Friday, 24 July 2015

Inclusive Education in Rural Lower Primary Schools - Teachers Recount Their Experiences

Inclusive education is a very ambitious intent of providing equal learning opportunities to all children irrespective of their mental and physical abilities. The aspect of having both normal children and children with special needs in the same study environment comes with its own set of challenges. Many mainstream schools are skeptical about it and are not very encouraging.

Under SSA ( Sarva Siksha Abhiyan), the Indian government makes education in govt schools Inclusive. Added to this, if a child is unable to come to school due to its condition, a teacher / trainer is appointed to help the child at home itself. Despite all these initiatives, in my opinion, this philosophy still strives at its infancy in our education system.
In India many normal children do not get to go to schools, we can imagine the situation of rural children who have special needs. Most of these children simply don’t get a fair chance. There are several hurdles to cross starting with lack of awareness, to availability of special learning environments.
In my journey through several villages, I have come across many children who are mentally or physically challenged. I have seen children with conditions like palsy, Down’s syndrome, Autism and ADHD sharing their learning environment with normal children at the rural Govt schools. Many children though not severely mentally or physically challenged have stunted growth, memory issues and slow learning curves and I have always felt these conditions to be related to nutrition.
What follows in this article are the heart warming experiences of a few school teachers with children with special needs.

Through their stories we can see the challenges they face, the joy they find and the cross roads they often stand in. In the process of interacting with them, several questions have brewed in my mind about the effectiveness of the initiatives.

About Kumar (name changed)

Contributed by: Smt. BhagyaLakshmi. B.S, 
GLPS Thyaranahalli
When I was working at LPS Bommasandra in Kanakapura, a 7 year old boy, Kumar joined 1st Standard. He was physically fine but had some mental disabilities; I do not know what his exact condition is called. Unlike other children, he could not pay attention to his surroundings or anything in the class.

He would shout at other children, trouble them, he was very aggressive and other children felt threatened in his presence. We took him for a child with behavior disorder like IED (intermittent explosive disorder). I came to know that his parents felt he was a bit of a burden for them so they left him with his grandmother, who took care of him.

Kumar’s grandmother had not much interest in bringing him to the school; it is upon our insistence that she would unwillingly drop him at the school.Teaching Kumar was a challenge in front of us. All that we wanted Kumar to learn was how to behave with others and how to live independently (take care of himself). He was very aggressive initially and it was very difficult to handle the class. When ever we tried to focus on him, our regular classes would get disturbed and other children never got our attention. 

As we had not taken any special training to handle children with special needs, it was difficult to train him even in basic things like using the toilet. You can imagine the situations in the classroom that would disrupt the whole class.We did get some ideas from a few books on how to engage Kumar with some learning activities using building blocks, colors etc.

Finally one day, a teacher was appointed to teach him at his home.
We told the new teacher about all our efforts and the small changes that we had noticed in him. We wished him well and then we did not see him again.
But in our hearts we still hope that he would be getting enough support to bloom.

About Seema and Pavan (names changed)

Contributed by: 
Smt. M.N Sarala 
K.C Lakshmi Narasamma (not in photo), 
Teachers, GLPS, Keelukoppa.
I have two students in my school who are extremely slow learners. They find it very hard to remember things. Seema and Pavan mingle well with other students in the class and are very bold and beautiful children. They feel challenged when it comes to following the academic curriculum and learning in par with other children in the classroom.

However, I never gave up my efforts in bringing them up to speed.
I have used the method of “repetition regularly” so that slowly they can hold things in their mind.
It does take away a lot of attention from other children and truly tests my patience.

Many times, I have lost my cool but have quickly regained my composure and tried not look at them as children not fit to be in the classroom.

Perhaps a certain different curriculum might have been the solution but I do not have the authority to bend the syllabus for these children, and the struggle continues.

About Gowri & Suraj (names changed)

Contributed by:  Smt. Sangeetha, Teacher,
GLPS, Kondanahalli
Gowri, is a completely deaf and dumb 6 yrs old child studying in the Govt lower primary school. She is trying to write and understand all that is taught in the school. We do not train her in sign language and she manages her communication with other children through actions.
the smiling 11yr old boy in the picture is partially immobile; he cannot get up from his bed or move around. He cannot attend regular school, so a teacher was appointed to train him at his home under SSA.
Suraj loves pictures, whenever the teacher showed him picture cards; he would try to touch them. He would respond by making small sounds.

