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SSC schools lax about kids with special needs- Times of India, Mumbai
March 25, 2015
MUMBAI: In an indication that city schools are yet to open their doors for children with special needs, a study has found that almost 80% of schools affiliated to the state board claim to have less than 3% students with learning disabilities (LD). 

An action research project surveyed 330 SSC schools in the city over six months through nine workshops conducted in association with the state education department. The project was carried out by Maitri, an NGO working with students with special needs. 

While several international studies have found that the prevalence of LD among school children can be 5-10% of total students, less than 1% of students in 186 of the respondent schools have been identified thus. Of these, 79 claimed to have zero children with LD. "This is the largest child rights violation for which the state and the schools are responsible. Thousands of students in the state are not aware that they are suffering from LD and eventually drop out of the education system due to poor performance, which affects their self esteem. They then take to social evils like crime and drugs," said psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty, who, along with psychologist Shalet Fernandes, carried out the study. 

According to it, 62 schools have most of their LD students studying in class VII or higher. "Teachers must indentify signs of LD and start remediation early. Students can be tested and certified later to avail of concessions from the board. But there is an absolute lack of awareness among schools," said Fernandes. As many as 162 had no workshops or sessions on LD awareness for their staff. 

Experts also blame the state for inaction. "For the past year, we have been trying to follow up with the education department to implement a few concessions for slow learners, but there has been no decision yet because it isn't on their priority list. There is an immediate need for the state to bring in rules and put pressure on schools to start identifying LD students," said Sonali Saini, chairperson, Sol's ARC, an LD kids' learning centre. 

The study also reveals that schools are lax in taking care of students' mental health. Only 65 have special educators and 163 have counsellors. Unlike the CBSE, the state board does not make it mandatory for schools to have a counsellor on board. "Also, schools often expel LD students or detain them in class IX because they want perfect results in the boards. They sometimes do not provide the subject choices the students should be given, which forces them to leave school... Schools are to blame as they have not identified LD and the students have been giving exams without the concessions they ought to get," said Dr Shetty. 

TIMES VIEW: 

A section of NGOs and experts working with children with learning disabilities has been saying this for some time: schools don't want LD children because it affects their board performance negatively; and/or they don't want to recognize many LD children as having this condition as it means giving them special concessions and facilities. It would be unfair to paint all schools with the same brush but the data from Mumbai seem to indicate there is under-reporting and an unwillingness to acknowledge the problem. There needs to be an attitudinal change. All stakeholders, including schools, need to look at this issue afresh.

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