Day 11: Of learning from special children

Remember my trip to the Special school last Thursday? I wrote about it here. We went back today to continue our conversations with the teachers and students. While our learning from just spending an hour with them is immense, our aim was to see how we could help them with our limited skills.

An inspiring leader

Individuals with a great vision for their team and an immense passion for their job truly inspire me. Ms. Shanti, from the Bethany Special School has been added to my growing list of inspirations in the education sector.

She clearly showed a certain flair for alternative teaching very early on in her career. She recounted her first visit to Bangalore, back in the 80s, when only 4 institutions offered Special Education training and there were no special education schools at all. It was the times when every not-normal child was called ‘mental’ and societal taboo on the disabled was at its peak.

Having taught regular children for ten years, she had enough experience about how not to teach children. It was very interesting listening to her talk about how any lesson planning should be based on the children in our classrooms, every single child in the classroom.

When you work with special children, there is a dramatic shift in your perspective of education. While I question the need for examinations and competition to evaluate learning, I still did not discount formal education at all. I believe children need to be taught content and skills. And the likes. Ms. Shanti had a very powerful question for us. ‘What is the use of learning ABCD, if the child cannot look you in the eye and say it aloud?‘ One of the classic issue addressed by special schools is to enable these exceptional children to be self-sufficient in their daily skills. When a child of ten years cannot brush her teeth on her own, knowing the alphabet or numbers seems very trivial.

Stuti’s birthday

I spoke about this exceptional child, Stuti, who had speaking issues and couldn’t vocalize her thoughts extensively. She helped me learn today that language was just one means of communication.

Stuti, and her bright smile. 

As we played her favorite pass time at school, the carrom board, she told me that her birthday was on Monday, and that I should visit her and she would share her birthday cake with me. When I offered to sing her a ‘Happy Birthday’ song today, she asked “Why? My birthday is on Monday, not today“.

Jeslyn teaches me the game

Jeslyn is another active child in this class of children who have all been categorized as slow learners, but do not have any other disability. She quickly splits A and I into teams and with Stuti organizes our car room game. When I hesitate to take my first shot at the coin, she immediately moves a coin right next to the pocket and asks me to try. Even without my asking, she’s giving me directions on the angle to shoot in and with how much force. When I miss the shot, she consoles me and offers me another shot at the piece.

That’s the natural child instinct to learn and share, right there. There is no competition, no fear of failure or loss, no urge to be better than the other. Somewhere along our regular school system, we make our children forget this critical aspect of life. We make everything a competition and every task a game where other players need to be beaten.

The entire class smiles for a groupfie

Sniff. Today the spotlight is stolen from me, I see.” Scotch 


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