Learning through assistive technology
Asia-Pacific, August 23 2016
CHENNAI, INDIA: A computer, a tablet or a pair of headphones can actually help children with dyslexia. As much as we frown upon technology and its influence on our youth, we cannot dismiss that technology can make life easier in many ways. It certainly has found a way to kids with dyslexia. Difficulty in reading, writing, phonetics, co-ordination, and learning disabilities can become less intimidating if there is intervention of technology given at the right time. But what’s available in India?
Madras Dyslexia Association president D Chandrasekhar tells City Express, “We are still at a stage where parents find it difficult to accept the inability of their child to read or write. There is lot of tech abroad but little in our country as there is no demand. A simple plastic ring-like device called pencil grip can help these kids improve their motor skills but its not available here. I get them from abroad in bulk — $4 for about 100 pieces. Imagine if it were manufactured in India, it would be cheaper.”
But even this modest use of technology in schools should be appreciated. They use headphones, computers with different software which includes a lot of colours, animation and other audio-visual effects.
Talking to us about one such computer program called Haskell was retired computer professor N V Balasubramanian. “This open software, programming language is not popular anywhere in the world except for a small passionate community who use it for scientific research. When I accidently came across Haskell two years ago, I was amazed. This software can help children develop their math skills without studying it on pen and paper. It does not require knowledge in computers or software, just an inclination towards the math is enough.”
The professor has been trying to develop and promote the software among students. “I want to take it to Class 11 students, help them learn its working model for six hours. Then take six dyslexic students to experiment with the software while the other Class 11 students will stand behind each of them to help.” The irony is that Haskell has been around for 20 years, and Balasubramanian is looking to rewrite math puzzles through this programme too. He believes the students will understand the subject better this way.
Teaching methodology is a critical issue when it comes to educating students with dyslexia. But when one talks about helping 2 million children with dyslexia in Tamil Nadu, in every nook and corner, it gets difficult to source and train the teachers in one platform. MDA special educator, Harini Mohan says, “We train about 50 teachers at once for the intensive teaching programme in a year but it is not enough. Teachers need a different type of hand-holding and technology helps us too, not just the children.” They made a video of the entire programme, got it digitised and made it available online so they could access it from anywhere.
There seems to be so much technology out there in the world that can help dyslexic children in unbelievable ways. Why isn’t it picking up pace here? The market has to be developed, society may slowly accept but some parents continue to live in denial. “Lack of awareness is one thing. Parents need to seek help in the form of technology. Nevertheless, there are a few helpful resources available in India,” says Chandrasekhar.
“We have a friendly font called Dyslexie, a software called Wordbook that has thousands of stories that one can listen to. Ajit Narayanan, founder of Invention Labs, is developing a universal language for children and in Sweden there are goggles available that can assist in reading.”