Tamil Nadu

Special educators run into challenges as learning moves online

One of the major challenges with online learning is the wide spectrum of disabilities, with each disability requiring specific solutions.   | Photo Credit: Sudhakara Jain / The Hindu

The United Nations, ahead of the International Day for Persons with Disabilities on December 3, has called for greater inclusion of persons with disabilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

With several changes taking over education which has rapidly moved online, the focus is on ensuring that students with disabilities are able to continue learning. “Since we work with students who are hearing-impaired and are largely from the underprivileged sections, our main priority is to ensure access and continuity of learning. It has been a constant process of...ensuring that none of our children loses out,” said Sr. M. Jesintha Rosalind, principal, Little Flower Convent Higher Secondary School for the Deaf.

The school’s special educators have been sending out PowerPoint presentations and video resources, as well as customised recorded lessons, to the students of the higher classes. “There are students who have no internet access or whose households have only a single gadget that someone else might be using. It is important to keep every student’s situation in mind and we’ve even been reaching out to them through their neighbours or friends,” Sr. Rosalind said.

Earlier this year, the State government’s Kalvi TV started telecasting classes in the sign language to help the hearing-impaired students. For the visually impaired students, WhatsApp voice calls and recordings have been used extensively by their teachers.

Jacqueline Latha, principal, Government Higher Secondary School for the Visually Impaired, Poonamallee, said that to the students of Classes 9-12, voice notes, along with video resources that they could listen to, were being sent.

“I, however, miss the classroom environment. In school, we picked up concepts quicker and had the option of discussing lessons with our peers, which we don’t have now. Several college students, too, come to school and read out our lessons, which was of great help,” said B. Vijayabalan, a Class 12 student. He has been studying with the help of voice recordings from his teachers.

During a regular school year, students like him receive electronic devices as well as braille textbooks from the government. And they have not received them, so far, this year. While problems in access to internet connections and electronic devices persist for the visually impaired, educators say that if schools and hostels reopen, they are equally concerned about how physical distancing can effectively be maintained.

B. Radhakrishnan, managing trustee, Annai Special School, run by Karunaii Trust, pointed out that families that had children with intellectual disabilities had several challenges, especially with regard to children losing out on a structured daily routine and access to therapeutic services. “Coming to a special school meant that children, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, had regular access to these services. With children forced to stay home during the pandemic, it has been a struggle for several parents, especially daily wagers,” he said. Special educators constantly kept in touch with such students on the phone, guided their parents and have even had educators meet them for one-on-one sessions, he said.

“We were completely dependent on my daughter’s school, until before the lockdown,” said A. Vijayalakshmi, a domestic worker, whose 16-year-old daughter has an intellectual disability. Phone calls from the school were what helped her through the initial months of the pandemic. Now, short and regular individual sessions with her teacher help restore semblance of a routine.

The one welcome aspect, special educators like B. Malathi say, is the increased involvement of parents. “We have constantly kept in touch with them and guided them on how to keep their children engaged through the learning programmes we have prepared...,” she said.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 5:38:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/special-educators-run-into-challenges-as-learning-moves-online/article33235507.ece

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