Guest Features

Online Special Education for School Students
by Pallavanjali


Special Education for School Students By Deepanwita Maitra, Special Educator

When the educational institutions were shut at the start of the Pandemic not many reckoned it would change the face of education as we have all known. From no smartphones allowed in school, to learning from only these devices it has been a massive change for all of us and we are still getting accustomed to it. For teachers, the move from a physical classroom of boisterous students to a room in their homes, from where they hope to impart the same level learning to the young ones, has been fraught with challenges and quite the learning experience. We, the Pallavanjali team, also had to endure many challenges but then we also were quick to find the solutions.

When a child comes to school there is a certain decorum that he knows he has to maintain, because he is in an institution, he is expected to do certain things. He has to come to school, sit for his class and then go back home and it’s his leisure time. But now the scenario is totally different. Now we have to get into their homes, their comfort zones and explain to them that this is going to be their new classroom. It is rapport building all over again and we put in extra efforts to make the children and the parents get accustomed with the new situation. We dance, sing and play games for several classes to make it less monotonous for the kids.

Our children were missing their peers. They were missing the activities that we all did together. So, we thought of starting our online classes with lot of fun activities. It was like a first impression that we were trying to project to give them the idea that online classes will not discount on the level of fun we had during school, giving them the idea that it’s not going to be mundane or monotonous.

As hard as remote learning might be for us it’s likely even harder for our students. They have gone from classrooms explicitly designed to support learning, to bedrooms and kitchen tables where distractions are plentiful. The transition was difficult for all of us. We had to help each other to get the work done.

I would like to share an experience: One of my student’s father is in the IT department and he sat online with me after his working hours, from 7 to 8 in the evening to teach me Zoom and Microsoft teams. The next day while I was taking the class, he sat beside his child to help me out in case I got stuck. It was overwhelming for me.
We help parents make visual schedules for their wards for home activities. We work with visual schedules in school for them to be aware of what to expect and the end results were very promising.

For certain children, especially the under privileged, there were other issues. For instance, there was no Zoom, no laptop, low bandwidth. We took classes on WhatsApp. We would video call our kids via Whats App and teach them. We sent homework via WhatsApp so that every parent had access to it.

Documentation is a big challenge in this New Normal period. We started taking screenshots – screenshots of class work, screen shots and videos while they are writing, doing activities or engaged in their tasks.

Parental prompts have increased during the Pandemic. Out of the box thinking has gone for a toss, coz every parent wants to see their child give ‘politically correct’ answers. There is no scope for them to think inferentially, and that hinders their learning. We have to counsel and make them understand how important it is for us to know the child’s independent thoughts which is not prompted and dominated by us adults.

To illustrate the same here is an incident: When a student was shown a red apple and asked what colour it was. She answered correctly. On asking to name two other red fruits, she said one apple and another apple. This was her thought process and in a way she was absolutely correct too. She thought unconventionally and answered and that is extremely important for a child, to think outside conventional beliefs.

We as educators are learning, experiencing, imparting knowledge and challenging ourselves every day, because that is what is the spirit of Pallavanjali is to ‘keep surprising your previous self every day’.


Occupational Therapy During the Pandemic By Sushil Spehia, Occupational Therapist

Occupational Therapy is a client centered and hands-on health profession; it requires close association between the therapist and his students. During the Pandemic it was not possible to impart services in schools setups, the only option left was to conduct Occupational Therapy sessions remotely through online platforms. There were certain challenges or limitations we faced like non-availability of OT equipment like balance board, swings etc at students’ homes. There was no physical intervention by the therapist in order to attain students’ attention for a sustained duration. It was also difficult to assess students’ progress and current level of functioning remotely.

So, while planning for the online session we had to accommodate above mentioned concerns. We had to adapt with materials available easily at home. A list of these items was shared with the parents at-least one day before the sessions.

We counsel and train parents to follow the therapist’s instructions immaculately without over or under assisting their ward during the therapy sessions. We intentionally prefer activities which have a playful and fun quotient to grab students’ participation for longer durations.

