BENGALURU: Educators Gitanjali and Farida speak of discrepancies in the schooling system and the need to use creative techniques to address them
Gitanjali Sarangan says that she learned to sing before she could talk and to dance before she could walk. As an artist, she wanted to explore dance more.
She was inspired by the process of learning. She believes that learning is a process and not an outcome. “I observed that everyone responded well to stories. They identified with the characters in the story. I wanted to learn how this can be used. That is how I started working with the kids, especially children with special needs. I did not know what special needs were. I just knew that some children need different teaching methods,” she says.
She founded Snehadhaara to address the special needs of differently abled children and adults. Art is used as an intervention tool here. Dance, music, voice plays, theatre and puppetry are used to achieve therapeutic goals which she says is as good as a physiotherapist. The art is designed for such programmes. For example, a speech therapy with voice and sounds.
The institution has been named after the first kid, she worked with, Sneha. She did not fit into a regular school.
“I started this organisation as I wanted the kids to have fun while learning. I started working with more kids and teachers. I got myself trained,” she says.
She feels the biggest challenge in education today is people’s own mindset. Learning is considered an outcome-driven process. “Learning is interdisciplinary. It should be more skill based. It should be holistic,” she adds.
Research has shown that art therapy has a direct impact on children. The greatest improvement is observed in speech and language, social and cognitive domains and also communication. Art is another way to express. It is not always about speech. It creates specific environment where children learn automatically. They might not know Hindi but would sing Hindi songs, Gitanjali explains.
The narrations of Ramlila, Rasa leela in the villages creates community and they learn sharing. “That’s what autistics need. They respond well to such situations. They meet all their therapies in the farm when they are plucking weeds etc.,” she says.
She feels that the involvement of art in the curriculum should be completely redone. “The regular schools that conduct art classes train the students for performances. It should rather motivate students to experience art.”
Include special education in teachers’ training
Children with special needs are usually not allowed in the mainstream schools. Even if they are admitted, they are soon expelled for behaving “differently”. Where will these kids go, questions Farida Raj, a special educator and writer.
Farida emphasises on inclusive education, to help special children attend regular schools. This helps develop their social skills.
She says that some schools have adopted inclusive education but the teachers not well trained. She adds, “Children with different disabilities are taught in one room. This is integration and is not inclusive education. Partial inclusion is also used where special children can leave the class and go for their therapy sessions.”
According to her, the biggest challenge is the mindset of the teachers and management. The education system fails because of its rigid systems and curriculum. The format and organisation of examinations is not friendly to differently abled children. There is no provision for wheelchairs in most exam halls, she says. Parents of these children are wary of special schools. They tend to think that these schools follow lower standards in education.
She retells an inspiring story. “I once saw a mother with her seven-year-old girl at a museum in Mumbai. The girl was in a wheel chair with her head tilted to a side. Her mother was asking the watchman to open the gate to the museum. The watchman refused and asked them to instead use a smaller gate at the other entrance. When she said that her daughter wouldn’t be able to get in, he asked why would she even want to take her in and that she looks mentally retarded. I saw tears rolling down the girl’s cheeks.” The girl went to special school, attended an inclusive education college and studied her masters in Oxford University. She has also written a book, One Little Finger.
Inclusive education teaches compassion and tolerance, says Farida. Both normal and special kids benefit from each other. It leads to an inclusive society and sensitises children. Farida says that orientation programmes should be conducted for mainstream teachers where they can interact with special educators and share experiences. Teaching courses should also have a paper on special education.
Farida Raj has also written a book Breaking Through: A Handbook for Parents and Teachers of Children with Specific Learning Disabilities. She will speak at the Mentor Conclave today at J N Tata auditorium.
Gitanjali Sarangan and Farida Raj are participating in the Mentor Conclave, a conference organised by Edumedia on school education and innovation. Sultan Ahmed, founder of Edumedia, said education is focussed on livelihood instead of better living.