Over time, he developed a bonding with the teacher and if she was absent for any reason, he would ask about her. Through many years of training he has now learned to ask for milk or something to eat. These are a great deal of learning in the child and it would have perhaps not been possible for the parents alone to bring about. A lot of patience, love and dedication go into it.

Suraj, 11 years
These are real stories that highlight teachers doing a great job. On the flip side there is no shortage of dark tales filled with contexts of teachers and parents showing ample negligence, apathy and lack of responsibility towards children with special needs.

Children who are mentally challenged are not diagnosed in many cases. In many cases, parents and teachers choose to ignore or stay silent. Even if identified, parents and teachers are clueless about how to cater to their needs. In some cases, we find children bloom together like different flowers with their unique fragrance in a garden and in other cases; we see that children like unique plants need special care and separate environment to survive.

How do we visualize an all-encompassing garden without knowing the needs of the plants we are going to nurture?

This again brings me back to the question on effectiveness of all the efforts being put in this direction.

I personally feel that:

  1. Children with special needs must be diagnosed for their condition and guidelines should be provided to schools on accessing whether the school has proper resources and trained staff to cater to the unique needs of the child.
  2. Apart from teaching children at home, learning centers for children with special needs must be available in the rural segment with appropriate curriculum along with trained teaching staff.
  3. Regular school teachers must also be offered more training and must be equipped better to work with children having special needs.

These are just a few thoughts that come as I pass through this somewhat intense experience in the world of children. What really comes out of all these stories are a complex web of intertwined issues, emotions, problems, solutions and many thoughts on the broader subject of what do children really need to learn and how?

So far, I have still not come across a single teacher who is of the opinion that all children with physical or mental disabilities should be in different school. However, most teachers have certainly made it clear that they are not equipped enough to handle them.

They have also expressed that children with certain conditions like complete deafness, dumbness, blindness, etc need special environment and training through different medium. It will make sense to give them an environment that suits their learning needs.

If children with special needs are properly identified and teachers are given training along with a flexible curriculum for these children, we can hope to see a significant step forward towards the intent of inclusive education.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Happiness Through Asanas!

 We met nine little livewires in Chennai! In tamizh there is a proverb ‘moorthi siridhunaalum, keerthi peridhu’ – though the statue/form maybe small, its fame is big! They may have looked like ‘small’ livewires but there was nothing small about their activeness. Their active involvement with Bala Vidya was so touching and endearing. ‘Touching’ and ‘endearing’ are the labels that I have assigned.  They were being just themselves.

The children grew from a seed to a tree and evolved to become animals.  They travelled through the forest, desert, plains and water.  Each medium was supported by an asana reflecting the spirit of the animal in that medium.  The trees swished and swayed, the lions roared, the camels were peaceful with their hunched backs, the butterflies flipped and flapped their wings around the cats and cows and then came the snakes, frogs, turtles and the crocodile.  Rest assured they co-existed peacefully, teaching us co-existence, interdependence and the magnificent interweave of nature.

The children in their course of journey also sang, drew, sowed seeds, painted, made bands and listened to stories – and of course they did asanas too! Each one of their names were so poetical and their name badges reflected their individual style of expression
.  When asked at the end of the program, what did you like most in the program – it was not the asanas or the stories or the painting or the sowing….happiness is what they said!

As adults we think, we plan, we chalk out objectives to be achieved at the end of the program – Yes they are achieved and as a by-product of happiness! Thank You Children for being you _/\_

Thank you Jayshree for inviting us to Chennai! Bala Vidya has touched nine lives!  You are such a generous, wonderful & thoughtful host. _/\_

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

tun...tanna...tun...lub..dub..lub...dub..tak..tak..tak...Rhythm - The interweave with life

