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Special Educators

Posted on Friday, December 19, 2008

Although a number of institutes today offer various courses in special education,this segment still faces a severe shortage of skilled educators. Akhila Krishnamurthy and Prachi Sibal explore the scenario of the special education sector in india

special needsA different path

Rashmi Devaprasath, a student of the baccalaureate degree in literature at Stella Maris College, Chennai, happened to visit V - Excel Educational Trust, a city-based non-profit organisation committed to holistic development of special children in December 2003.

Within the next few months of her first call, Devaprasath had not only visited the school three more times but had also decided to enroll for the trust’s year-long, intensive, teacher’s training programme.

Currently, after a two-year stint at the trust as a special educator, Devaprasath is now headed to the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow) to pursue a Master’s in Autism (MSc). “As a subject, you never get tired of autism.

Everything that children with autism do, is not without reason; it amazes me how they are in complete control of their world,” says Devaprasath adding, “I’m not very great with children. But strangely, I get along exceptionally well with children with special needs. Perhaps, because unlike with a regular child, with a special child, what you see is what you get.”
   
However, unlike Devaprasath, there are very few people who actually want to teach children with special needs. “There’s a burning need for well-trained specialised educators,” avers Dr Annie Shyam, Director, The Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu (SPASTN), Chennai. She further adds, “Special educators across various institutions in the country are being trained only to deal with children in one disability. How then, will they handle a child with cerebral palsy who may also have mild mental retardation and the inability to speak?”
   
It is precisely with the intent to try and solve this problem that the Human Resource Development Centre (HRDC) at SPASTN has devised various courses including a Diploma in Special Education (cerebral palsy), Diploma in Basic Developmental Therapy (DBDT), BEd in Special Education and a foundation course for teachers on education of children with disabilities.

Recognised by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI), these courses are intrinsically based on cross-disability training. For instance, the training course in cerebral palsy is extremely comprehensive as it addresses all problems associated with it - visual impairment (VI), hearing impairment (HI), mental retardation (MR), speech and communication disorders, postural and loco - motor dysfunctions. “As a result of the various aspects that the course covers, our students are well-equipped to handle children with any disability on graduation,” stresses Dr Shyam. 

The right approach

“It is imperative to intersperse theory lessons with practical experience,” informs Dr Shyam, adding, “Any special education centre should be connected with a model special school so as to enable students to learn by observation and experience.” Devaprasath, shares a similar opinion, “Observation is crucial to training.”
   

Job satisfaction

Individuals, who work in this field, often feel that their job gives them immense professional satisfaction. Neha Bhalla, faculty member at V-Excel says, “The money isn’t great here, but the joy you derive from working with these children is inexplicable. If I notice that a child is not happy on a particular day, I keep wondering what I can do to help him/ her.” Ritu Mathur, 38, who is part of the new batch of students at the Academy of Teacher Excellence at V-Excel, says, “I signed up for the course as I felt the need to do something meaningful.” Mathur knows that her journey is not going to be easy, “You need loads of patience, empathy, along with physical and mental strength to deal with such children.”
   

Changing times

Dr A D S N Prasad, Founder Director, Pathway, that offers early intervention and diagnosis services for children and adults with a range of disabilities, says, “There’s a massive shift in people’s attitude and awareness about special education. Institutes across the country today are working hard to produce well-trained special educators.” Adds V R P Sheilaja Rao, HOD of the Department of Special Education at National Institute of Mentally Handicapped (NIMH), Secunderabad, “There’s an impending need for special educators, especially in rural India.” He further explains the reason for the crunch of trained professionals in this industry, “Students often hesitate to opt for special education because of the low pay packages. Pay scales can vary from Rs 2000 to Rs 20,000.”
   
The good news however, as Dr Prakash points out, is that, “There is not a single unemployed special educator in the country.” The cent percent placement of nearly 80 students of the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University Faculty of Disability Management, Coimbatore, last year is proof of Dr Praksh’s claim.
   

Current scenario

For years now, special education has been a female bastion. But this is changing, albeit slowly. “A lot of young boys are joining the course,” says Rao adding that NIMH’s special education courses have an equal mix of male and female candidates. However, V Vimala, Principal, Bala Vihar Training School, Chennai, begs to differ, “There is a visible sex divide in the classes. We have only three to four boys in a batch of 20 students. Moreover, women are preferred for programmes like early childhood specialisation, as it involves intervention with children below the age of six. That apart, unanimously, parents of children with special needs prefer to hand their children over to women teachers.”
   
Despite the significantly growing number of courses in special education, Dr Anupriya Chadha, an expert in inclusive education from Delhi believes that there is a dire need of appropriately trained manpower to deal with children who have special educational needs. She opines, “There has to be a paradigm shift. Special education needs to become all-encompassing in its approach so as to teach inclusive training and effective pedagogy to students. The options for teachers currently passing out of special education courses are limited because regular schools, especially in the metros and urban areas, hardly accept children with special needs. Schools have to become more inclusive in order to appropriately absorb special educators. Existing teacher training organisations should also offer orientation courses on learning disabilities.”
   
Chennai-based Dr Rekha Ramachandran, Co-founder and Chairperson, Mathru Mandir, that offers daycare services to individuals with special needs, specifically to those afflicted by Down syndrome agrees while adding, “Our approach is inclusive; we don’t allow children to remain in our school. Social interaction in a mainstream school is mandatory for development.” Having worked with special children for more than two decades now, Dr Ramachandran is constantly working towards meeting the need for well-trained special educators. She laments, “The idea of special education is not being implemented the way it should be.”
   
Geet Oberoi, an expert in learning disabilities (LD) who runs a special school, Orchids, in Delhi seconds this opinion, concluding, “You cannot make a special educator. It comes from within. Those who pursue the course must want to make a difference.”

Institute Watch    

Sir Kikabhai Premchand Mind’s College of Education Research Society for the Care Treatment and Training of Children in Need of Social Care, Mumbai 
   
Action for Ability Development and Inclusion (AADI), New Delhi
   
Jamia Milia Islamia, Institute of Advanced Studies in Education, New Delhi 
 
V-Excel Educational Trust, Chennai
   
The Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu, Chennai
   
Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University, Coimbatore
   
Bala Vihar Training School, Chennai
   
Helen Keller’s Institute of Research and Rehabilitation for the Disabled Children, Secunderabad
   
National Institute for Mentally Handicapped (NIMH), Secunderabad
   
Madhya Pradesh Bhoj University, Bhopal
   
Benaras Hindu University (BHU), Varnasi 

 

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