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Maharashtra orders concessions for students with learning disorders

Finally acknowledging that tackling schoolwork is an uphill battle for children with learning disabilities like dyslexia, the Maharashtra government has spelt out a number of concessions for them that schools will have to abide by

For children with learning disabilities in Mumbai, school life has just become a little easier with Maharashtra issuing a government resolution spelling out concessions for students with dyslexia (reading disability), dysgraphia (writing disability), dyscalculia (disability in carrying out mathematical calculations) and dysnomia (dictation disability).

The concessions to such students with respect to choice of subjects, levels of learning and exams follows a Bombay High Court order directing the state to make the changes in favour of students with learning disorders.

According to the resolution, students with learning disabilities should:

  • Be given extra time to finish their examinations, and be permitted a writer.
  • Study a lower level of mathematics and be exempt from learning languages other than English.
  • Not be asked to submit lengthy answers in homework or in their exam papers. Errors in spelling and grammar should also be ignored.

If a junior school student suffers from dyscalculia, teachers should ignore interchanged numbers (for instance, 12 written as 21). Students from Class 1-9 who fail exams should get 20 grace marks.

Schools that do not abide by these directives will face contempt of court charges. They have also been instructed to periodically check whether students whose results are dissatisfactory suffer from learning disabilities.

According to experts, every Mumbai school has an average of 50 students with learning disabilities -- children with normal levels of intelligence who fall behind the rest of the class because their teachers and parents haven't recognised that they have a learning disorder. With the implementation of the new rules, this problem may well be resolved.

Parents of children with learning disorders have hailed this as a victory against an unsupportive education system that left them, and not the schools, shouldering the burden of their children's struggle to keep up with their classmates in the face of heavy odds. Many report having to face apathy from teachers, principals and school administrations when confronted with the problem.

Pallavi Singh (name changed), mother of a 15-year-old with a learning disability says she is happy with the concessions. But, she adds, the approach of teachers also needs to change. "They still fail to acknowledge that a child is different and needs to be treated differently." Admitting that schools often ignore cases of learning disability, president of the Maharashtra Dyslexia Association Kate Currawala says that even if there are provisions for students with learning disabilities they are not usually implemented. "Schools need to take initiatives so that the disability is identified at the earliest," says Currawala.

In fact, some parents who have fought long and acrimonious battles with their children's schools in an effort to make them acknowledge the problem, insist it is not new rules but stricter implementation of existing ones that is the real issue.

Fourteen-year-old Justin Bharucha's academic performance was as good as any other student's up till Class 4. But then he started making spelling mistakes all the time. "At first, I thought he just needed to work harder and enrolled him in a coaching class. When that didn't help, I became alarmed," says his mother. When a medical examination revealed that Justin was dyslexic, acceptance of the problem was slow and painful.

"When we finally came to terms with this we approached his school for help. They refused to acknowledge the problem. Even after a couple of sessions with the principal, who could clearly see what my son was going through, they refused to help."

"As my awareness about concessions for dyslexics grew, I kept going back to his school to fight for them. After all, it was Justin's right," says Bharucha. "Whenever a court ruled in support of LDs, I would get hopeful again. But every new judgment just ended in an unsuccessful battle with the school management." SSC board chairman Vasant Kalpande says all efforts are being made to implement the concessions for special students. He added that students with learning disabilities are already allowed to sit for two language papers only, instead of three. "From 2007, students with learning disabilities will be allowed to use calculators," Kalpande adds.

Source: Hindustan Times, September 9, 2006
Hindustan Times, September 8, 2006