Normal adj. usual, typical or expected

We have all heard this word time and again in our lives, whether it was the time when you wanted to wear a crazy outfit for a party or wanted to laugh your heart out in a public place in your own special way. We all have been asked to behave ‘normal’ to ‘fit in’ and play by the generic rules of this generic society.

But what if we don’t fit in? What if we can’t control our aberrations? What happens if we are not normal?

We are labelled.

Labelled as different, labelled as ‘abnormal’.

Now imagine yourself as a small child who looks normal, talks normal but something is different in the way you look at the world. You try hard to play, learn and work in your school but your mind plays tricks with you; it does not understand structures but creates hurdles in acting ‘normal’.

Recently I visited this small village near Ahmedabad called Chhapi for my work and met these beautiful twins. Both of them studied at a local school and are in 4th standard.

When I first saw them, they both looked healthy; little chirpy girls who were playing outside their classroom. But as time passed, one of the twin’s actions caught my attention. She would do one thing for a minute and then something completely unrelated in another. You could see she was a child suffering from ADHD. This caught my attention and I decided to observe her class.

As I entered the class, sat beside the twin and asked her name, the teacher exclaimed, “Iska magaj kharab hai. bichari pagal hai”. The teacher continued telling me how difficult it is to deal with her, she complained about her studies and felt school was not the right place for her kind.

As the class proceeded, teacher taught the whole lesson and I sat through it noticing nothing but the girl. I asked her time and again what her name was, but she didn’t look up from her book which she doodling random images in. Sometimes she spoke something but was mostly shushed by the other classmates.

Kids beside her laughed at her, and the other twin felt embarrassed because of her sister’s antics. All through this chaos, the teacher made no attempt to include her, instead made it amply clear that she was unworthy of studying in a ‘normal’ class.

As I was sitting there watching all of this unravel in front of my eyes, the experience brought myriad questions to my mind. I saw a child unaware about her condition and perplexed with ways to deal with her surroundings, a teacher’s inability to create an inclusive environment for this child and at a much larger level; I saw a system which is oblivious to the reality of ‘special-needs education’ and ‘personalized learning’.

It’s been years since our education system has developed various models like Right to Education Act, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, National Curriculum Framework etc. which have helped India progress in terms of increasing the primary education, attendance rate and expanding literacy to approximately three-quarters of the population in the 7-10 age group, by 2011.

Numerous NGOs, trusts, companies and government have spent millions working on every aspect of education whether its curriculum, infrastructure, assessments, teacher training, community engagement, etc.

Though the bigger goals are being achieved slowly but surely, but have we lost sight of the ground-level classroom realities in the process?

We are creating safer school buildings but the environment inside the class for our kids is not safe enough to be themselves. We want to create an inclusive India, but how is that possible if we teach children and adults to live inside a box and label people weird if they fail to do so.

Truth is some kids learn faster, some are comparatively slow. Some are visual learners, others are auditory. Each kid is different and its time we personalise the learning to their requirement and accept the diversity.

This type of personalised learning is built on two pillars:

  1. Differentiated learning pathways for students
  2. Feedback that enables students to make informed judgments about what they’ve learned, how well they’ve learnt it, and what to learn next.

 

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Differentiated learning paths honour student variation in both background knowledge and ability, whereas, feedback has a powerful impact on student achievement. Students theoretically have access to ample, frequent, and actionable feedback from multiple sources, including available content, peers, and teachers and combining it with differentiated learning forms the base of inclusive learning.

Every child has right to be educated and it’s our duty we provide them all opportunities to do so. Whether it is specialised use of technology or a differentiated class based on needs headed by a teacher, efforts have to be made to change the learning patterns from assembly line method to joyful learning experiences. Until then for the kids like Aisha, yes she finally told me her name, the everyday struggle is real and pertinent.

 

By Ritika Shukla – Educational Specialist

 

Ritika Shukla

Ritika Shukla

Ritika Shukla, an Educational Specialist in Large Scale assessments at Educational Initiatives, is a Teach For India 2014 alum who after working with low income communities of Ahmedabad by teaching 2nd and 3rd graders, mobilized change in the community strongly believes education is the only way to harness true potential of our country and by working with EI she hopes to achieve the same. She is born and brought up in Udaipur, a small city in Rajasthan and completed her engineering in Chemical from SRM University, Chennai. Apart from her work in field of education,she is a classically trained singer, a sports fan and a movie enthusiast.
Ritika Shukla

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