In an interaction with Financial Express Online’s Bulbul Dhawan, Director – Head of School at TABIS Piya Marker enlisted the challenges that the special educators had to face while shifting to online teaching last year. “Special education includes us working with children on their uniqueness and using their strengths to overcome their weaknesses. This is most effective if done in smaller groups, and at TABIS, we work with them one-on-one. That has been a challenge during the pandemic because we are not physically near the child to assist them with the difficulties. However, the entire host of online tools has helped us a lot, especially the ‘Break-out Room’ feature where the teacher can take the child out of the classroom and work with them one-on-one,” she said.
Due to the special needs of the students, TABIS has kept its focus on maintaining a healthy student-teacher ratio of 10:1, and presently has about 150 students overall, with the number of students in each grade varying. “However, if you see, this number increases middle school onwards. In a lower grade, either students are not diagnosed with such difficulties or parents are reluctant to to make the switch between schools. Moreover, there is a policy that students cannot be held back till Class VIII, so this issue is ignored. Class IX-X is, however, the point when formal exams come into the picture and the students are not coping with it,” Piya said, adding that the parents who reach out to them for the junior levels are those who do not much care about the matter of passing the classes, but rather of the learning abilities that children should have at particular points in their lives.
Talking about the kind of students her school works with, Marker said, “Since we train children for board exams, we do not work with children having intellectual disabilities. We work with children who have difficulty in coping with the school environment in a regular school, as long as their intellectual capabilities fall in the average to above-average range. So say children with attention deficits, those are the ones we work with. Sometimes, we also get children who face difficulties in the social emotional area and find it hard to adjust in larger groups of people. All of these issues can affect the learning in the classroom. In a nutshell, I can say we work with children having behavioural issues.”
However, every cloud has a silver lining, and TABIS, it seems, decided to look at the silver lining.
“The pandemic caused everyone to step out of their comfort zone, and we had to find a way to teach in a manner that at first seemed to be lacking a humanistic approach. However, we learnt that there are numerous resources that can help us cope with such challenges. In fact, in this period we have learnt many tools that we would now also be incorporating into the physical classrooms. There is no way that we can now go back to the old way of teaching after having been exposed to so many new areas, whether it was teaching using the audio-visual medium or coming up with new ways to evaluate students,” said Piya.
The biggest hardships, however, were faced by the teachers at TABIS. The school follows an academic year that runs from June to April, so TABIS had initially thought that by the time the new academic session began, the lockdown would end. However, soon, it became clear that the pandemic was nowhere near over. As a result, the teachers, all of which are women and so, also have to deal with the household work, were forced to forego their summer break and learn new technology before the new session began.
Apart from that, preparation of lesson-wise presentations and other materials to keep the attention of students over online classes took up a lot of time of the teachers, forcing them to spend a lot more time on this as compared to what they do for regular classes.
Talking about the future of special education, Piya said, “I believe that 2021 would be witnessing a lot more digital mode of teaching even within the physical classroom. We would be focusing on digital learning a lot more than we previously have, because we now realise that it is the way even education is moving forward.”