Helping students with learning disabilities thrive in high-school and college

While there is awareness of learning disabilities in primary and middle school, what of students at the senior levels and in higher education?

December 16, 2023 11:56 am | Updated 11:56 am IST

With the right strategies and forward planning, students with learning
disabilities can chart a path to success.

With the right strategies and forward planning, students with learning disabilities can chart a path to success. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

When Bengaluru-based student Jordan Hereford was diagnosed with learning disabilities, his family homeschooled him until Class 10. They struggled to find a senior secondary school for him, but finally discovered a CISCE-affiliated school in Bengaluru that supported him during this crucial stage. This proved to be a turning point. “He topped class 12 in Economics and Accountancy, and won five prizes,” says his sister, Tamara. “He studied Journalism, International Relations and Public Policy at Bengaluru’s St. Joseph’s University, which also encouraged him.” in Bengaluru, which also offered him a lot of encouragement.”

While there is more awareness at the primary and middle-school levels in India, what happens to students with learning difficulties at the senior secondary and college levels?

Concessions given

At the senior school levels, many students with learning disabilities opt for the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), a national-level education board in India that provides flexibility in taking exams and a varied choice of subjects. Mangala Jayachandran, Director of Special Education (Retired) at Lady Andal Venkatasubba Rao School and Head, Lady Andal House of Children (NIOS), is a pioneer in the special education space in Chennai. She observes that, when schools ramp up support in the senior-secondary level, remarkable things happen. “Children who were sent away from other schools have bloomed under our care and have become entrepreneurs, artists, CEOs and achievers in sports,” she says. “Most of our students have pursued their higher studies either in reputed institutions in Chennai or abroad, or even opted for vocational training.”

She believes that there are positive developments for students with dyslexia in higher education, with procedures to secure eligibility certificates and concessions extended by the government of Tamil Nadu at the undergraduate level. Every education board in India offers exam concessions and access arrangements for students with special needs.

Arnav Jain, a student with learning disabilities, is currently in the final-year of Bachelor of Business Management and Marketing (BBMM) with a specialisation in Marketing at the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) in Mumbai, which allows the use of a laptop, a scribe and a read-aloud service. He also hosts a podcast called Fireside Chat Show with Arnav Jain, in which explores his journey when it comes to dyslexia. He finds that many colleges and universities in India are unwilling to accept students with learning difficulties or those who finish senior secondary exams in NIOS. “Colleges feel that students with learning disabilities may not be able to cope with the rigours of a UG programme.” Arnav scored well in the NPAT, which is the NMIMS entrance exam.

Sarika Umamahesh, Learning Centre Coordinator at Bangalore International School in Bengaluru, believes that counselling, wellness sessions, and guidance for post-school transition plans are important. The Learning Centre at BIS was established in 2003, and caters to students with mild to severe special education needs. “The centre takes a collaborative approach to learning disabilities and even uses assistive technology devices to help help students achieve their potential,” she says. “The school also conducts sensitisation sessions for its student community and works closely with its parents. Many of our students who have completed their NIOS senior secondary course have joined colleges in India, the U.K., the U.S., Canada, and Singapore. They have taken up various professions such as Montessori teaching, graphic designing, fashion designing, hospitality and hotel management.

Vocational programmes

The Bachelor of Vocation degree is a great way for students with learning disabilities to access training embedded in real-life work environments. At the school level, APL Global in Chennai offers the Kamalam Programme to equip students with prevocational skills and functional academics. The school follows the Cambridge curriculum and is also an NIOS-accredited centre. Says Kripa Ganesan, Head of Special Education, “In Classes 10 and 12, students work closely with the subject teachers and are supported by special educators with specific strategies to improve their creative writing skills, executive functioning, note-taking and study skills.”

It is not just dyslexics who benefit from vocational training. The German vocational education and training system is renowned worldwide and can be a great way to address the global skills gap. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) stated in 2022 that Bachelor of Vocation courses will be treated on par with an Engineering Diploma or a B.Sc. for a lateral entry into B.Tech. D. Chandrasekhar, President of the Madras Dyslexia Association, observes that students with learning disabilities do not automatically get accepted into colleges. Acceptance is sporadic, largely due to parents’ painstaking efforts. “Students with learning disabilities mostly take up Visual Communication and Home Science, but colleges should make other majors and disciplines accessible to them,” he says.

Until then, students with learning disabilities need to spot the right opportunities and fight for better representation in higher education institutes in India.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai and the founder of Bangalore Schools, a Facebook parent community.

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