Helping Slow-learners Catch Up
Nita Mukherjee 20 July 2017
Located in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is an institution doing pioneering work towards providing academic and vocational skills to children who are slow-learners, with delayed development parameters and specific learning disabilities. Its focus is on inclusive education. Bhavani Child Development Centre was set up by Vimala Venkatesan in July 2003 as a non-government organisation (NGO). 
Says Vimala, the Centre’s managing trustee-cum-director, “Our main aim is to understand how our students learn and how well they should be learning, to achieve academic goals.” Passionate about the fact that many children are not given a chance to enjoy their childhood, Vimala believes that society needs greater awareness and acceptance of children with specific learning disabilities (SLD) and of slow-learners. She works in close coordination with parents as well as educational institutions. “Otherwise, we are creating stressed childhoods on the one hand and depressed parents on the other. And this is no good for the society as a whole.” 
Over the years, she has found that parents need counselling more than children. Because of societal and peer pressure or sheer lack of awareness, parents perceive academic performance as the key parameter of a child’s success. Many do not have the time or the ability to diagnose the reasons for the slow or delayed learning of their child. And, at school, because of the teacher-student ratio, teachers too do not have the time to perceive and diagnose the difficulties of slow-learners. 
Vimala has trained at the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD) in setting up a guidance centre for pre-school children with SLD. She was a resource person with the Guwahati NIPCCD for teachers and anganwadi trainers. Later, she took courses at National Institute of Mental Health on children with physical and other challenges. She would set up ‘counselling centres’ in whichever city her banker husband was posted. After he retired and settled in Jaipur, she set up a ‘learning cell’ for children with SLD in a mainstream school. But being confined to one school was not enough, so she decided to set up the Centre. It is intentionally called a ‘development centre’ because “we look at the total personality development of the child—not just academic performance.” The Centre has about 60 children at any point of time and has guided over 2,000 students and helped them in academics and skills, since 2003. 
“It’s heartening that some of my students now work in well-known bakeries or have become hair-stylists; many have joined their father’s business as well. What more can a parent want?” says Vimala with justifiable pride. 
The Centre provides early intervention for children with delayed development parameters who are likely to have learning disability. As a first step, it establishes partnerships with parents and teachers to create awareness about tracking milestones in child development to identify the various types of learning disabilities. 
It also trains teachers on how to handle slow-learners. She says “Changes in the educational system are as crucial as the methods for assessing children. So we have developed PEPAL—a Programme to Evaluate Performance and Learning. It comprises activities tailored to review students’ knowledge in the curricular component and to assess development of cognitive and perception skills, logical thinking, mathematics, language and literacy.” This model is now being used by several schools all over India. Vimala says that her biggest satisfaction was when she found that, after she trained teachers in PEPAL, one particular school in Jaipur closed the special section for slow-learners.
The Centre accepts funding only for specific projects. State Bank of India, Trident Hotels and Vijay Amritraj Foundation (USA) are some of its funding partners. The Centre has FCRA registration and also 80G exemption. You can donate towards the fees of one child too; it costs Rs2,300 per month.


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