“To discover your true self you have to listen deep down inside you to the rhythm of life” – when all is quiet and when we pay attention to the very source of living, we can hear the LAYA and THALA of life. 
Music and rhythm are inherent aspect of life itself. There is an orderly flow and innate rhythm to everything in the universe.  The rising and setting sun, the changing seasons, the moving planets, the blowing wind and falling rain are all set to a natural musical flow and tempo.  Our bodies and lives are also full of music.  The movement of breath, the beating of heart, the flow of thoughts and the course of events that occur in our life are all like music. Rhythm pervades everywhere in the mundane things too – be it the sound of the footsteps, movement of the wheels, ring of the phone, whirring of the fan, rustle of the leaves, gurgle of the water….we just need to listen to it.  When we can experience and appreciate the music in the universe we have reached a point of inner bliss which is the very purpose of music.  
In general music is looked upon mostly as entertainment. There is little awareness that is drawn to the inward movements and effects that music can bring in a person. Fine Music is a very powerful tool that can relax, alter emotional states, heal and ultimately elevate the spirit itself.  Music is our soul connect with the universe.

In Balavidya, we believe in providing children a musical environment in which we do not limit or judge their musical understanding by their ability to sing, play musical instruments or appreciate any particular type of music.  Thank you Prasad Naveen for bringing focus to this rhythm of life.  

Rhythm ruled the session @ Sundapalayam Panchayat Union Primary school with the beat of the Ganjira, flow of the Flute and recorder, strumming of the Guitar, melody of the Voices and also through the floor, a gift box, a water bottle, a belan, claps….anything in sight was used to convert to a rhythm.
The children were excited to touch and feel the flute and the guitar.  Some were disappointed when nothing came out of the flute when they blew into it.  Udhay explained beautifully to them about how the same air is channelized and how it needs to be practised.  There was a mini riot during the break time to feel, touch and play the guitar.  Sukhdeo had a hard time getting his guitar back.
Sukhdeo’s and Jayshree’s melodious voice held the kids in silence.  Irrespective of whether they understood the words or not their silence indicated that they were connected to the spirit of the song. 
The song Jayshree rendered was was profound indeed:
We are flowers
Nurse us gently
We are the hope of the world
Let us grow up wildly and then let us bud
We are flowers
Do not break us
Endless is our glow
Let us grow up freely
No violence, death or woe
Give us courage to be happy
Happy, kind and bold
Trust and give us loving
Cause the world outside is cold
We are children
And we are many
We’re the salt of the earth
Listen to us we will blossom
We know our worth (3)
This simple sweet song was taught to the children:
Roses are red, violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet and so are you,
Remember M, remember E
And then you will say remember ME

Then began the rhythm session! What a vibration and synergy that was which emerged so naturally proving once again that rhythm is innate in us.  Nothing was left from the circle of rhythm – clapping, beat of the ganjira, click of the stones, beat of the water bottle, thumping on the floor, tap-tap with the belan…Children were enthralled and mesmerized.  After the session when I saw some boys tapping the pencil on the pencil box to a rhythm of their own I knew the message had reached the children.  Rhythm can be found in anything and anywhere.
Thank You Anil, Udhay, Sukhdeo, Antony, Vibin, Harshad, Sundaresan, Vimida for spending time with the children.
Thank You Vedic Foundation team – as usual we did what needs to be done – Rema, Arul, Kousalya, Jayshree & Prasad.
Love and Gratitude for all that is _/\_

Some moments:
V1: Do you know what instrument this is? (Volunteer had a Recorder in her hand)
Children: Nadhaswaram!!! (Not for a moment did we think, children would relate it to Nadhaswaram.  Wish I could have captured on lens our expressions)
V2: Tell me a song and I will play on the flute.
Children: What a Karavad!!!
Volunteer did play that song with Madhan singing along.
V3: Can you guess my name?
Children: Krishna! (He had a guitar in his hand and he has curly locks)
V2: Can anyone whistle?
Couple of children whistled like pros.  Finger inside their mouth and they went –wheeeee!!! What a sound that was!! And the children were from 3rd and 4th standard.
V2 invited the children to come up and play the flute.  One boy came up and he was very shy too.  When he attempted to play the flute and all that came out of the flute was air.  The whole school burst out laughing and I was left wondering what could be the impact of this on the child.  Thanks to the volunteer he communicated so beautifully with the children and brought it to their awareness that this needs practice and persistence for a tune to emerge.

