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India’s most admired special needs schools

EducationWorld September 2019 | Best Indian Schools

In 2015, EducationWorld introduced a separate league table ranking the country’s most admired special needs schools to acknowledge the pioneering work done by the small minority of special needs institutions.

Unesco’s State of the Education Report for India — Children with Disabilities 2019 estimates that 7.8 million children and youth under 19 years of age countrywide suffer physical disabilities, mental retardation and varying degrees of learning difficulties with 75 percent of age 5 children with special needs (CWSN) and 25 percent in the 5-19 age group out of school.

To encourage mainstream K-12 schools to make better provision for CWSN, in 2011 your editors introduced the parameter of special needs education in the annual EW India School Rankings (EWISR). Subsequently in 2015, we introduced a separate league table ranking the country’s most admired special needs schools to acknowledge the pioneering work done by the small minority of special needs institutions.

To compile the 2019-20 league table of India’s Top 20 special needs schools, C fore field researchers interviewed 563 parents of CWSN and special educators in ten cities. They were asked to rate and rank special schools on ten parameters of education excellence — competence of faculty, teacher welfare and development, quality of programme and pedagogy, rehabilitation, co-curricular education, individual attention to students, leadership/management quality, safety and hygiene, infrastructure provision and value for money.

In the EWISR 2019-20 Top 10 table of India’s most admired special needs schools there’s been a major rejig. The Academy for Severe Handicaps and Autism, Bangalore (ASHA, estb.1995), which was ranked a modest #8 last year, has made a great leap forward to #1 with top ratings on four of the ten parameters. Promoted 24 years ago by Jayashree Ramesh, a special education postgrad of San Jose State University, California, ASHA is awarded the highest scores on the parameters of faculty competence, quality of programme, co-curricular education and individual attention to students. Currently, this academy has 80 students mentored by 40 faculty including therapists and special educators.

“This recognition is a matter of great pride for ASHA and our truly committed special educators and therapists. Our #1 ranking will be reassuring for the families who have believed in us and our donors, supporters and the Karnataka state government which gives us continuous encouragement. Currently, we are partnering with the Global Autism Project, USA, to provide clinical support for our programmes. Our plan is to strengthen our programme for children below age six and explore technology solutions to enhance their language, communication, and independent learning skills, and provide vocational options for our autistic students,” says Ramesh.

Retaining its #2 ranking is Delhi’s pioneer Tamana Autism Centre, promoted in 1992 by celebrated educationist Dr. Shayama Chona, with top ratings under the parameters of teacher welfare and development, leadership and safety and hygiene. The Aditya Birla Integrated School, Mumbai (ABIS, estb.2014) promoted by philanthropist Neerja Birla, which was top-ranked in 2018-19, is ranked #3 by this year’s sample respondents followed by the co-ranked Mata Bhagwanti Chadha Niketan, Noida (MBCN) at #4 (6) and S.P.J. Sadhana School, Mumbai (3) and the previously unranked Sweekar Academy of Rehabilitation Sciences, Secunderabad debuting at #5.

Dr. Vandana Sharma, founder-principal and director of MBCN, Noida (estb.1999), is gratified that the school is moving up the EW league table. “This promotion is very encouraging for our team of special educators, psychologists and therapists. It will motivate all of us to improve and deliver the best pedagogies and rehabilitation programmes to our children. In the year ahead, we are planning tele-collaborations with several special needs schools in Canada to provide cultural learning experiences for our teaching professionals,” says Sharma, a political science and psychology alumna of Delhi and Bheem Rao Ambedkar, Agra universities with a special needs education diploma of the National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities, Delhi.

Founded 20 years ago by the Ponty Chadha Foundation Trust, MBCN is a charitable school for children with intellectual and physical challenges, autism, speech and hearing impairment among other disabilities. Affiliated with the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), MBCN provides free-of-charge education and vocational training to 570 children instructed by 114 highly qualified special educators.

The Top 10 table is completed with the Asha Kiran Special Needs School, Bangalore ranked #6 (#5 last year), Aatman Academy, Thane (9) and the previously unranked Sunderji Institute of Special School, Pune jointly ranked #7 followed by Amar Jyoti, Delhi #8 (4), Sanchetna, Noida #9 (10) and Sankalp, Chennai (14) and The Gateway School, Mumbai (7) jointly ranked #10 this year.

A postgraduate in psychology and child development of Mumbai University, and founder-director of the Pune-based Sunderji’s Global Academia (SGA) group of institutions, of which Sunderji’s Institute of Special School (SISS, estb.2005) is a constituent, Masarrat Tavawalla is deeply content that the previously unranked SISS had debuted at #7.

“It’s highly commendable that EducationWorld has acknowledged the critical importance of special education in the country and recognised our efforts in this domain. SISS is a K-12 special needs school with a unique curriculum that prepares children to appear for NIOS board exams using innovative technology apps and audio-visual aids. Our objective is to prepare our children for employment and self-sustaining livelihoods in a tough job market,” says Tavawalla. Currently, the school is sited in a three-storeyed building in Pune with an enrolment of 145 students mentored by 30 teachers.

Further down the 25-strong table of the country’s most respected special needs schools, the Jai Vakeel School, Mumbai ranked #12 (16), Asha Special Needs Schools, Delhi #18 (19) and Bethany Special School, Bangalore #19 (20) have risen higher in public estimation with the previously unranked Parvarish—The Museum School, Bhopal and Connect Academy, Nasik making impressive debuts at #14 and #16.

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