November 14, 2007 | DNA

It is the schools that miss the mark

Certain learning disabilities among children are very common. Schools in developed countries have an inbuilt system to identify such students and offer them remedies such as appraisal and guidance of psychiatrists, allowing use of computers in exams.

In Mumbai, the situation is not so encouraging. Team DNA finds out.

The lack of testing facilities, government measures and inertia on part of school authorities to report learning disabled (LD) students is leading to a wide gulf between the malady and its solution.

Admitting that the lone Learning Disability (LD) clinic at Sion Hospital in Mumbai cannot handle the testing of over six lakh school students for learning disabilities, Education Officer of SSC Board Basanti Roy stated that the government was keen on opening more testing centres, especially in the suburbs. Roy said this while addressing a two-day round-table on Learning Disability organised by Tata Learning Disability Forum (TLDF) at Grand Hyatt on Tuesday.

During a question-answer session that followed the discussion, Roy agreed to the proposal of moderating the answer papers of LD students in the SSC examination, even as she clarified that a similar practice was being extended to certified LD students and their papers marked in red ink as 'LD Child'. Commenting on extending the concessions to college-going certified LD students, she it was the college's onus to provide the same to its students.

In fact, considering the reluctance of school principals in extending LD provisions to children, there is a dire need for a formal forum or panel where aggrieved parents can lodge their complaints or post their comments. Stating that the government has mandated that schools hold Parents-Teachers Association meetings twice every year, Roy urged aggrieved parents, whose children are denied LD provisions by school, to lodge their complaints with their local civic ward education officer or the district education officer.

In an effort to dispel the popular perception among some educationists and experts that the government has not done enough for the LD cause, Roy said quite contrarily the government had issued several guidelines to schools on LD since 2000, with the latest government resolution on September 2007 being the most comprehensive one outlining all the provisions and mandatory guidelines, following a Bombay High Court judgment.

While addressing the gathering, Sion Hospital Dean Dr Madhuri Kulkarni clarified that it was wrong to classify LD as mental retardation. "In fact, LD is a common neuro-development disorder and is most likely to be familiar, which can be taken care of with early diagnosis and intervention, thereby reducing emotional problems both for the child and the family," Kulkarni said.

Admitting to the abysmally few LD testing clinics in a metro like Mumbai, Kulkarni pointed out that government authorisation was compulsory for starting an organised LD assessment clinic. Pointing to the scarcity of trained special educators and counsellors to attend to the problem, Kulkarni pointed out that a multi-lingual society like ours does pose problems in developing LD testing in languages other than English.

Since learning disability condition manifests more in schools, the feedback from the school authorities was vital in diagnosing LD and taking adequate measures, pointed out Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Sion hospital, Dr Sunil Karande. He further added that every child with LD is different natured, with the condition varying from mild to moderate to severe. Moreover, it is not heriditary, he added.