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India’s most respected special needs schools 2022-2023

EducationWorld October 2022 | Cover Story EducationWorld

Prior to enactment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, EducationWorld started rating and ranking the country’s most respected special needs schools to inform parents and encourage education institutions to pay greater attention to children with disability, writes Paromita Sengupta

Sankalp’s director and co-founder Dr. Sulata Ajit (right)

Arguably the most poignant outcome of continuous under-funding of education in post-independence India — annual expenditure for public education has averaged a mere 3.5 percent of (low) GDP for the past seven decades cf. the global average of 5 percent and 8-10 percent in developed OECD countries — is the neglect of youngest and most vulnerable children at the bottom of the country’s iniquitous socio-economic pyramid. More so of children with disability.

According to the Mumbai-based NGO ADAPT (formerly Spastics Society of India, estb.1972), 21st century India grudgingly hosts 20 million children with varying degrees of disability. Of them, 75 percent below age five have not attended an educational institute, says a 2019 Unesco State of Education Report, despite a spate of child-friendly legislation. The new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 also “fully endorses the recommendations” of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. In Chapter III, the Act details the obligations of the state and local governments to ensure that “all education institutions funded or recognised by them” provide inclusive education for children with disability.

However, before this Act was legislated in 2015, your editors started rating and ranking the country’s most respected special needs schools to inform parents and encourage schools to pay greater attention to differently abled children. Moreover, all schools were assessed under the parameter of ‘special needs education’ in the annual EWISR league tables. Since then, the number of dedicated special needs schools of sufficient repute to be rated and ranked by EducationWorld has risen from 16 in 2015 to 28 this year.

To compile the eighth EW Special Needs Schools Rankings 2022-23, field personnel of the Delhi-based Centre for Forecasting & Research Pvt. Ltd (C fore, estb.2000) interviewed a specially constituted database of 676 sample respondents including parents and special educators to rate special schools under ten parameters of excellence, viz, teacher welfare and development, competence of faculty, quality of programme, rehabilitation, co-curricular education, individual attention to students, leadership/management quality, safety and hygiene, infrastructure provision and value for money.

In the 2022-23 league table of India’s most admired special needs schools, there is a major rearrangement of seating at top table. This year’s sample respondents have vaulted Sankalp — The Learning Centre & Special Needs School for Children with Autism and Intellectual Disability, Chennai and Sankalp — The Open School for Children with Learning Disabilities, Chennai to #1 from #5 in 2021-22, with top scores under nine of ten parameters of excellence.

“We are humbled by this recognition and accept this big promotion with great sense of responsibility to sustain the high standards that we have set ourselves to educate and mainstream our children to the maximum extent possible. I believe that total commitment of our teachers, parents’ faith in this institution, holistic curriculum, aptitudinally appropriate vocational and life skills training that we provide our children in our new eco-friendly school building have made a great impact on the informed public,” says Dr. Sulata Ajit, co-founder and director of Sankalp, awarded a Ph D in special and inclusive education by Nottingham University, UK.

Founder-director of Sankalp’s affiliated school Lakshmi Krishnakumar

Adds Lakshmi Krishnakumar, founder-director of Sankalp — The Open School for Children with Learning Disabilities, Chennai: “We are especially pleased with our top score under the competence of faculty parameter because the dedication and quality of teachers is of prime importance for special needs schools. Therefore, teacher welfare and professional development is accorded the highest priority in Sankalp schools. Academic learning apart, our teachers have also introduced a wide range of vocational education programmes ranging from weaving, baking, gardening, data entry operations and computer skills for our children. Therefore our children have fared well in the school-leaving exam of the Delhi-based NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) board exams, averaging 75 percent.”

Following Sankalp at top table is the Academy for Severe Handicaps and Autism, Bengaluru (ASHA, estb.1995) ranked #2 (#1 in 2021-22) and Brindavan Education Centre, Jayanagar, Bengaluru (estb.1993) which has leapfrogged to #3 (#11 in 2021-22). Marginally ceding rank this year are The Aditya Birla Integrated School, Mumbai (TABIS, estb.2014) promoted by philanthropist Neerja Birla, ranked #4 (#2 in 2020-21) and Delhi’s pioneer Tamana Autism Centre at #5 (3) promoted by celebrated educationist Dr. Shayama Chona.

Dr. Gayatri Krishna

Dr. Gayatri Krishna

Dr. Gayathri Krishna, conferred a Ph D in educational psychology by the top-ranked Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi and founder-trustee of the Brindavan Education Centre (BET), Bengaluru, is gratified by the school’s Top 3 national ranking. “We credit this award to our teachers, parents, students and alumni. This big promotion will motivate us to improve and deliver the best pedagogies and development programmes to our special children. Despite the shift to online classes when Covid-19 hit India, there has been no learning loss for any child in BET. Now back to inperson schooling, our community is even more vibrant. We are also very pleased to be awarded high scores for competence of faculty as teacher training is top priority. Moreover, we are working actively to bridge skills gap of first generation learners and improve our employability training and after-school remedial online programmes,” says Krishna. BET offers special education to 120 children mentored by 55 teachers.

SISS founder-director Masarrat Tavawalla:

SISS founder-director Masarrat Tavawalla

Further down the Top 10 table as well, there is a major seating rearrangement. The highly-respected SPJ Sadhana School, Mumbai is ranked #6 (4) jointly with Sunderji Institute of Special School, Pune (12), which has been awarded a spectacular promotion this year, followed by The Gateway School, Mumbai jointly ranked #7 (7) with Mata Bhagwanti Chadha Niketan, Noida (5). Vidyaniketan Academy, Bengaluru has also been awarded a big promotion to #8 (14) while Sanchetna, Noida retains its #9 rank of 2021-22 and is jointly ranked with Aatman Academy, Thane (10). Connect Academy, Nashik has also leaped forward to #10 (17) and is jointly ranked with Mamta Mandir School, Navsari (11).

“We are delighted to learn that your knowledgeable sample respondents have recognised our efforts in educating children with special needs and promoted us to the Top 10 table. This endorsement is a big booster and will further motivate our teachers. Credit must also be given to our parents’ community without whose support our goals cannot be achieved. With children’s needs changing significantly after two years of pandemic lockdown, our teachers had to walk the extra mile to make up for the learning and socio-emotional loss of our students,” says Masarrat Tavawalla, a psychology and child development postgraduate of Mumbai University, and founder-director of the Pune-based Sunderji’s Global Academia group of institutions, of which Sunderji’s Institute of Special School (SISS, estb.2005) is a constituent. Currently, SISS has an enrolment of 160 children mentored by 30 teachers.

Further down the 28-strong league table of the country’s most respected special needs schools, several other institutions have also been awarded big promotions. Among them: Bubbles Centre for Autism, Bengaluru jointly ranked #16 (18) with Bethany Special School, Bangalore (19); Manovikas, Delhi #17 (20), Shristi Child Development and Learning Institute, Delhi #18 (21), Dare School, Munnar #19 (22) and Bethany Society’s Jyoti Sroat Inclusive School, Shillong #20 (22) with the previously unranked Blue Bells School for Integrated Learning, Gurugram making an impressive debut at #13.

For full list, please visit:EW India School Rankings 2022-23 – Top & best schools in India

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