Education is the right of every child, but not every child has the right kind of education that he or she needs.
Children with special needs face seemingly insurmountable odds as parents struggle to find centres of learning which are affordable, fully equipped and have qualified staff.
Enter Taarana, a learning centre for special needs children with a difference.
Founded and run by the QI Group’s philanthropic arm, the Vijayaratnam Foundation, Taarana has a unique approach in providing a sanctuary for children with delayed development in academic, social and adaptive skills, and meeting their specific educational needs.
In an interview with theSun recently, Taarana founder Datin Umayal Eswaran said she decided to set up create the centre after meeting a woman from Mauritius whose autistic child was struggling to find a place in the education system in that country at a time when little was known about the disorder.
“The mother then set up a small school on her own so that she could help her daughter,” said Umayal, who is also the chairman of the Vijayaratnam Foundation.
“Now they have more than 100 students and growing.”
“It got me thinking – centres for children who have learning disorders are often privately run and can be extremely expensive, with fees running into thousands a month.”
She felt there was a need for centre which would not pose a financial strain on parents but is as well equipped as a private centre, if not better.
“We had a lot of discussion over the fees, but we did not want to make it free, reason being we wanted the parents to take responsibility, too. These children need to be provided the same kind of interaction and attention at home as they get in the centre. So we engage the parents to interact with their children as much as possible,” said Umayal.
The centre charges fees of RM750 a month, but that, according to Umayal, is not a hard and fast rule.
“It’s on a case by case basis, some parents cannot even afford to pay RM750; but the biggest difference between Taarana and a privately owned centre is that we do not turn anyone away or it will defeat our purpose,” she said.
The centre has 19 children between seven and 13 years old in its care since it opened its doors on June 23 this year.
“They all have individual structured programmes,” she said.
The centre caters for children with attention deficit disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and Down Syndrome, among others.
Taarana has a special curriculum which covers functional academics such as literacy, numeracy, information technology and language), and life skills such as self-help, social competence and social-emotional learning.
Umayal said the centre has a long way to go before it can be a fully established school for those with learning difficulties.
“There is not enough emphasis or awareness on special needs education here. Overseas, there are full-fledged schools for this purpose,” she said.
“When we applied to the Education Ministry to form a school, we faced so many difficulties, even in getting the centre properly categorised. There is still a lack of standard operating procedure in how to deal with the creation and establishment of such a school,” she said.
One of the requirements was that there needed to be a proper school building, and Umayal reveals that plans are afoot to turn Taarana in to a fully equipped, full-fledged, purpose-built school to cater to a far larger number of special needs children.
Despite the challenges, she is undeterred.
“We do this because there is a need. We don’t do it for profit. Taarana has to cover its costs but not make money. So we hold fundraisers all the time to keep the school running.
“Taarana was created to help these children. We want them to go back into mainstream education because they can – they just need help and a little push in the right direction,” she said.