The challenge of turning a home into a school

At a Greater Chennai Corporation School in Thiru Vi Ka Nagar. File Photo  

They are frontline workers in a broader sense of the term. They provide home-based training to the differently-abled in the age group of six to 18. They continued to do this work during the pandemic.

A majority of the differently-abled persons they serve are from the under privileged sections of society. Under the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan of the Department of School Education, there are around 40 special educators and 10 physiotherapists and caretakers each for the 10 educational zones in Chennai.

The pandemic, especially the restriction imposed during the lockdown, signified a huge setback to these special-needs children. They could not get home-based intervention. Unless they had a support system at home, problems arising from their disabilities worsened.

Based on their levels of disability, these children would require varying degrees of intervention every day, say special educators.

“Catering to such special-needs children with severe disability is as much our need as theirs,” says S. Reegan, a special educator in Perambur educational zone.

One of the first challenges that Reegan encountered was persuading caregivers/parents is letting him visit them. Reegan usually brings a female colleague along so that the family feels comfortable about it.

“One family that we paid a visit to did not have enough space to accommodate us, so they shifted the child to the staircase leading to the neighbour’s house,” he says.

Reegan says remedial classes to be offered to a child cannot be planned elaborately in advance. Everything can suddenly change, on the basis of their current state of mind.

“If the child does not cooperate, sometimes we get only 10 minutes of fruitful time which is still important as these visits are not aimed at teaching new concepts, but reminding the child and the caregiver of what was taught earlier,” says Reegan, who did his BEd followed by a diploma programme in teaching for the deaf.

During the Pre-COVID days, special-needs children — those with mild, moderate and extreme disabilities — visited the centre closest to their house for various intervention programmes. Now, due to the pandemic the focus is on home-based intervention with priority being given, factoring in the level of disability.

Personalised teaching

Since August, I. Lalitha, a special educator in Choolai, has been making three visits a day to some of her students’ home. Of the database of 322 special-needs children in the Periamet educational zone, 87 come under the Choolai region. “I choose students who are bedridden and those who have little means to get any intervention and whose parents need to be continually pushed,” says Lalitha.

Some of these children have their house on the pavement and have no therapeutic tools to rely on.

“The pandemic has taught me to innovate around the curriculum like never before and adapt to new situations,” says Lalitha, a special educator for the last 10 years. She says visiting the students’ homes was an eye-opener.

Depending on the space and situation at home, we ask the caregiver to train the child in occupational therapy through things that are available. “For instance, channa dal and urad dal are mixed and the children are asked to sort them out, so that they are engaged. At the centre, we have a trampoline. At the home, we ask the caregiver to allow the child jump on the cot under their supervision,” says Lalitha.

Even during the days when intense lockdown was in place, some of these educators interacted with the caregiver over phone and made sure some of the special children’s urgent needs were met.

“One of our students from Perungudi lost his father last year and his mother struggled to run the family with a differently-abled child. In the pre-COVID days, we used to visit his house once a week for therapy but that got stopped for a few months, so I speak to the caregiver and keep motivating her not to give up,” says a special educator with the Mylapore zone.

For many years, special educators with the the School Education Department have also been asking that their remuneration be increased and made on a par with government school teacher but no steps have been taken so far.

There is bitterness that the Government has not recognised our efforts and we earn a meagre salary after toiling for so many years, but we forget our personal misery once we are with these differently-abled children, say educators.

“Seeing a child recognise me with a smile or call me ‘miss’ is the biggest happiness I can get,” says Lalitha.

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 11:07:14 AM |

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