Learn Imaginatively

It made sense when I heard that the word “sankalp” meant to learn imaginatively. Sankalp, a special needs school, located in a quiet, residential area of Chennai, was founded by three dedicated women. Seeking to make a difference for the often overlooked learning disabled children of India, the three women pooled their personal funds plus a loan from the government to start the Sankalp School for children with special needs.

As an education major, and a student with a learning disability myself, I chose to attend the service trip to the Sankalp School during my visit to India. The group traveling to the school consisted of only seven female students and one of the academic deans. As we traveled to the suburban area of Chennai on our small tour bus, I thought about the name of the trip I was on, “Sankalp: A Special Needs School.” I was interested in learning about what types of special needs the school focused on and how this school was different from other schools in India and elsewhere in the world.

Upon our arrival at the school in a quaint residential neighborhood, we were greeted by the three founders. Fascinated by their backgrounds in psychology, education and business, we listened intently to the goals of the school and how it is run. Students are admitted after a psychological evaluation. The majority of the students are autistic and are between the ages of three and eighteen. Sankalp provides an all encompassing education program for its students. Specialized education with a focus on manipulative use and imaginative learning combined with occupational therapy helps children develop skills to use outside the classroom. Classrooms are filled with copious hands-on materials for students including three dimensional books, blocks, and art supplies.

In one classroom we visited, a teacher was showing students how to interpret a bill from the market. Not only does the Sankalp School help children with typical academic endeavors such as reading and arithmetic, but also life skills that are a crucial part of their lives.

The Sankalp School has a unique student-to-teacher ratio. For every four to five students there are two teachers and one helper. Therefore, students get individualized attention and an education that is catered to their specific needs. Students are grouped based on ability level and age. I was surprised to see that the school was able to have such a large faculty for the 170 children it serves.

Despite the student-to-teacher ratio, students are permitted to attend Sankalp regardless of ability to pay. Sankalp relies on donations and small funds from the government in order to keep the school running. Families are charged about 2,000 rupees per month, per student to attend the school (approx. $45.00).  Crafts and jewelry made by the students are also sold to the public to help fund the school.

Learning imaginatively is one of the main goals of the school. Thus, children are encouraged to explore education through more imaginative realms such as dance, theatre, singing, sports and yoga. In addition, many teaching techniques focus on using different types of hand gestures to communicate more effectively with the non-verbal students. For instance, the back of the palm to the forehead means good morning. Even though the students of Sankalp may have learning disabilities, they excel in many areas. One student could even name the day of the week when given any date in history.

Before arriving, I was worried that I would find the Sankalp School to be a poor form of education for a group of forgotten children. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the school not only accepted these students, but celebrated their differences and worked from both an educational and psychological perspective to give them the most beneficial education. The inclusive occupational therapy and programs for parents to help continue education at home shows that the Sankalp School is truly focused on conquering the learning disabilities of the children and helping them become contributing members of society.

— Patty Meegan


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