Leaving behind children with learning disabilities

Monday Musing

[ Tongam Rina ]

My professor has been tutoring some schoolchildren between the ages of 6 and 14. Their families belong to the lower income group.

One day, my professor asked if I would like to be volunteer teacher. I said yes, not knowing what was in store but excited and fully fascinated. Finally, the day came and I was face to face with the children. Since I wasn’t sure what to teach a diverse group of students, I asked them to decide. After a long round of introductions, some reading, drawing and songs followed.

One boy stood out. The boy of around 14 years of age has been attending the school for a couple of years, yet he wasn’t able to write, read, or draw. He wasn’t very coherent either and seemed to struggle with attention.

I felt terrible, not knowing what to do with a teenager who could not read, write, or draw after going to school for many years. No matter how much he or I tried, it wasn’t going anywhere, so I suspended the class to go to the park nearby.

While at the park, his younger sister, who was in Class 4, told me that her brother can’t write or read, and that he drew the same thing. He wasn’t being promoted to the next class and, though younger by a few years, she had already overtaken him. Recently, my professor shared that she had spoken to the family about the boy’s education but the family can’t afford a school that they found in Assam.

There are no government schools in Arunachal for children with learning disabilities. Where do such children go? Stay home, or be in a school where there are no facilities for children with leaning disabilities.

The state must step in to make sure that some children aren’t left behind. It must find out avenues for these children who otherwise excel in a lot of things. Emphasis should be given to vocational education of their choices for those children whose parents don’t have ways and means to support them. It’s easy to dub them as non-performers and dismiss them.

It would be collective failure if the state isn’t able to provide help to these children and those others who are severely mentally and physically impaired.

The government can emulate the Donyi Polo School for the Hearing and Visually Impaired, a non-governmental school which has been able to provide education to children in need of special education.

School education should not be focused solely on academics, so that such children, who do not fit in a typical classroom where emphasis is solely on ability to score marks, aren’t left out. I still think of that boy who was able to grasp a lot of other things but not letters and numbers.

There are many children with learning, physical and mental disabilities. Parents don’t know what to do and where to go. Unless one is privileged, finding avenues to support the child is almost non-existent. There is zero state intervention for these children and their families who need support. So many children don’t fit into the traditional school curriculum where the emphasis is on passing exams. How are these children supposed to fit in? Even before they start, these children are excluded. Is that the education we are looking at? No.