Embodying hope while raising questions about rehabilitation
Manjira Majumdar, Kolkata / Singrauli, Uttar Pradesh
July 10, 2017

The recent announcement by the Ministry for Human Resources Development, of the government’s plan to set up a special university for the disabled may well cater to such special children. The current scenario is that there is a problem of regular inflow of students in remote areas while urban children face problems of adjustments. The assessment of social and emotional development may vary from one community to another, economic profile and, often, the individual need of each child. Some CSR projects are, however, making a difference

Travelling long distances by road connects you to the real India. As the russet leaves play hide and seek with the late afternoon sun, the four-hour journey from Singrauli to Varanasi by car introduces a mixed bag of good and poor infrastructure. Smooth leafy roads prevail through parts of Anpara, Renukoot, Robertsganj, Dala, Choupan, Obra and Narayanpur, while peak-hour traffic unfolds as you enter Varanasi, a city that straddles the old and the new.
To know what changes are actually taking place on the ground, beyond the metro cities in India, meaningful CSR (corporate social responsibility) projects run by well-known private and public sector companies in health and education in this region do provide some indication. It was heartening, therefore, to walk into a school for the deaf and mute, called Asha Kiran run by NTPC at Vindhyanagar, Singrauli. Not meant for employees only, the school established in 2011 and housed in a nice airy building is open to children with such disabilities in the entire region.

“Teaching such students through sign language is the first challenge but the greater challenge is to prepare them to take the regular board exams,” says the school principal, Poonam Srivastava. “Students take their own individual time in comprehending the sign language, so the pace of learning is not the same for everyone.”

Third picture 188A0725
Students communicating with their teacher in sign language at a school for the deaf and dumb.

Subjects taught are English, Science, Mathematics, Social Sciences and Basic Computers. Therein lies the bigger question of mainstreaming the children when they become adults. Today, education programmes have become more advanced for children with such disabilities, who were earlier taken through the basic linguistic and oral communication, or plain lip-reading. The changes you can gauge when you are told that nearly 800 students have passed out from the school, an average of 50 a year. Several of them have gained admission into regular colleges. A student called Rohit Nai is pursuing his bachelor’s in Commerce at a college in Indore, sponsored by NTPC.

It’s not just the economic profile of the students. Most of them complete their education; however, only a miniscule number can hope to find executive employment in the private or public sector. They are engaged in mostly vocational work. While this may seem a step forward from the time parents of such children considered them a burden, more effective policies are needed to address their educational needs, the first step towards mainstreaming them.

For example, Srivastava is of the opinion that the question papers need to be customised to suit the students. More objective type of questions and shorter question papers should be the norm, even if they fall under the special education schools category, for which several concessions have already been made.

First picture 188A0686
Teacher and students interacting with each other in a classroom. What strikes you are the happy faces of the children.

“Over time, various school boards have devised the need to have special educators in regular schools as well, while various steps have already been initiated by these to make things easy for children with learning disabilities across several spectrums,” says Ruvena Sanyal, child psychologist and school counsellor based in Kolkata. She explains that children with several disabilities may have extraordinary brain power, so a writer and other aides are provided during the examination even in regular schools after getting prior permissions. The rules are updated from time to time.

“When it comes to the hearing and speech impaired, my experience is that there are certain non-academic areas in which they shine. Art is definitely one,” says Swati Chakraborty, a senior teacher with Ideal School for the Deaf, recognised and sponsored by Mass Education Extension, Government of West Bengal. The view is corroborated by the school’s art teacher, Bhaskar Lahiri, who proudly states that a student, Swastik Jena, had received admission into the prestigious Government College of Art in the city.

The school, which is celebrating its golden jubilee this year, has added two more grades – ninth and tenth, and will be conducting its first board examination next year. Until then, students learn various subjects before they are admitted into regular schools as the government policy ensures that no child can be denied admission into a regular school. But the special children are never at total ease in regular schools for which there is large number of dropouts.

The classrooms at Asha Kiran are somewhat spartan (except for bright aids) and there is quietness in the air reminding you it is a special school. But the extremely bright-eyed children range roughly between six and ten a class and greet you with beaming smiles as they interact through sign language in English.

The English sign language is the most acceptable as of now and, as Chakraborty says, “We still do not have a scientific sign language in Bengali. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre is working on one for some time now.” She endorses that Art as a subject has been introduced at the board level and even Bakery, of late.

The problems of rehabilitation are physical and psychological. Often, a hearing-impaired child may get into a regular college but cannot mix well with regular children. On the other hand, s/he has also left his/her special school and friends behind in order to move ahead resulting in a neither-here-nor-there scenario. Naturally, more clinical research with doable policies well executed can go a long way. The two schools are but an example of the efforts that are on in engaging with an important part of our society.

June 2017