Impact of online education on children with disabilities

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Ayesha always dreamt of becoming a doctor. But accessing diagrams and formulas on the small screen of her smartphone is difficult for her. She suffers from a visual disability which makes it difficult to attend online classes.

“It’s hard and hectic when it comes to online education, I can’t see the mobile screen properly,” said Ayesha, a resident of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. “I just listen to the audio.”

Ayesha’s elder brother Aijaz also suffers from a visual disability. He has a weak optic nerve.

Despite their disabilities, the siblings are the first in the family of eleven to go to school and dream of a better future. The online classes, prompted by the lockdowns of the last three years, however, have made them change plans.

Ayesha – a class eleventh student – has now switched to social sciences, instead of medicine which had a burdensome classwork for her eyes.

“We study from the power-point-presentations which our teachers provide us but still it’s difficult to understand on the small screen and it surely harms our eyes,” she said. Even as Ayesha tries to cope up with other classmates, life is difficult for her.

Like Ayesha, students with different physical disabilities are finding it difficult to concentrate and continue their studies in the online mode.

The education system had switched from offline to online classes in March last year when the outbreak of an infectious disease had forced a global shutdown. As the disease – COVID19 – caused by a virus continued to evolve and cause deaths, the shutdown also continued, so did the online classes.

Durdana, a 9th class student from the central Kashmir’s Srinagar, is also visually impaired and has stopped attending online classes after doctor’s prohibition.

The online classes had worsened her situation and caused the loss of vision in her right eye.

“She couldn’t see anything from her right eye, it got damaged due to the online classes,” said her mother Qaisar Jahan who is concerned about her daughter’s health and studies.

She now only attends a single class a week and that too after consulting her doctor. Jahan helped her in studying online. “Teachers provide her assignments through online mode and I help her do the assignments,” added Jahan.

According to a study done by Kashmir University scholar Muzamil Jan, 37763 Children With Special Needs (CWSN) are identified in Jammu and Kashmir who need special teaching, training and learning facilities for their sustainable development.”

Momin, an eight-year-old boy from Rainawari area of Srinagar, had developed complications in his mother’s womb. He cannot speak or walk properly and is diagnosed with developmental delay. “At the time of his birth, doctors said his condition happened due to the lack of oxygen supply,” said his cousin Anayat, 26. Momin had lost his father in his childhood when he was just two.

“We registered him with Chotay Taray Foundation (a school for specially abled students) in 2018, by then he was showing improvement. But after the abrogation of the article and then the Covid-19 lockdown, everything went online and his development halted,” said his mother Kulsuma Begum.

“His teachers guide me, and then I follow accordingly.”

Moomin’s words are unfathomable and Begum has now trained herself to understand him.

Begum now hopes for early resumption of the offline classes. “I stayed satisfied and calm when Momin went to school,” added Begum.

Ranbir Kour, a counsellor with three years of experience in counseling children with disabilities at Chotay Taray Foundation, said online classes were inadequate. “We can have a one-on-one interaction with our students which is very important in case of special education, but when it comes to the students with severe conditions, they don’t cooperate and we can’t have an online session with them.”

She said, “the screen time of the students has massively increased which is causing the behavioral changes in them.”

“Increase in screen time is changing the habits and the routine of the children with disabilities. They are becoming more aggressive. ”

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