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While there is rat race amongst private school owners to get the best of the new generation, there has not been any effort on their part to manage a small population of children who have serious handicaps. Saima Bhat visits Vijay Dhar’s DPS to see a different world for the kids otherwise abandoned by the education sector

Every morning, for the last 15 of her 25 years of life, Qurat-ul-Ain continues to wake up to the darkness. Living without the complete use of her eyes, Qurat, a visually impaired girl has only support of a white cane to move around. But her strength is her memory. A single visit to any place is enough for her brain to record the sequence and memorise the map.

Not intimidated by the handicap, she starts her day from the gates of Delhi Public School, Athwajan, where her driver drops her. With the help of the cane, she straightaway walks to her office, a seven minutes walking distance, an NGO, Satya Devi Resource Centre (SDRC).

Qurat fought the battle of her life. Now she fights to train children who are visually impaired or low on vision. She has a training class comprising seven students.

Born as a blessing for her parents, the first two years of her life were smooth. At two, she developed complications. Once in hospital, ophthalmologists diagnosed of her having Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), an inherited, degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment due to the progressive degeneration of the rod photoreceptor cells in the retina.

Breakdown in the retina cells of Qurat, shattered her parents; a businessman father and mother, a government employee, who retired as a tehsildar now.

Her doctors advised the family against her schooling. “She might loose her vision completely at the age of twelve,” doctors said.

“I wanted to do everything that my brothers do.” Initially Qurat was able to study like any other student but gradually as predicted, she started losing vision. By that time she was preparing to write for class 10th exams.

Disheartened, her parents choose her comfort over her education and decided to keep her away from studies hoping she may retain her vision for few more years.

The decision had its impact on the young mind. The morning drill of her two siblings, both brothers, at home started to take toll on her psyche. Every activity ranging from boarding school bus, carrying books, copies, pencils, colourful bags and then writing their homework in evenings and parental attention made Qurat uneasy and her desire to live life of a normal child grew manifolds.

“Those days were very though. It was impossible to make my parents understand that I also want to study,” Qurat remembers. “I used to cry every morning when my brothers would board their school bus.”

The parents had their compulsions. But one day her tears bore the fruits. As she turned three plus, a local school teacher approached her mother, who used to see Qurat weeping every day and requested her mother if she could take Qurat to her school where she will socialise with others. Once told about the limitations, teacher promised mother that she would not be allowed to study.

Qurat had her way. Instead of toys and games, books and copies fascinated her more and she started her formal education, finally.

“I wanted to do everything that my brothers do.” Initially Qurat was able to study like any other student but gradually as predicted, she started losing vision. By that time she was preparing to write for class 10th exams.

She did not leave it there. Struggling to come to terms with her loss of vision, she strived to find a place for herself in the world.

While writing her exams, she requested school administration if she could write her papers under open sky. “Sun light used to help me. I was sitting in exams with regular students. The only relaxation visually impaired or low visionary students had, was the three percent relaxation in their pass percentage,” She remembers, as if it was yesterday.

Her speed became the hitch, though she was well prepared to write answers for every question. The speed cost her few questions, but she managed to pass her board exams with at least 60 percent marks.

Her success motivated her parents as well.  Partnering her in studies, Qurat’s parents helped her to photocopy books in larger font size and those copied books she could study in day light only.

Her first lesson to her students is to face the disability confidently. She motivates them to use a cane. “It is very important to use it and I motivate all of my students because it is the only thing that can save us. When normal people will see us using cane, they will automatically think that we are blinds and we need space. They have to understand if they go out without a cane, they might get banged with anything and we cannot blame other people.”

In her eleventh standard exams, she realised she should apply for a scribe, a writing helper, which continued till she graduated.

After the formal education, in 2015, the DSW department of the University of Kashmir which has a special cell for differently abled students, conducted a special workshop where they invited all visually impaired students, including Qurat and they were imparted trainings by National Association for the Blind (NAB) or National Institute for Visually Handicapped (NIVH), on how to use computers and internet.

Qurat was a quick learner. A resident of Sonwar, Qurat applied for a job in DPS in July 2017 and got it. Now she is a trainer and in-charge of SDRC that started its operations a month later. She is training seven other students who are visually impaired or low with vision, in the age group of fourteen to fifty, for orientation Braille, mobility, communication and computers while using spoken English language.

Her first lesson to her students is to face the disability confidently. She motivates them to use a cane. “It is very important to use it and I motivate all of my students because it is the only thing that can save us. When normal people will see us using cane, they will automatically think that we are blinds and we need space. They have to understand if they go out without a cane, they might get banged with anything and we cannot blame other people.”

In Kashmir, Qurat believes using a cane has social stigma attached to it which is the reason only a few use it.

With her another colleague, Hilal Ahmad, who teaches braille and orientation mobility to the students, Qurat teaches them computers using screen reader software and communication skills.

“The advantage of our courses is that an individual should become independent and he should pursue education so that they can be employable in future and do not remain isolated,” Qurat said. Other than trainings, the centre is giving them an opportunity to socialise and meet more people with same problems to boost up their morale.

