August 09, 2020
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Everything is custom-made in this school for its special students

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Everything is custom-made in this school for its special students
Everything is custom-made in this school for its special students
Set in a modest but clean and quiet north-east Mumbai bylane, the Rochiram T. Thadani School for the hearing impaired has given many children a reason to smile. Run by the Chembur Colony Yuvak Mandal, the school strives to meet every need of its 350 special students, all free of cost.

The building was constructed 15 years ago specifically for the purpose so that everything is custom-made—from the air-conditioned speech therapy laboratory to the furniture to the specially-designed, brightly-lit classrooms spread over three floors. Sponsored by BPCL, the school’s auditorium occupies the pride of place—students here watch TV and other audio-video programmes with the help of their headphones. To meet the high cost of servicing of the aids, the school has also started its own Hearing Aid and Ear Mould Lab which manufactures customised ear moulds for every ear. While these moulds, which need replacements every three months, cost Rs 450 in the market, the school provides them to its students at a manufacturing cost of Rs 65. This service is available to the general public too. Says Amar Asrani, the school’s honorary director: "We want our students to be vocationally-efficient and technically-competitive to face the challenges of the outside world."

With an impressive 8:1 student-to-teacher ratio, besides the curriculum, the students are also trained in a number of other job-oriented skills including craft and paper work, typing and stitching. Parents too are encouraged to attend these classes to learn how to teach their child at home. Guided by the three priorities earmarked by its founder, the late Hashu Advani, well-known for his philanthropic activities—to integrate the students in the mainstream, to help them clear the board examination, and to provide pre-vocational training—the school mostly caters to the economically-backward class. It also dissuades parents from compromising on the quality of the otherwise expensive hearing aids by setting aside a separate hearing aid account for needy students. "We don’t want to deprive any child of learning just because their parents are poor," explains Asrani.

In its forward-looking approach, each student is clinically diagnosed in the beginning for the extent of damage. Moderate to severe cases are trained for a year or two and then sent back to regular school. Children with severe to profound damage continue in the school and even from these, the school has managed to send 30 students to regular schools.

Teaching is significantly computer-based and teachers prepare their lessons with the help and support of Schoolnet India, an IL&FS initiative. Schoolnet supports education in schools through Networked Learning, a technology-enabled learning system. Anuja Deorukhkar of Schoolnet reveals that her organisation provides a weekly support for schools—the contract includes providing multimedia study material as well as administrative software. It has also developed a website for the school and organises lectures and seminars. Today most of them have become proficient enough to not only use Schoolnet lessons, but also to prepare and modify the material to their specific need.

The Mandal has expanded its activities further by starting a teacher’s training school. Funds, however, continue to be the biggest concern. The school has to arrange for nearly Rs 6 lakh each year to make up for the shortfall of the government support that comes through the social welfare board. Besides, the government doesn’t provide for replacements for teachers on maternity leave. There is a waiting list of at least fifty students but the school isn’t allowed to open more classes. It is easy to get sponsors for specific projects like a building or an auditorium but no help is forthcoming for running costs, explains Asrani. The Mandal hence requests its individual donors, largely from the affluent and the Sindhi community, to help out.

The school has made significant progress even as the 15-member management board and the teachers feel a lot yet remains. This year, as the first ssc batch prepares for its boards, Asrani and his colleagues are anxiously waiting to see how the world will evaluate their efforts. The school can be contacted at: Rochiram T. Thadhani School for the Hearing Handicapped, 64/65, Collectors Colony, Chembur, Mumbai 400074; Phone: 5531041

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