For my first week at New Era Public School, I have divided my time between assisting and supervising special/remedial education classes and shadowing teachers of different subject areas in 11th and 12th grades. I have to say, I have learned quite a lot about India’s education system through my time in both these tasks. Regarding the latter, it is kind of the same as American high school—cocky kids, semi-interesting subject matter taught in monotony, and overwhelming adolescent disrespect reluctantly bending to authority for 45 minutes per class.
Nevertheless, the former is where I was able to see kids in the Indian education system up close and personal and at very impressionable ages. I spent every day from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. with groups of kids ranging from 2nd to 8th grade, some with learning disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, autism, etc.) and others with behavioral issues that interfere with their studies. I learned the process for getting a student extra help through placement. These special education courses start with the child’s teachers’ or parents’ recommendation for remedial education followed by a comprehensive assessment administered by an educational psychologist on the special education staff. If the assessment determines that the child in question requires special education, then several provisions may be available that can lighten the child’s class load to a more manageable size. For example, a child who fairs poorly in mathematics and science can switch these classes for computers and art. In addition, the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE), which administers all important examinations for high school students as well as undergraduate students, makes provisions for children with learning disabilities during examinations by providing them extra time for the tests and tests their knowledge of computers and art rather than mathematics and science.
However, despite the school’s acknowledgment that those with behavioral issues require equal (sometimes greater) remedial work, a child diagnosed with behavioral issues but not an actual learning disability is exempt from provisions set in place by the CBSE. Moreover, with most of the children with whom I have interacted so far, the biggest issue seems to be a behavioral issue contributing to learning difficulties rather than outright disabilities, especially since many of the children are of average intelligence but lack the environmental factors to facilitate proper learning.
Take Vivek as an example. He is a seventh grader whose assessment notes that he is of average intelligence. His teachers have described him as troublesome, hyperactive, and overall a difficult child to work with inside the classroom. Nevertheless, after speaking to him for about an hour, I could not confirm any of those judgments. I expected standoffish, rude, and disobedient. Instead, I got quiet, studious, and inquisitive. The discrepancy surprised me, so I spoke with one of his teachers, and I learned that what should be manageable difficulties for Vivek to work through in school are only further compounded by the harshness of his family life. His father, an auto-rickshaw driver, died when the boy was very young and both his mother and his grandmother are illiterate. Furthermore, they have very little means of financial support for the four of them (Vivek has a younger brother). As a result, Vivek has trouble in nearly every subject area, especially regarding his English reading, writing, and comprehension skills. Since Vivek belongs to what the school formerly calls an EWS (economically weaker section), his family is exempt from having to pay school fees and he receives as remedial work as his other subject teachers will allow during the school day. However, despite all of his teachers’ care and concern for Vivek’s wellbeing, he ceases to be their responsibility when he leaves the walls of the school. It is not that they do not care, but in a country with a total population this large, it is not surprising to imagine that they have plenty of other children to attend to just within the confines of the school grounds. Luckily, New Era is doing its very best to keep kids like Vivek from slipping through the cracks by switching classes, mandating remedial work-time, providing extra work, and exempting from fees whenever possible. My concern is with what else can be done with such limited means in a system this large and underserved.
Whatever the answer, like the teachers and staff at the school, I am just glad I can help kids like Vivek with their homework and morale. Baby steps.