COVID-19 caused unprecedented changes to the education of children worldwide. While online learning quickly became the default solution, it was not the most accessible choice for students with different abilities.
Pause here. and we are led to ask right away-‘Can differently abled students adapt to a virtual classroom? If yes, what kind of learning should it be?’
Structure and consistency of routine are critical components for any learning routine, more so, for students with different abilities. With schools closing, that seemed a challenge. To make it effective in a virtual space also called for a more individualized lesson plan and extra support.
It was now the parents who had to establish that routine, and there was no prescription for what it would look like in the COVID world. It had to be a trial-and-error process to find what works—and what doesn’t. It was another hat for parents to wear. They had become the school, the teachers, the lunch monitors, the recess monitor, and also the researcher as they tried out different routines,” says a Senior Special Educator from Chennai.
Chettinad - Sath Sadhana, an institution for students with different abilities under Chettinad- Niyogaa, was faced with a similar challenge, as the pandemic began. Established as Srihari Vikasam in 2011, the primary objective of the school was to engage hands to engage minds, provide early intervention and remedial programmes to facilitate holistic learning.
Sath Sadhana believes in continuous learning, across age groups. A team of experienced special educators currently provide training programs to students, age 10 and upwards. Their oldest student, Madhav, is now 22 years old. Most students at Sath Sadhana are differently abled, with conditions like cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, language & speech deficits and autism spectrum disorders.
The philosophy of the institution is to focus on what the student can do, as opposed to what he or she can’t. The curriculum offers application-oriented literacy, numeracy and work skills along with co-curricular activities. Students are guided to establish independent routines for themselves and practice skills that create wider opportunities in the long run. A focussed curriculum for every student, graded from simple to complex activities practiced at simulated workstations forms the core of Sath Sadhana.
The idea of ‘functional academics’ is to enable students to accomplish at least one real-life task per lesson. For instance, to teach the student to use a calculator to find 2+2=4, offers much broader scope than to make him remember, that 2+2=4. Skill training could be baking, making a craft, basket weaving, paper bag making etc, involving sensory and motor functions. The focus is not on the end-product but to promote self-regulation, self-direction, work independence, confidence and set the stage for employment, as they grow into adults. Training in life skills, such as personal hygiene, activities of daily living, culinary skills, safety, personal growth, awareness and community access are also emphasized upon.
With COVID, Sath Sadhana had to readapt itself yet again.
Virtual classes were introduced for the children, with a buy-in from parents to make them effective. Now, parents had to sit by their children in a routine setting throughout the sessions. One-on-one emotional support was provided to parents as well, who were now playing an active, indispensable role in the learning process. The triad of student, facilitator and parent was brought together to work in tandem.
Learning in the online space was seen not as an impediment, but as an opportunity to promote independence. Students were asked to perform repeat tasks, to hone their skills and to help establish an independent routine.
It was a happy revelation that just as teachers and parents found their ways to settle in, so did the children. Work days were reprogrammed into 2-session days, of 45 minutes each, often padded with a short home-gym, yoga or aerobic session.
Functional academic was transformed to use technology as a base. For example, the students were taught how to
1. join the online class on their own
2. fill out a personal particulars form online
3. book a train ticket, while learning about travel
4.conduct oneself in specific locations, using virtual tours
5. shop for produce online
Further, teachers recorded personalized videos for different activities and included them in the daily-watch routine of the students.
Unconditional love, focused curriculum, meticulous planning, monitoring and execution have been the corner stones of Sath Sadhana for their success over the last year. They have done themselves proud when 100 percent of the students enrolled for the new academic year. Sath Sadhana is confident of turning the tide and making it happen for every student, so they get to live the meaningful life they deserve.