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Purti: The Hope for Learning to Those Shunned by Conventional Education Centres

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By Waled Aadnan:

Every school going child in India has read Rabindranath Tagore’s famous poem on his ideal India “Where the mind is without fear/And the head is held high”. Indeed, if that is the benchmark we all set ourselves then we are still far from attaining the ideal. But that does not deter some of us to use the above lines as a guiding light towards bettering the lives of others.

‘Purti’ is such an effort towards a fearless and dignified India. A special education needs school in Delhi; Purti caters to the needs of slow learners and children with learning disabilities. The word Purti means “to fulfil”, and aptly the school aims to fulfil the needs of children who are considered “special” by society. The initiative to start the school was taken by Ms. Ravinder Arora when she sought to provide a wholesome education to the “learning disabled” as distinguished from the “mentally disabled”. The immediate inspiration for Ms.

Arora was her own daughter, who was facing learning difficulties at St. Thomas’ School. At that time, most special schools in Delhi mixed the children who had learning difficulties with those who had extremely low IQ’s. Out of the need to provide what later came to be known as Specialized Education Environment (SEE), Purti was born on 16th May 1997 in a small flat in Ashok Vihar.

Nearly fifteen years down the line, Purti has a vision of its own and a structured system in place which provides individualised education to its students. The school accepts students who are not completely mentally disabled. Instead, they are in need of a specialized environment to pursue their academic goals which is not available to them in a conventional school. In other words, these children are “borderline intellects”, as Purti’s website claims. Although the distinction between learning disabled and mentally disabled may be an abstruse one to many, psychologists would categorise the students at Purti under the following categories:

1. Having Learning Disabilities
2. Autism
3. Slow Learners
4. Having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
5. Having Attention Deficit Disorder
6. Physically Differently Abled
7. Having Cerebral Palsy

At Purti, the students are divided into groups based on their academic level, their age group and their need for individualized education, all the while maintaining a ratio of five children per educator. A child is given special individualized attention to assess the shortcomings in the basic academic areas before merging the student in an appropriate study group, thus introducing a SEE [Specialized Education Environment].

Purti focuses primarily on academics, eventually aiming to help the children clear their 10th and 12th examinations under the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). The academic programs are designed within the school and aim to simultaneously achieve two major objectives: to strengthen the basic indispensable factors of core academics, and to secondarily extract the latent capabilities out of an individual. As such, the programs often include a combination of regular academics with pre-vocational skills training.

Besides, to provide a comprehensive education and to provide basic life skills to the children, Purti does not restrict itself to the classroom. Regular outings are organised which include visits to historical locations, educational sites or simply a restaurant, a shopping mall, grocery stores, banks, post offices or the Delhi Metro. The idea behind such outings is to acquaint the children with these locations and to enable them to perform regular social processes in such environments.

Purti places great emphasis on the role of parents and family members in helping the special child to gain acceptance within the society. Picnics with parents and siblings are organised to help the parents overcome their complexes pertaining to a member with special needs in the family. Besides, parents are kept in the loop as to the educational patterns adopted for their child and are also invited to attend workshops where eminent child psychologists and experienced speakers deal with queries, doubts and fears of the parents and siblings.

And all these efforts have certainly borne fruit for the school and the numerous children who have had an opportunity to overcome their disabilities and pursue a semblance of a normal childhood thanks to the efforts of Purti. Over 30 children have graduated from the centre after clearing their NIOS 10th and 12th examinations.

Rushi Gulati, a student at the school recently won a gold medal at the Beijing Special Olympics. Ragini, a former student who completed her 10th and 12th from the school is now a special educator herself and is an athlete member of the board of directors at the Special Olympics. The parents of Ekant Anand had lost all hope when he joined Purti from Springdales, Dhaula Kuan. Today, he is a computer expert who knows base level assembly language unknown to even computer engineering graduates. Rajdip Singh represented India at the Beijing Special Olympics 2007 in cricket and was one of only 7 athletes from all around the world to be featured. Ms. Arora’s daughter, Aastha, the first student of Purti herself cleared her NIOS examinations and went on to clear Nursery Teacher Training (NTT). Today Aastha herself teaches at Purti, helping out children who are faced with the same situation as she did a decade ago.

Purti hasn’t received a single grant till date despite being the only centre in Delhi /NCR that caters exclusively to children with learning difficulties but with educable abilities. Purti remains a story of a parent’s persistence and perseverance to provide a means of education and dignity to her daughter and other children like her. Shorn of attention and recognition, the school has silently transformed the lives of many learning disabled children in and around Delhi. Perhaps, the time has come for it to receive its due appreciation and support.

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