Shisna Anant, 16, a deaf and blind student at the Helen Keller Institute spends every Thursday at the institute’s animation centre, established in February this year, where he learns to make animated films.
Anant, who has a heightened sense of touch, makes clay models of characters, after feeling a skeleton model for reference.
Similarly, students with a strong sense of hearing handle the background music, while deaf students work on visual elements.This animation centre is an example of how many of Mumbai’s special schools are looking at vocational education to make students employable.
The Victoria Memorial School for the Blind, for instance, started an MSc (IT) programme last year with a Braille-enabled computer laboratory to help students look for IT jobs.
“The difference in special education today versus earlier, is that it is very functional now,” said Beverly Louis, special educator at Mann-Centre for Individual with Special Needs, which educates those with learning disabilities.
As more special educators are exposed to western philosophy and sent for short courses abroad, more schools are recognising the need to create curriculums around each child’s strengths, instead of trying to fit them into a set syllabus.The Gateway School in Chembur, which opened this year, is a branch of the New York-based school of the same name, for children with learning disabilities. Here, each child’s abilities are first assessed. Then teachers meet the parents to set goals for them, and then draft Individualised Education Programmes for each student.
“Instead of having a pre-decided academic goal, like a single exam for all students, we have different objectives as per each child’s abilities, because each will have very different learning abilities,” said Siamack Zahedi, head of the school."Teaching methods also differ from child to child; for instance, if a student has good physical skills but a weak grasp on language, they are taught keywords in language while moving—the special educator will ask them to go ‘around’, ‘under’ or ‘over’ parts of an obstacle course at our gym, which will help register the words in the child’s mind," Zahedi added.