The Akshar School in the small town of Wai, India, is one of a kind.
In a country where special education and resources for those with special needs are lacking, the institution has what India’s education system is missing: a working educational structure for children with special needs.
Established in 1982, Akshar School provides a safe, open environment for students with a variety of mental disabilities to receive an education they might otherwise miss.
Boasting a physical therapy room, speech therapy classes, and a vocational workshop, Akshar aims to set its students up with the means to lead gratifying lives. In addition, the school trains aspiring special education teachers, including the founder’s grandson.
Unlike the United States, which can still make further strides accommodating differently abled students, India has an even larger gap to close in providing structure for those who really need it.
According to IndiaSpend, a data focused public-interest journal, while India has passed the Education for All Movement, a piece of legislation that promotes free compulsory education for kids between ages 6-14, approximately 600,000 special needs children in that age range are out of school.
Additionally, while 89% of children with special needs in that same age range are attending elementary school, the number drops to 2% after the American equivalent of 9th grade.
Meanwhile, India’s federal government instituted a policy where registered special needs students receive a certificate that permits extensive government assistance. Resources like free transportation, easy-access loans, unemployment stipend, and educational scholarships are available to those who register.
However, the combination of India’s lack of infrastructure as well as a functioning bureaucracy means that more than half of all special-needs students won’t receive any sort of assistance, leaving many to find menial work or no work at all.
With the help of former Salt Lake Community College board member and Maharastra native, Ashok Joshi, the Akshar School has facilitated the growth of countless special needs students. And for a few hours on a rainy August afternoon, SLCC study abroad students took time out of their day to be with those same students.
Drawing, playing schoolyard games, and exploring Snapchat filters, SLCC students and faculty alike immersed themselves in unadulterated interaction with students of all different ages and needs.
Like the children they were spending time with, the study abroad students couldn’t refrain from being their authentic and open selves. The reciprocated joy from the genuine connection between SLCC students and Akshar students could not be paralleled, not with personal achievements or unending financial means.