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Empowering All Learners

‘Being different is terrible for any child. But with a supportive environment and the right educational intervention, struggling learners can succeed.’ 


Ask them to write the numeral 14, and they will write 41. Ask them where South America is on the map and they will point to South Africa. Ask them about marine biology, and they will give you a perfectly fine definition, however, they may not be able to recall names. Ask them to construct a 1,000-piece puzzle, and they will render a perfectly fine product. But ask them to do a simple maths problem and they will seem flummoxed.

Visit almost any classroom in any school around India, and you will find them-students who have difficulties finding their belongings or getting somewhere on time. Their academic potential is higher than their school achievements. These children inhabit the world of learning differences. They are part of this world because of their unique neurological wiring. The demands of traditional school systems make school success an arduous task for them. Too many children in spite of intellectual strengths, are made to feel stupid, lazy or dumb, telling them to “try harder” or “you can do better” is ineffective, blaming them or humiliating them is hurtful and wrong.

Being different is a terrible thing for any child. It is embarrassing for a child if he is unable to do what other children can do well-whether it is tying their shoelaces, throwing a ball, reading aloud in class or solving a maths problem. Yet almost daily children are humiliated by their teachers and peers, and unwillingly by their parents.

We all have heard these reprimands, haven’t we? “Look how well Rajiv can write, why can’t you?” or “If only you would spend less time on cricket and concentrate more on reading your books.”

Tragically our school culture and pressures for high grades often undercut a student’s strengths. In reality, all children can succeed if they learn to develop their strengths. We simply aren’t addressing the problem in the most effective manner possible. These children do not choose to make mistakes; they don’t deliberately set out to not give the right answer. Neurological studies are now revealing that for some children certain functions are not going to operate automatically and will need to be specifically taught. For example, most children can automatically blend segments and manipulate sounds in a word to become fluent readers, for others, these skills may have to be specifically taught.

With a supportive environment and the right educational intervention struggling learners can succeed. Several famous personalities like entrepreneurs Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Jons Chambers, and actor Tom Cruise have succeeded in life in spite of learning difficulties in school. They mobilised their strengths in order to become successful adults.

To quote the celebrated American educator De Mel Levine,
“Success is a vitamin that every kid must take in order to thrive during their school years”

This mission must involve making every student feel accepted and comfortable. In order to help them see themselves positively, we can begin by using their area of interest and curiosity as a starting point. If a child is good at art but has difficulties with oral or written expression, for example, he/she could be made in charge of the class or school posters.

Similarly, if a student is good at academics but not very coordinated in sports, he could tutor other students while also working on building his motor skills for sports. The goal should be to make all kinds of learners feel comfortable with themselves and their abilities. This approach of differentiated learning within a classroom builds on student capabilities, while also making other students aware of the variety of rich abilities among their classmates.

Schools and teachers have the power to change the classroom dynamic. As a longtime educator who teaches children with learning difficulties. I am honoured to restore the self-confidence of countless “failing students” I begin by tapping into their strengths while working alongside on their areas of difficulty.

The “success vitamin”- a supplement should be available to all students. The best way to prepare kids for adulthood is to establish equitable classrooms. Such classrooms in time help create healthy citizens of a just and tolerant society.

Not a tall order for those of us who invest in the future of our country. And the future, after all is meant for our children.

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