While talking about her experiences and the interactions with her students, Qurat says such people are not only isolated in societies only but their families also take them as ‘burden’ because they can’t do anything.

Qurat’s hope of managing life and then imparting training to others facing similar problems came true, courtesy, an initiative of DPS, Athwajan. Other than this resource centre, DPS is running a school for differently abled students.

It all started in 2009 when promoter of DPS, Vijay Dhar had a guest, a mother, at his school office. She had come along with her differently abled daughter, Raunak and she had cut her wrist. The mother, who had despair in her eyes, requested Dhar to do something.

That request made Dhar to call his staff and made them think if they could help such students. Meanwhile he got another kid, Qismat, who was one of his family friend’s grandson and finally he decided to start a school with these two students, for differently abled students, which perhaps happened for the first time in any privately run school, in Kashmir.

Before enrolling them, he sent four of his teachers to New York, under Global Education Foundation, for special education, exchange scheme and got them trained in special education for specially challenged students and in next session a few teachers came from New York under the exchange programme which is continuing till date. Now this school running within a school has 114 students and 37 teachers!

In the computer lab, two visually impaired students, Zainab, 7, and Farees Rafiq, who is in class 2nd, have put their headphones on, which are connected to the computers.

Zainab and Farees both speak good English. Even if they are not able to see their computer screens, Zainab says she was ‘selecting words in a word file which she was going to save in a different file document’ and Farees says he was writing in a word document.

But Zainab was joyous to hear a particular voice. To which she murmured ‘Dhar Sir’.

After meeting Zainab, Dhar says, “If I don’t come to see Zainab frequently, she either mails me or comes straight to my room in another building and questions why I did not come to meet her.”

On the first floor of special school’s building, on the left side, small classrooms are used by the teachers to attend to the students, who are separated as per their problems in groups and the right side cubicles are used separately by the senior and junior students.

Other than computers, the students with low vision or who are visually impaired, are taught with aides and contrast. The slanting boards are used so that their books are at a proper inclination where light does not provide any glare or does not play any obstruction.

In the room just opposite to the computer lab, one student was lying with a therapist who was brushing his legs.

Munazah, who is in-charge of the school, says, in the occupational therapy section, the autistic children are helped with their sensory needs. “They need brushing whenever they get hyper. It helps to calm them,” she said.

Presently there are at least 12 autistic students and three therapists in this section of the school.

Other than academics, these children are given training to sit as well. If they are hyper then there are no academics for them. “In that case they are allowed to be with us and we start with their academics only when we feel a change in them.”

In the English remedial centre, students with learning disability, who are not able to cope with English as their second language, are helped by teachers. “They work with four chore skills of language with fun based activities.”

In this section, the students from main school also come for classes if they feel they need to improve their language skills. The other section of this class helps the students with problems in Maths subject.

The speech therapist also help students in managing their speech problems.

Dhar says he faces lot of difficulties in getting such students as their parents are shy and feel ashamed of  having such children. “We need to educate them more because these children also need luxury in education. J&K was the first state in India to declare free and compulsory education but we are struggling hard for providing basic education.”

The school has adopted two curriculums for this special school: integrated and the functional. Munazah says that the integrated is adopted for the group that does their curriculum with the main school, but they only provide academics as and when required.

But in the functional system, they have students who cannot cope up with the academic. “So we do their academics and then they shift to main school for socialisation like games, arts, interactions and all.”

Other than academics, around nine students come for their vocational trainings. “If we feel children after reaching 12 or 13 years of their age, are not able to cope up with their studies, we shift them to vocational centre and train them according to what their parents say what jobs they are going to take in future.”

“Three teachers work for their skill development like communication, mathematical, self-help so that once they leave they are able to maintain log books, use computers or know how to interact with clients,” Munazah said.

All the students are given pick and drop by their parents and the hyper ones stay in school up to 1 pm only. “Once we feel like they are ready to enter the school, we take them to school. In the beginning we seek parents support, we ask them to sit with us because most of them are difficult initially.”

The idea behind starting the initiative to educate differently abled students, Vijay Dhar says was a part of education system, which is mandatory under law. “But no one among the regular schools is doing it except for DPS, which is the first school that has ramps from ground floor to its top floor. There is just one private school started by an NGO, Chotey Taarey and that too was started after efforts of a Swedish doctor, who saw two special children were chained in their homes, somewhere in peripheries. Till then we did not know we too have such children.”

Dhar says he faces lot of difficulties in getting such students as their parents are shy and feel ashamed of  having such children. “We need to educate them more because these children also need luxury in education. J&K was the first state in India to declare free and compulsory education but we are struggling hard for providing basic education.”

The waiting list for DPS special school is 400 as on September 1, and for Chotey Tarey it must be around 600, says Vijay Dhar, who is contended with his decision and feels proud when he got to know Raunak is doing a good job and Qismat is doing his film making course in Whistling Woods International.

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