Friday, March 7, 2014

Tamil Nadu to screen kids for dyslexia, offer help

CHENNAI: Children with dyslexia are most often misunderstood and branded as 'lazy' or worse by their parents and teachers. Not for much longer, not in Tamil Nadu, at least.

The state will screen lakhs of schoolchildren for the learning disorder in the first project of its kind on such a large scale. Mental health experts say that at least 10% of the population could be dyslexic.

The school education department's Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) wing will screen children for dyslexia as part of an equal opportunity project to provide inclusive education for children with special needs.

The state will provide certificates to dyslexic students, enabling them to get all the concessions they require till they complete their studies. The government will form district-level committees to screen students and issue disability certificates from June to September every year.

The committees will be chaired by collectors and include chief educational officers , SSA chief educational officers , joint directors from the medical department, a welfare officer for the disabled, psychiatrists or psychologists and parents of dyslexic students.

The state will start the scheme with a pilot project among children in Classes 6 and 8 in government and aided schools in two districts. It will then compare a database created from the project to existing predictive figures by mental health experts. Teachers in the two districts will soon be trained to assess children with learning disorders.

Because a significant chunk of the population suffers from dyslexia, the project will provide a large segment with educational opportunities they would otherwise be denied . Experts say developed countries have launched similar schemes to raise the quality of life and productivity of people with learning disorders.

Organisations like the Help Child Charitable Trust are also conducting studies to determine the prevalence of learning problems. The Help Child study will cover 4,500 schoolchildren in the state. "The great value in detecting children with special needs is not to remove them from the general population, but to give them special attention," said educator Gautam John.

Experts say dyslexia may be treated, and cite actor Tom Cruise, scientists Albert Einstein, artist Pablo Picasso, businessman Henry Ford, filmmaker Steven Spielberg and Apple's Steve Jobs among notable people with the disorder.

However, experts like clinical neuropsychologist Dr B S Virudhagirinathan caution that the success of the scheme will depend upon the level of awareness and acceptance of special needs children by schools, teachers, parents and officials.

Times View

The state's equal opportunity initiative to provide inclusive education for children with disability will provide a counterpoint to the country's blinkered approach to education — in which marks, competitive exams and professional degrees are given top priority. If the Centre were to implement the scheme nationwide, it could be a game-changer because at least 10% of the general population is estimated to be dyslexic. Raising the quality of life and productivity of such a large number of people can make a major difference to the productivity of the country.

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