At the Airport, I heard my name being called out and my economy class ticket being upgraded to business class. I had no idea how this happened and suddenly I saw a young man coming towards me. He touched my feet and I instantly recognised him as Sumit (name changed for privacy issues). Sumit used to study in the school which I headed. I recollected, he had some minor reading problems. When I was the principal of the school, I had made sure that the management got a resource room for children with learning disabilities and I had made all the accommodations. Today, Sumit is a cabin crew at a renowned airline but had problems in reading. So, this is how life gives you back. It is important to sustain yourself in your life and special educators ensure that a student is able to do the same. Success is not defined by how famous or how much you earn. It is defined by how well you can curate and sustain your own life with all problems taken together and challenges accepted.Resources, Students Resources