The sight of a teacher early in the day is not a happy prospect for most. But not Aamina Abdul Sheikh. As Kaliash Ahir arrives Wednesday morning at her home, the 11-year-old can barely stop herself and rushes out to hug her. Holding Ahir by the hand, Aamina leads her into their one-room house in Rajaji ni pol in Ahmedabad’s Shahpur area, calling out to her mother.
Shahida Bano Sheikh tells Ahir, 34, how Aamina, who is speech and hearing impaired, woke up and got dressed on her own that morning. “She knew you would be visiting today.”
As part of an initiative undertaken by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, 48 special educators like Ahir have been visiting over 1,285 children with special needs in its area since June 15. Shahpur in Ahmedabad Walled City, a containment zone earlier, has 52 such children. Each educator is assigned a cluster, with a specific number of children.
As they sit down on the floor facing each other, Ahir takes off her face mask to begin a speech therapy session. Aamina watches her lips carefully as the 34-year-old teacher reads out Gujarati letters painted on small wooden blocks. The two then do a lesson on colours, followed by a writing session on days of the week and counting.
A proud Shahida says Aamina has been showing a lot of improvement since a second cochlear implant surgery, in 2017, five years after the first one was unsuccessful. She can now say a few words like “mummy, papa, paisa do (give me money), idhar aao (come here),” says her father Abdul Samad Sheikh, an autorickshaw driver.
The family of four includes Aamina’s 16-year-old brother. Aamina is in Class 6 of Shahpur Municipal School No. 8, one of the three inclusive municipal schools in Ahmedabad’s West Zone.
Ahir, who has been a special educator for 10 years, says they have a special curriculum devised by the AMC. With schools shut, these classes are reassuring not just for the children but also their parents, she adds. Shahida says besides home visits, at least twice a week, the special educators hold video chats with the children and parents. “Teachers tell us about the daily activities we must conduct with our children,” she says.
AMC School Board Administrative Officer L D Desai says they plan to continue with the home visits given the “positive response”.
Heli Sompura, a special educator at Naranpura Ward, says often parents ask their help for simple things like persuading a child to take a bath. With parents under a lot of mental pressure due to the lockdown, Sompura says, even that little support counts.
Apart from the AMC, the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has reached out to over 88,000 children with special needs in Gujarat during and after the lockdown, including home visits and daily communication where visiting might not be possible.
Over 300 minutes of audio and video content has been prepared to guide parents on how they can provide support to the children, covering the basics of sign language and Braille, and art and craft activities.
SSA state project director P Bharathi says they were earlier sending weekly worksheets over WhatsApp to parents. “But it was felt that these may not meet the needs of special children. Thus, a specific plan was launched. A resource group of 120 special educators was set up and disability wise WhatsApp groups created,” Bharathi says. The project covers 21 disabilities, including autism disorders, and hearing, speech and visual impairment.
Kaushik Parmar, who heads the inclusive education department of Ahmedabad city under the SSA, says parents are encouraged to share videos of their children undertaking the sessions or activities.
It’s an hour before Ahir wraps up with Aamina, allowing her a few minutes of video chat with her friend Shaheen Momeen towards the end. A 15-year-old who suffers from cerebral palsy and hearing impairment, Shaheen also stays in Shahpur and is one of the children in Ahir’s care. Ahir says she has made such interactions a part of her routine.
As the two girls communicate excitedly using sign language, their mothers appear on the screens to greet each other. Ahir holds a session over the phone with Shaheen, showing pictures of birds. As Shaheen responds to everything correctly, Aamina too chips in.
When it’s time for Ahir to leave, Aamina insists she make a promise: to return soon.
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