By Vidushi Seneviratne
"Education for all" was
the call issued more than forty years ago by the nations of the
world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserted that "everyone
has a right to education". But in countries such as Sri Lanka,
this is not always the case for children with learning disabilities.
Lack of resources, trained teachers and a positive attitude are
some of the drawbacks.
impairment is quite common among children in Sri Lanka. The key
factor in dealing with this issue is identifying each child's individual
needs and assisting him/her accordingly. While some need professional
assistance, other less serious conditions merely require awareness
on the part of those responsible for the child's education.
work with children with any sort of learning disability and assist
teachers and other individuals to help these kids," says Shalini
Wickremasooriya, a speech and language specialist holding a Master’s
Degree in Speech and Language Difficulties from the University of
Birmingham, UK who has initiated an effective programme to assist
disability is a term that covers specific kinds of learning differences
that can cause an individual to have trouble learning and using
certain skills. The skills most often affected are reading, writing,
listening, speaking, reasoning and mathematics-based tasks. Most
often children with such difficulties come across as being average,
but on close observation are found to be unable to demonstrate the
skill level expected from another child of the same age.
common characteristic among such children is uneven areas of ability:
a child who struggles with reading, writing and spelling, may be
extremely capable in mathematics and science.
of these children can receive an education in any average classroom,
and can be integrated into a regular class, but due to their learning
difficulties, they need special attention from the teacher. The
important thing is that teachers need to be trained and capable
of identifying the various needs of the child," says Shalini.
(reading and writing difficulties), dyscalculia (difficulties with
mathematics) and speech and language difficulties are some of the
conditions that fall under this category of learning disabilities.
Behavioural disorders such as attention deficit disorders and hyperactivity
are another such area that needs attention. Children with conditions
such as the ones included in the autism spectrum, cerebral palsy
and Down's Syndrome too, can be integrated into a regular classroom,
depending on the level of the condition.
the training programme Shalini makes regular visits to special education
units to work with teachers. She has so far worked with units situated
in areas such as Colombo, Ja-ela, Negombo, Nattandiya and Chilaw.
"Some of these centres have many difficulties, but we make
do with the available resources. After all, these children are most
comfortable in their own surroundings," she said.
with the children, parents and teachers, the teachers focus on making
the child independent. With most of the children coming from families
involved in cottage industries, the children too are gradually trained
to get involved in the work.
usual procedure is that we identify the child's difficulties, get
the parents involved, ask them what they expect and then set a target,
usually five years. We then start working on the child's difficulties,
while teaching him or her life skills, self-help skills, motor skills,
language skills and also work on cognitive development," said
Shalini. Children with similar difficulties are put together but
an individual education plan is prepared for each child, depending
on his/her individual needs.
strengths to address weaknesses" being the basis of her work,
a monthly syllabus is prepared and revised, once again depending
on the child's needs. "There are various types of learning
that fall into the categories of auditory, tactile and visual learning
types. But since all children may not possess these capabilities,
it is the teacher's responsibility to identify each child's weaknesses
and abilities and use them in a productive way," says Shalini.
Having a background in speech and drama, she uses these skills in
her work as well.
schools in certain areas have a classroom especially assigned for
students with various physical and intellectual difficulties, with
teachers trained in working with children with special needs assigned
to these classes. "Only a very few schools have this facility
and there are many other children in need of such assistance. But
this problem could be solved if all teachers are given a brief training
in this area, where they are able to identify the needs of the slower
learners and help them to lead regular lives," stresses Shalini.
also conducts a diploma training programme, which is based on how
intervention in the early years can make a difference. Beginning
with background information on the subject, the topics in the course
vary from early child development and what teachers can do, to understanding
learning disabilities and using parents as partners in the improvement
20-week course is held at the Ladies' College Department of Vocational
Studies. A number of these diploma holders are already putting into
practice their knowledge and positive results have been seen in
a few mainstream schools, as well as special education units.
keep track and evaluate their work and I have seen many children
improving due to the techniques used. Even the parents see a big
difference in their children," said Shalini.