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“My marks have started to improve. Maybe I will also get first rank one day like my younger brother”

The common response of the average teacher to a child who is at the bottom of the class is, “You aren’t studying hard enough.” Very few are tuned in to the possibility that the child might have a learning disability that requires early intervention.
Vijay Kumar (42), a welder who runs a two-wheeler and autorickshaw repair shop in Delhi, could not figure out why his daughter Harshita Soni (12) was lagging behind in studies. “Maths, Hindi, English, Social Studies – every teacher would send a note to me, complaining that she was not scoring well. Things got worse during the pandemic when she had online classes for two years.” Since his son Aryan Kumar Soni (8) was always topping his class, Vijay might have been tempted to make a comparison between the two.
Fortunately for him, the Delhi-based NGO Sarthak appeared on the scene. Sarthak conducts workshops on how to recognise learning disabilities and provide intervention at the earliest. They go to both government and private schools as well as to locations where children would be around, such as anganwadis (government-run creches) and hospitals. Currently around 300 children have enrolled in their learning programme, about half of whom come in person for sessions in Delhi, while the rest join online from UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Jammu & Kashmir;
For the past three years Sarthak has been conducting sessions for teachers in New Convent Public School, where Harshita studies. Earlier this year, the school counsellor alerted them to Harshita whose marks would sometimes dip to zero or one. They tested her and found that although she performed well in comprehension she had weak numerical skills combined with forgetfulness.
Five months ago, Harshita started taking coaching classes at Sarthak every Saturday and school holiday. Gunjan Kandpal, a psychologist at Sarthak, explained the methods she uses to work with Harshita. She breaks down the learning material into smaller components and explains the concepts. She enhances the child’s thought processes by using memory games to help her remember what was taught to her. She also keeps track of Harshita’s marks and provides encouragement and positive reinforcement when she shows academic progress.
Vijay had tears in his eyes when he saw his daughter’s marks begin to improve. “Now, no more complaint notes!” he told us. He himself has studied only till Standard 9 but is proud of the fact that he has done well for himself. “My father focussed on making me and my four siblings independent and self-reliant,” he says. “Gaining education and skills is not enough. You have to be capable of utilising it.”
At home, Harshita likes to listen to music and to watch TV, especially the Kapil Sharma comedy show, and YouTube videos, especially vlogs about drawing – something that she enjoys doing. Her favourite fruit is strawberry and her best friend in school is Jaspreet. Her fond wish is “to get good marks like my brother and make my parents proud”.


Vicky Roy