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With prolonged closure of schools, focus moves away from dyslexia assessment

‘Many with learning disabilities have struggled to cope with online classes,’ say experts

CHENNAI

At a time when schools have remained shut for over a year now, focussing on dyslexia among students, getting them assessed and ensuring that they get the necessary intervention has been put on the backburner by several schools and parents.

The number of children that the Madras Dyslexia Association sees for assessments has dropped significantly over the last one year. While their full-time remediation centre used to have around 30 students, it has now dropped to eight students.

“Parents need to be mindful that this is a long-term concern and need to focus on it. Owing to the pandemic, necessary remediation that their children need is being put on the backburner and has become the last expenditure or priority on their list,” said MDA president D. Chandrasekhar.

While many schools in the city partnered with organisations working to address Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) to set up resource labs on campus, where students could attend classes and interact with special educators, these have remained shut for over a year now as well.

“Learning interventions like this took a backseat for both schools and parents who were battling a financial crunch and other concerns. Many children with SLDs such as dyslexia have struggled to cope with online classes in the absence of any intervention,” said Arun Fernandez, managing director, Blink foundation and 3R Research and Technology Publishing.

The focus of these organisations now is to make sure that parents and schools are aware of the needs of learners with dyslexia and other SLDs and address them at the earliest.

Assessment app

To reach out to parents and create awareness about the importance of a timely assessment and intervention for dyslexia, Mr. Fernandez said that they had come up with an assessment app called DLearners parent.

“We are encouraging parents to take the first step during this period and emphasising on how they can use this time for children with SLDs. Such interventions shouldn’t be put on the backburner just because schools are closed,” he said.

Through the app, which is free to use, they have screened 187 children, and currently around 60 children are attending online remediation sessions with them- which are both app and web based.

“We hope that more schools in the coming year realise the importance of having such interventions in place for their learners and we are ready to partner with them to assess learners through the app. This will help teachers identify learners that need intervention,” he said.

MDA too has taken activities online, including their full-time and part-time remediation programmes.

“The part-time remediation programme has children who come to us for a programme and then seek admission in regular schools. We had to tailor the programme to be taken virtually. This included ensuring that they don’t have classes for more than two hours at a stretch and ensuring that there were a lot of supplementary activities,” Mr. Chandrasekhar explained.

Schools that have continued to implement such remediation measures through the last academic year that went online have seen the benefits for their learners with dyslexia.

“Children who were otherwise hesitant to leave their classrooms and come to resource rooms on campus for a remediation programme have taken to the online model much better. Parents too have been very cooperative of the same online,” said Lalitha Chandrasekaran, co-founder and director, Ramana Vidyalaya, Shollinganallur in Chennai.

Having been associated with the MDA since 2015, she said that they continued the remediation programme in partnership with them.

Ms. Chandrasekaran, however, said that there were challenges with regard to implementing this for learners from lower income groups.

“There were concerns regarding accessibility and connectivity, or the fact that both parents were working members. For these learners, we had to put in a lot of thought and continue with the support and intervention they needed,” she explained.

The school plans to continue this for the coming academic year as well.

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