Coaching Special Children

Coaching Special Children

Ancient scriptures of India bestow a high stature to the teaching profession. The teacher is perhaps the most important individual in a child’s life, after his/her parents. And not without reason, for teachers influence the young minds in a manner that is indelible. No wonder, teaching has long been considered a noble profession. But when the child being taught is physically or mentally challenged, the nobility associated with the profession reaches its peak.

Earlier this year, while presenting his budget 2003-2004 speech, the finance minister of Maharashtra announced the implementation of a comprehensive programme of "Enablement of the Disabled" over the next 3 years. This included enrolment of disabled students in general schools. So far disabled children could only attend special schools which are limited in number, depriving many such children their basic right of education.

With this new step, the Government of Maharashtra may have opened up new avenues of for the disabled children, but it also faces a gigantic challenge – that of training teachers from regular schools in the techniques of educating children who need special care.

As we write this, 25 teachers from various municipal schools across the city would be attending the last session of what can be called a unique orientation programme where they were trained in the rather sensitive skills of coaching children in need of special care. The workshop which was held at the Jidd School in Thane began on June 16, 2003 and lasted 45 days, which included a 7-day digression to the National Association of Blind.

The objective of the workshop was to orient participant teachers in the following ways:

  • To help them understand and respond to the educational, emotional, physical and vocational implications of handicapping conditions
  • Develop their skills in systematic assessment
  • Help them develop curriculum needed for children with physical disabilities, mental retardation, and learning disabilities/visual impairment (special children)
  • Help them with planning and implementation of educational programmes needed for these special children
  • Familiarise them with organisation and administration of special education programmes for special children
  • Understand and participate in the work of parents, doctors and the community at large in preparing the special child to become optimally productive and a useful member of society
  • Grasp the methods and procedure of encouraging co-operation from the family and understand the problems of the special child.
  • Be acquainted with the attitudes of parents and society towards special children

Principal of Jidd School and coordinator of the workshop, Shyamshree Bhonsle expressed her apprehensions about the effectiveness of such an exercise. According to her, "Teaching special children is not simply a matter about acquiring skills and imparting knowledge. It’s about a certain sense of mission and dedication that goes beyond the mere material pursuits like earning money or fame. It’s about sporting an attitude of love and tolerance." Yet she also added that she’s happy that finally these children are finding their rightful place in the society and will no longer feel left out.

The reactions of 25 participant teachers can be held as testimony to the fact that teaching children in need of special care requires a special kind of commitment. Most of these teachers were deeply moved and many even wept in their first few days of the workshop. In many ways, Jidd School is the perfect venue for such a training workshop as children from the poorest strata of the society study here.

There were as many as 69 prominent individuals from various fields who assisted Bhonsle in the mammoth task of training 25 teachers every day from 9:30 in morning to 4:30 in the evening for 45 days. Dr. Milind Patil (Orthopaedic Surgeon), Dr. Madhuri Pai (Educationist and Past Director of the Spastic Society), Raman Shankar (Director of National Association of Blind), Shubha Thatte (Senior clinical psychological) and Sampada Kulkarni (TV actress and compere) were among the many who spared time out of their busy schedules to instruct the participants.

Chairman of Primary Education Committee of TMC Chintamani Karkhanis reveals, "These programmes are being conducted under the directive of the Maharashtra Government. The programmes are free of charge and the participant teachers are awarded a certificate at the end of the course. Although not compulsory, the teachers who attend certainly benefit from the course as they become better equipped in handling the needs of special children."

Although a circular was sent to all schools in the city, almost all the participants who attended were from the municipal schools. Many teachers from private schools were quite eager to attend but could not, perhaps because their schools did not approve their participation, revealed Bhonsle. She then appealed, "Though not compulsory, principals and heads of private, aided and unaided schools in the city would do well to send their representatives to such programmes whenever they are held in the future. The government is doing its bit – we teachers should do ours."

"The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children," said German Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And our teachers carry an uneven share of the burden of this morality on their shoulders. The least we can is encourage them.

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