“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul” and this was an occasion of joyous loving moments to see the rhythm emerge from the soul of the children.  Lots of love <3   

Friday, 6 February 2015

Picnic that led us to a Portal

Sometime back there was a report in the newspaper here saying, parents are backing off from sending their children to school outings and picnics. Also teachers are expressing reluctance to participate due to the increased crime rate at schools in Bangalore.
Just a day after I read this report I got a call from a school teacher requesting VF to help her organize a school picnic.
I always wanted to take children out, especially those with whom I interact in the villages.
Whenever I have asked children where would they like to come out with me. They have asked me to show them the beach, and I would smilingly assure them that we will all go to the beach one day for sure.

Now I had an opportunity to organize a picnic and help the school teachers who so enthusiastically had pitched the idea to me. We decided to go to a near by hill where a perennial source of water keeps trickling down. Kolar district, where I live is an arid zone with very little rains for the past many years and what ever little water used to be there is also depleted after all the lakes have been mined for sand.

I felt this is perhaps a good warm up exercise for me before I take these children to the beach sometime.
We fixed a date and let the children and parents know about the picnic.
There was a great wave of excitement in the school and the village. Preparations for the picnic day started way before the actual date.
Finally the day came and we started early in the morning, we had told the children that they can bring along snacks if they like. All of them had nice little bags stuffed with lots of eatables.
Slowly the picnic mood was setting in, songs, laughter, stories and fun was rolling out.

I asked the girl sitting next to me what is in her bag to munch?
she said with great excitement " lots of things miss, I have Dairymilk chocolates, Kurkure, Lays chips, Bourbon biscuits. My father has got me all the quality and costly items." The girl was feeling very proud.
I displayed a grand surprise and shared the admiration the girl had for her father.
She was still smiling at me and then she said " Miss, my father borrowed money from his friend and got me these things."

Soon there was another boy who pitched in and said " Hey! my mother also took a loan of Rs.20 and has got me two big Dairymilks"

I came to know that many parents have taken loans to buy tidbits for their children.

soon we reached the foothills and we started our trek hiding all the bags of eatables from the monkeys. The trek began with great excitement and energy but soon fatigue was setting in and the monkeys were not letting us open a single bag of eatables.

a silence set in as we reached the top of the hill, everybody fell silent for sometime, even the kids chose to rest under a tree. After a few minutes, all the kids asked me where is the water?

I took all of them to the trickling stream of water and let them connect with the cool water and rejuvenate themselves, they drank from the stream and told me the water is sweet!
I was happy to be with them at their moment of true joy.

We spent some time having fun on top of the hill and then made our way down, again hiding from the monkeys.
Once we were out of the hill we decided to go to a nearby park where the children can eat their snacks safely. They played for sometime in the park and then opened their bags and started to share their treasured snacks and feast on them.
They were very happy.
But once they were done, a few boys from the 5th std came up to us and said

" Miss, we ate our food, it was all very nice but we want to again drink that water up there."

The school teacher said " next time when we come for picnic here you drink it".
It was a polite decline from her. The children were apparently disappointed.

The teacher looked at me and said " For such a moment I have reserved a few more packets of lays, some chocolates and burfis. Let me distribute them and I am sure these kids will be fine"

She fetched the eatables from her bag and told the kids that the fun is still not over and here is more food that she has got for them.
Some children were very excited and ran to her to get their share. But the 5th std children said " we have had enough of this, if you please let us, we will run up the hill and drink some water and come back"

The teacher was about to refuse but then I jumped in to say " Madam, I will escort them and bring them back safe. By then let these kids play a few more minutes in the park."

She did not seem very pleased with the idea but did not refuse me either :)

Now I was with few children and more on a quest or a mission more than a picnic. As the other children noticed that we were going back to the hills, most of them left their snacks, emptied their water bottles and gave it to us, so that we can bring more water from the stream.
I was happy to see this reaction, finally the chocolates and biscuits were left behind for something that truly attracted the children coming from a dusty and dry village.

We had less time and lots of running to do. We did it. We took as many water bottles as we could carry back.
For a few of us the picnic and the trickling water stream was turning out to be a portal to perhaps reach another dimension.