The coronavirus-induced lockdown, which forced schools across the world to opt for an online mode of teaching, seems to have affected differently-abled students more. According to a survey by Swabhiman, a community-based organisation, about 43 per cent of differently-abled students are planning to drop out of schools because of the difficulties they are facing in online education.
But there are some students with disabilities who have overcome the odds to script success stories. Anusyut Kumar Srivastava, who has cerebral palsy, secured 10th rank in the physically handicapped category of NEET 2020. “If we have a different way of living, it’s better to develop our own way of learning,” says Srivastava, an 18-year-old.
While Srivastava has developed his style of learning with a flexible timetable and mix of online test practice and academic reading, many students with physical disabilities struggle to keep up with the changing mode of learning. The struggle is even harder for children with intellectual disabilities, who often need physical training and mentoring to stay focused.
Priyanka Dewan, a 21-year-old athlete who has represented India in the Special Olympics, finds it hard to concentrate on studies for a long time. Her mother says the lockdown period was a complete “lockout” for her training as well as academics.
Diagnosed with several learning disabilities, Dewan had to drop out of a mainstream school and enrolled with NIOS and along with another school for physical training. Her mother says it is difficult for her to give Dewan as much attention as she needs.
Like Dewan, another Special Olympics gold medallist, Muskaan, a 19-year-old with intellectual disability, was restricted to her home and could not continue practice during the lockdown. Even though her mother, Neena, ensures she does not miss her online classes, she is facing difficulties in learning digitally. Neena, a single parent, says she has set-up a routine for her daughter which starts at 8 in the morning and includes a ‘playtime’ as well. She says sports practice has given confidence to Muskaan, which in turn helped her in academics too.
Srivastava says that the first battle starts with oneself. “One needs to be confident in whoever they are and firstly stop thinking that they would not be able to do certain things. If one is physically not able to perform a task as most people do, they can try a different way. I have not been able to play outside as a child but that did not stop me from entertaining myself at home,” said Srivastava.
He moved his offline classes at Aakash institute to online mode and practiced mock tests and participated in several video-based contents during the lockdown and cracked the medical entrance exam in the first attempt.
Considering the difficulties faced by differently-abled children during the lockdown, several alternative modes of learning are being developed by academicians and social entrepreneurs. Manu Sekar, a Chennai-based social entrepreneur, has extended his online inclusive coding platform HashHackCode to people with different abilities. Started in 2019 with just four kids, the platform now has about 45 learners with special needs, ranging from the age group of 8 to 34.
He believes that a change in approach is needed to teach students with disabilities, especially with neuro-disabilities.