A step ahead
TEACH runs English and Maths programmes to help students with hearing impairment pursue higher education
While volunteering at a special school for hearing-impaired students in Goregaon in 2013, childhood friends Deepesh Nair and Aman Sharma, who work as senior financial advisors at a multinational company, realised the shortcomings in the education system for these students. Everything from reading and writing to language skills, guidance and opportunities for higher education was found wanting. “While the rest of the world complains about not-so-good colleges, these students do not even have colleges to go to,” says Mr. Nair.
To understand the problem better, the duo started visiting special schools and other institutes in Mumbai, and here too, found several loopholes. First, the students of Class X are taught vocational subjects like book binding and typewriting, which have very little connect with higher education courses. Second, a majority of the schools are in the vernacular medium, and many students are not eligible to take up higher studies as they have not appeared for the mandatory English paper. “We also found that students who clear the English paper are not proficient enough, and hence find it difficult to compete with other students,” says Mr. Sharma. Further, Indian Sign Language has not developed much due to the variety of languages in the country.
Keeping this in mind, the two started Training and Educational Centre for Hearing impaired (TEACH) with a vision to help hearing-impaired children lead an independent life in 2016 and teamed up with six of their friends: Nasrulla Adamji, Sonali Kaveri, Kriti Kumari, Bonny Kuruvilla, Fariya Korlekar and Heena Singh, most of whom hold day jobs in multinationals.
To begin with, the team decided to focus on two subjects — English and Maths — and enrol students who have cleared the SSC exam and wish to further take the HSC exam. The medium of communication was Indian Sign Language.
To begin with, the students had to be made eligible and competent for higher education. Hence, post their SSC, they decided to enrol the students in the Preparatory Year, where they would learn English, vocabulary, sign language, Maths, and soft skills, says Nasrulla Adamji, Project Lead.
One of the main challenges was to raise funds and look for affordable space. “We also faced difficulty in convincing schools and parents for enrolling students in higher education and developing a curriculum tailor-made to the students’ needs,” says Mr. Sharma. They finally found a place in Kalina and with self-funding of around Rs. 4 lakh, started their Preparatory Year with 20 students on July 12, 2016. UnLtd India pumped in a further Rs. 1.2 lakh this year.
TEACH has divided its operations into the in-house and English language programmes, which they run across schools for the hearing impaired. The three-year in-house programme is for students who have cleared their SSC exam through the vernacular medium. In their first preparatory year of college, they learn English and Maths and for the next two years, study HSC-level commerce. TEACH has 39 in-house students.
“We cover all the topics taught to regular primary school students and make them ready for the SSC English exam. Along with this, we also cover the missed maths syllabus in the first year,” says Fariya Korelekar, a volunteer who teaches Maths. “In schools, Maths is taught to these students only till Class VII and hence, they find it difficult to cope with Accounts and other subjects at higher levels.”
Nine students from the first batch cleared their SSC English exam this year; Shehzeen Shaikh (16) scored 79 out of 100, the second highest score in the overall ‘deaf’ category in Mumbai. Ms. Shaikh hopes to become a teacher after completing her B.Com and help children like her “pursue higher education with confidence.”
Aamir Lulia (19), who is in his first year of Junior College, desires to do an MBA (Finance). “Earlier, I found Maths and English to be the toughest subjects, but now these are my favourite,” he says, with a smile.
Maria Khan (21), hopes to pursue fashion designing and jewellery making. On how the course has helped her, she says, “Although I had scored 80% in my SSC, I was not sure I would be able to take up higher education as I wasn’t confident enough.”
English Language Programme
Over time, the members of TEACH realised that instead of utilising a whole academic year covering the basics of English and Maths, they could implement the English Language Programme in special schools, so students could directly take admission after their SSC into the first year of Junior College. The team is currently mentoring teachers of Rotary School for Deaf, Mulund in the English and Maths Programme.
Apart from ELP and Maths, TEACH also has the Computer Knowledge Programme, self-grooming and personality development programmes for their in-house
students. “The differently-abled job quota for the hearing impaired largely goes unclaimed as they do not meet the necessary educational qualifications. We want them to be eligible for jobs that can have them placed in government and corporate jobs,” says Mr. Nair.
Along with reaching out to students in Mumbai, TEACH plans to spread its footprint across other cities in the near future. “We dream to make it big by setting examples, producing more examples and leading the change,” says Mr. Sharma.