For students, life came to a screeching halt when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and the first lockdown was declared in March last year. Though most of the schools across the country set up digital classrooms, children with special needs went through a tougher pandemic. In Kerala, with around 400 registered special schools, the situation is no different.
As the lockdown extended, children with special needs found themselves confined to their homes, things became more difficult. “Our children need special care and a lot of attention. To begin classes online was not an easy decision to make,” said Nitya Gopalakrishnan director, principal of Mridulasparsham.
In June last year, Samagra Shiksha Kerala had introduced the White Board initiative where teachers would record contents tailored to the requirements of the students under the different categories of special needs. But many parents were not even unaware of the initiative. “Holding my son on my lap, I would make him watch these lessons. But he was never able to concentrate. Eventually, I gave up,” said Lathika, mother of an autistic child.
To help them cope with a normal lifestyle in the professional therapists at school, parents have taken over some of the jobs with guidance from their teachers. “My child is very social and he loves talking to people. When the lockdown began he was confused as to why he couldn’t meet people anymore. I tried my best to explain the situation to him, but it was of no use”, said Sandhya, mother of a special needs child. Teachers suggest that simple household chores like peeling onions to segregating vegetables, could indulge the children and help to cope up.
To ensure that the children do not miss their daily lessons due to their parent’s work schedule, teachers have gone to the lengths of conducting classes according to the availability of the parents. However, children with special needs have reportedly found it very hard to cope with digital education. Therefore, the lack of physical presence has forced teachers to reduce the duration of classes every day.
On the other hand, some schools have claimed that online classes have a greater impact on the students than recorded classes. “Though we were anxious about how they would respond to digital education, surprisingly the students have been very thrilled,” said Mini, principal of Vimukthi Special School.
The pandemic has also increased the rate of school dropouts as many economically backward families have been unable to pay the fees. Parents have even accused that the government has turned a blind eye towards their needs when compared to normal school children.
With the ease of the situation, schools are worried about bringing the students back from their new normal. However, teachers look forward to welcoming the students back to untangle the mess the pandemic had created.