Special needs children in Kerala get a tennis push towards social integration

Samagra Shiksha, Kerala, has launched an ambitious programme to provide professional sports training to children with special needs.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Nov 17, 2022 | 9:30 AM Updated Nov 17, 2022 | 3:10 PM

Children line up for training at Trivandrum Tennis Club on 14 November. (Supplied)

Taking up sports — either for recreational or career purposes — is a formidable challenge for children with special needs (CWSN).

But in Kerala, a change is on the cards.

In Thiruvananthapuram, the state’s capital city, 79 CWSN have taken up the tennis racquet to improve their mental, physical, and emotional health.

The Samagra Shiksha, Kerala (SSK), a centrally-sponsored scheme for the universalisation of elementary education, has launched an initiative to provide tennis lessons to 79 children with the help of the Trivandrum Tennis Club (TTC). The club will train these children once a week for two hours.

According to SSK officials, the programme will be scaled up based on the initiative’s success. It will be extended to more places, besides adding more sports.

Both SSK officials and club representatives claimed that their initiative for CWSN is the first in Kerala.

Agent of social integration

“CWSP’s participation in sports helps in their social integration”, B Sreekumaran, Thiruvananthapuram district programme officer, SSK, told South First.

It will help in developing their physical and mental abilities, along with improving emotional and psychological well-being. The initiative will also impart lessons in teamwork and social skills.

SSK officials said the differently-abled children will also be trained professionally in other sports such as athletics, football, cricket, basketball, volleyball, table tennis, and cycling.

“A state-level plan has been drawn up to establish sports clubs for CWSN. Respective district offices of the SSK will plan accordingly. These clubs will tie up with government or private agencies to train differently-abled children. An action plan will soon be unveiled for this purpose,” an SSK official said.

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Sense of joy, hope and confidence

Sreekumaran said a palpable sense of joy, hope, and confidence was visible among the 79 CWSN comprising 50 boys and 29 girls belonging to various age groups, and their parents on the first day at the TTC. The training commenced on Children’s Day (Monday, 14 November).

Children undergoing tennis lessons at Trivandrum Tennis Club on 14 November (Supplied).

Children undergoing tennis training at Trivandrum Tennis Club on 14 November (Supplied).

“These 79 children are from within the city. They include children who are intellectually and physically challenged, those suffering from autism, spectrum disorders, hearing impairments, orthopaedic impairments, and others”, Sreekumaran said.

The children are from 38 city-based government and aided schools.

“Only those children with mild disabilities are included in the programme, Sreekumaran said while explaining the selection process.

“First, we prepared a list of children having an aptitude for sports. Then we took feedback from special educators. Later, we contacted the parents. Those who agreed to drop off and pick up their children from the TTC were taken in,” he explained.

The children will be provided tennis lessons on Tuesdays from 10 am to 12 noon. After training, they will attend classes at their respective schools.

“We have assigned 10 instructors to train the children. Special educators from SSK will be present during the two-hour session. We will provide them with three courts. These courts will further be divided into two, meaning they will have six half courts,” TTC secretary Jayprakash R told South First.

Founded in 1936, the club has nine courts — four clay and five synthetic hard courts.

How sports benefit CWSN

According to developmental-behavioural paediatricians and occupational therapists, sports will help in developing self-esteem in CWSN.

Children will be trained in tennis for two hours on all Tuesdays (Supplied).

Children will be trained in tennis for two hours on all Tuesdays (Supplied).

“Sports is an important learning platform for CWSN. They feel they can do things on their own. It will help them to reduce stress as well as improve their physical and mental well-being,” a developmental-behavioural paediatrician said.

An occupational therapist opined that engaging CWSN in sports will channelise their energy besides improving their hand-eye coordination as well as motor skills.

“My daughter, a plus-one student at the Government Higher Secondary School for Girls, Cotton Hill is hyperactive. But during the tennis session, she looked relaxed and focused”, Deepa, a parent told South First.

The mother, too, is happy. “It’s a good sign. She now says she doesn’t want to miss the tennis class,” she added.

Sports manual for schools

A draft inclusive manual, prepared by the SSK and the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT), is now under the consideration of the curriculum committee.

Children warming up before the training session (Supplied).

Children warming up before the training session (Supplied).

The manual aims to usher in a major change in setting aside exclusive timeslots for sports in schools. It also recommends holding sporting events in schools and championships up to the state level.

The recommendations can be implemented only after getting the state government’s approval.

“The manual has recommended the participation of CWSN in sports. Sporting events should be planned and organised to ensure their participation,” Shooja SY, SSK’s programme officer, told South First.

Sreekumaran said the SSK and SCERT have an ambitious plan to train and equip differently-abled children to compete in national and international sporting events.

“What if we get a pool of talented differently-abled sports personalities who could win laurels for the country by participating in the paralympic, Special Olympics world games and other events,” he asked.

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Right to participate in sporting activities

The Kerala State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, SH Panchapakesan, told South First that persons with disabilities, including children, have the legal backing to attend sporting events.

“It has been specified in Section 30 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. The guideline encourages the effective participation of persons with disabilities in sporting activities. It includes children too. Participation is a right and not charity,” Panchapakesan said.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities are fundamental rights.

It is not the objective, but a pre-requisite for enjoying other rights. The Convention (Article 9 —  Accessibility) envisages enabling persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life and development.

The Convention calls upon member states to initiate appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to all aspects of society, on an equal basis with others, as well as to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers to accessibility.