Despite all odds we managed to achieve the following:
• Improved skill level of students
• Productive engagement
• Enhanced parent-therapist synchronization
• Better insight of parents in their ward’s capabilities

The Big Switch: Special Education for Older Students by Radha Arora, Special Educator

The biggest casualty of 2020 – Covid19 was about to pull PIAIP apart. The motto of education without boundaries to all was facing a crisis like never before. Schools were shut to prevent the spread of the virus giving way to online classrooms – a very new concept even for the most sophisticated schools. It seemed like the end of teaching career, especially for therapists and special educators. As luck would have it an article from Malala Yousafzai popped up. Yousafzai begins by reflecting on her own education, detailing what it was like to graduate from Oxford University in the middle of the Pandemic. While the year looked undoubtably uncertain, this brought about an insight for hope and change. Using this as a jumping point, we were renewed with inspiration and the TEAM determined to thrive.

Extra effort to engage students in classes by revamping timetables, shifting discussions online, taking feedback from parents and monitoring students constantly – this took all the energy besides the home chores and the looming fear of the Pandemic. Juggling with apps such as Webex, MsTeam and Zoom to make online classes as engaging as offline ones was a challenge. To add to the misery there was a demand for use of free software. In this whirlwind everyone had to do more and be content with less pay. School supplies were forgotten. Every failure was opening a new dimension. Here some of us were digital dinosaurs dealing with a generation heavily dependent on gadgets. Getting them to use it judiciously and in a manner that didn’t drain them completely required more grit. For our students it was a challenge because they could not do the programs by themselves. They had to have help. It was both exciting and at times overwhelming for parents as well. With online tools and all the years of training and TEAM support we all dived into the world of teaching as freshers.

Delivering emotionally satisfying lessons continues to be a contest still; observations are formal, and assessments tools had to be redefined. Well, the torch of education should always be shone on the student, and not the unending documentation. The dream of a wholesome education was first lost in the web of examinations and now we had the opportunity to make learning fun and purposeful.

From digital dinosaurs, we adapted to becoming a digital natives. Accepting limits frees one in a way that helps to see the possibilities. It took mind training and computer literacy to become socially interactive in the virtual world. The lessons became engaging, students enjoyed learning instead of studying- that was the aim all along. Virtual tours and parties helped bond peers and parents and us. Classes were not limited to walls anymore. Productivity assumed a new definition.

Speech and Language By Malini Kumar, Speech Therapist

As with everyone else in the school setup we were uncertain about how we would be able to conduct online speech therapy sessions which involved close proximity, attention span and eye contact. We held meetings with the staff and management, and it was decided that the speech team would step in later once the children were more settled with educators. Meanwhile, we held consultations with the parents to understand their expectations and explain our precise goals which were achievable online.

Initial sessions had lots of hiccups in terms of implementation of teaching children who had oral motor and speech issues which involved manual manipulation of articulators. We demonstrated exercises and recorded videos to send to parents so they could practice the same techniques at their own convenience.

The biggest challenge was starting therapy with new children with no prior rapport building which is the most important aspect in the therapy. We managed with the help and cooperation of the parents and sometimes involved siblings in initial stages. Most of our children are visual learners so we used their favourite cartoons and songs as reinforcers. I think most of us have now become familiar with various cartoon characters. I have based my entire language therapy on a serial which one of the children is keen on. We worked on weaning the children from constant presence of parents so that they learn to work independently and depend less on prompts.

There are some good and some difficult days when our tech savvy children switch off the computer and we are left staring at a blank screen, thankfully these episodes are now very few.

Presently after working for more than six months we have a bunch of settled children and satisfied parents who have become more involved with the therapist in achieving the set goals. The personal interaction with parents has helped us, as they understand “why and how” with their support we can achieve our goals. I hear less “why my child is not talking or why is he not responding to my questions “. My magic mantra to them is ” please keep on talking to them and don’t ask too many questions and wait for an appropriate response”.