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Bina shares her struggles and success in finding a special school for her grandson with a learning disability, as Special Feature. A Different Truths exclusive.
We were blessed to find a school in Lower Parel for our grandson Navin who had ‘learning disability’. The school was one of a kind. He loved every moment he was there. But it was too far away from where we were residing. Every time I drove Navin up and down from school which was seventeen kms away, I wished for a school nearby. It was one of the best schools for children with ‘Learning Disability.’ But my health could not withstand the long drive daily. I had severe backache for some time. Neither did Navin get time to play like other children. He was spending more time commuting from home to school and back.
I researched a lot regarding school for children with learning difficulty and knocked on every door of the mainstream school for admission.
I researched a lot regarding school for children with learning difficulty and knocked on every door of the mainstream school for admission. I found the mainstream schools had too many students and one teacher while children with special needs required attention. I thought writing to newspapers will create more awareness about the lack of school for these children. I sent articles on lack of schools to most of the newspapers. If writing to the mayor would help, I did even that. Perhaps I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. I visited every school in our vicinity and got the opportunity to speak to their principal. If you Google probably you will get a whole list of these schools. But when you visit them you will get a different picture. There are many special schools which teach children life skills, to be independent. But very few schools with a curriculum for children who can learn. These children require more attention. They can work better with computer and work-sheets than prescribed texts. They require counsellors and special educators. They need therapies too. And most of all they can’t bear noise and can work better when the strength of a class is around 10-12 students with two teachers in each classroom.
Mainstream schools are not an option because they have only one counsellor and a special educator. With a class strength of forty-fifty students, how do these children survive?
Mainstream schools are not an option because they have only one counsellor and a special educator. With a class strength of forty-fifty students, how do these children survive? Sometimes the mainstream school children are very insensitive to these children and do not have the patience to include them. The children being slow will not be heard among so many bright children. Inclusive education does not help unless they have a separate classroom, with two teachers and more counsellors. The teachers are also not trained to handle special children. When the strength of the class is large and time-limited, how do these teachers give them special attention?
When my back could not take the long drives any longer, we employed a driver who would wait with the car for Navin the whole day. During monsoon, we were plagued with worry as that area was low lying and the constant fear of flooding gave us anxiety. The children after school had no energy to do their homework and that was also a cause for concern. I could not rest till I found another one on similar lines, closer home.
I like doing extraordinary things however difficult it may be, and the quest for a school nearer home became stronger.
I like doing extraordinary things however difficult it may be, and the quest for a school nearer home became stronger. It would not only help Navin but many other children from Central East and West Mumbai. With a good networking skill, I met many parents. Being passionate I spoke to them, and created awareness. Many children travelled from Wadala, Andheri, Chembur, Ghatkopar, and Powai to Lower Parel because they didn’t have one in their vicinity. They also found it difficult to commute. Children became tired after travelling long distance and it affected their health. I was determined. I was not going to sit around and let these children suffer. I wanted to do something to help myself and others around me.
Talking to teachers and principals of mainstream schools in and around Chembur and Ghatkopar gave me an insight into inclusive education.
We wanted a school in Central and West Mumbai. I thought it will help some children from Chembur, and other neighboring places. Talking to teachers and principals of mainstream schools in and around Chembur and Ghatkopar gave me an insight into inclusive education. Some of them shocked me by saying the parents objected when special children mingled with Autistic children. And some of them were convincing, when they said that the infrastructure was not conducive for children who had the intelligence to study.
Most schools had only one counsellor or special educator which was not easy. I wrote to the Times of India and Hindustan Times expressing my concern. Hindustan Times assured me that they would help by writing about it and creating awareness. Then I decided to contact TV channels, and fortunately, CNN IBN contacted me for their “Citizen Journalist show”. They wanted me to weave a story around Navin in the lines of “Tare Zameen Par”. But I was not satisfied. I wanted other parents to get a chance to talk about their child and problems too which were different from mine. And we started shooting with four other children and their parents. This was in Nov 2008 when he was 7 years old. We needed more schools in Mumbai.
The media helped me to meet the principals of mainstream schools in Dadar, Bandra, Andheri, and I realised inclusive education was not the answer.
The media helped me to meet the principals of mainstream schools in Dadar, Bandra, Andheri, and I realised inclusive education was not the answer. Then we interviewed the principal and director of the school in Lower Parel. They gave us an overview of how the school has to be exclusive and sensitive. They also stressed on worksheets and therapies helping these children. It was a lovely experience shooting for days together, meeting parents, teachers, counsellors and understanding the needs of special children.
The video was well made, emotional and touching. I have stage fright, and I freeze when lights flash, but I wanted to do this show for my grand-child. The whole team was patient as I was nervous when the camera rolled. There were many retakes for every scene of mine. Everyone else including the children acted well. It took almost a month for it to be made and edited.
I was excited and happy when I saw the video. It was well made, thanks to CNN-IBN and their entire team. Many people from all around the world wrote to me. They said the Citizen Journalist show had made a big impact on them. It was called, “A granny fights for her grandson’s special education”.
A year later a friend of ours mentioned that an industrialist was opening a school for special children near our place. But we did not know the exact location.
A year later a friend of ours mentioned that an industrialist was opening a school for special children near our place. But we did not know the exact location. When the school came up three years later, it was unbelievable. The school was just around the corner; five minutes’ walk from our house. It was a miracle, a beautiful dream come true. Maybe the school came very close to my house because I worked hard and persevered. I’m happy I didn’t lose my focus. Perhaps the blessings of all the other parents worked in my favour. Or in all probability, it could be because of the power of the mind. There are times when you don’t want to unravel the mystery but I am happy. I asked for the stars, and I got the moon.
The opening of a school for children with ‘Learning Disability’ was my dream. I looked at the advertisement in the newspaper twice. I could not believe it was so close. I asked for a school in our area. But I did not ask for one… a hop, skip and jump away from our house. Follow your heart and your dreams will come true. Life is magical.
Photos from the Internet