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Anomalies in Special Schools

Parents must crosscheck prior admission

02 Apr 2019, 09:30

Sayed Ahmed

Special schools are mushrooming in Dhaka to accommodate the rising number of special children, but unfortunately, only a few of them are giving substantial efforts in the improvement of the helpless children, while the rest are robbing the dismal parents in the name of social service. My eight year old autistic son is going to his third special school in Dhaka in five years. We did not have much choice in selecting the first school because of the lack of knowledge as well as communication problem. To our dismay, the school turned out to be a business venture established by a business man in collaboration with a therapist who conned the parents for her private practice. Ultimately, the school was a mess especially regarding therapies. For a long time, they didn’t have a speech therapist but they kept charging the same fees. We had to visit speech therapist and occupational therapist privately that took extra amount of money. Later, we took our son to the second school founded by two therapists who promised us better management, but they simply tricked us with nice words and assurance. Very soon, it was clear that the founders had a plan to set up a foundation to grab local and international funding and the school was only scaffolding. They ignored the school and kept busy in arranging programs on radio and television for glossy media coverage. They say soothing words on air and on screen but do not put them in practice in their own school.

Scores of autism parents in Dhaka have the same experience as we have. They move from school to school and therapist to therapist, spend thousands of taka every month but fail to receive sincere behavior and proper management protocol. A number of special schools do not keep the promises they make at the time of admission. Many of them are basically profit making enterprises. Parents accept anomalies in these schools because they have limited options in the city; moreover, shifting schools also requires another fifty to sixty thousands of taka as admission fees. With an insignificant or sometimes zero knowledge about special education, people are setting up special schools in Dhaka mainly for financial benefit. They hire one or two Dhaka University or CRP therapy graduates and employ National University graduates or students as teachers who have literally no orientation, knowledge or experience in special education. At the admission, every school offers an excellent plan for each child and suggests 1:1 teaching where every child will have a teacher who will spend around four hours a day five days a week through teaching, applying therapy, feeding, speaking and socialising with that child. The schools claim that they train up the teachers by experts in special education and therapists, but in reality, it is a very rare phenomenon. Teachers simply sit down with special children, try to carry out some therapy drills and feed the kids on time which is a kind of babysitting. If unskilled teachers apply therapies on special children without proper knowledge, that might even be harmful them. The ugliest form of cheating lies in therapy management. Special schools charge usually eight to twelve thousand taka as monthly fees that include occupational therapy, speech therapy, psychological, group therapy, etc. In practice, kids very often lose scheduled therapy sessions due to the absence of therapists. School administration blames the shortage of therapists especially speech therapist, but they do not cut down the fees for therapy from the monthly fees. If they fail to manage therapists, they are not supposed to run a special school. At the same time, therapists of the same school practice in the outdoor where they encourage the guardians to pay extra amount of money for therapy. The therapies basically occupational therapy is very crucial for special children; the lack of regular therapy makes them hyper active. Many special schools charge about BDT 15000 at the beginning of each year as session fees without any justification. Government has banned session fees even in the regular school. In special school, there is no upgradation of the children i.e. special kids do not move from one class to the upper one. For special kids, the only upgradation is moving to a regular school.  In that case, why should the schools charge session fees?  A majority of the special schools are housed in congested and unhygienic places. They hire two to three floors in a building and run a special school; in most of the schools, children have no place for playing. Some schools do not have sufficient ventilation either. Special children need more specious and hygienic places as they have severe complications and they need to play and move a lot. Moreover, parents training is almost an invisible task such schools undertake. Children stay in the school only 3-4 hours a day five days a week, while rest of the huge period of time they stay at home with parents and others. In that case, special schools should train up the parents to take care of the children while they are at home. Only a few schools arrange parents training on a regular basis, while the rest do not care for it at all. A few schools maintain transparency in dealing with children. In many schools, parents are not allowed to check-in the rooms or cubicles where the teachers attend the children; the school authorities do not care to set up close circuit cameras in the booths. The incidents of beating up and torturing children have taken place in several schools.

Many parents have found scars of beating or torture on the body of their children but the school authorities usually deny them. Unfortunately, the special schools are not accountable to anybody; there is no regular monitoring as well as reward and punishment policy from government. So, they are free to do anything they like. Parents of special children spend their days and nights in nightmares because such kids cannot express themselves properly. Parents are always wary about the future of their special children. They spend their hard-earned money for their children with the hope that they will be self-dependent but some special schools are looting their money and destroying their hopes in the name of providing services. In that case, parents should be very careful in selecting a school. They must crosscheck the issues I have discussed above with several guardians of the current students and many other sources before getting their children admitted.