Published: 09th June 2021
For over 40 years, this teacher in Hyderabad has helped hundreds of hearing, speech-impaired children find their voices
Dr VA Jyothi has always known that she would lead a life dedicated to service. And as a special educator for the hearing and speech-impaired, she is doing exactly that. This is how she does it...
What does it take to hear a child?
A patient ear.
What does it take to hear a child born without the capacity to formulate words or hear them?
An infinitely patient heart.
What would it take to ensure that these children are heard and understood by parents and people?
We don't really know.
We have been at a loss to find an answer to this question until we were acquainted with the gentle heart of Dr VA Jyothi. We use the word 'heart' because that's how a conversation with this teacher feels, like a heart-to-heart. Like you are heard, seen and understood, in an instant. That's how we are guessing the thousands of hearing or speech impaired children who have basked under her compassionate care must have felt like — to finally be really seen, really heard and really, truly understood.
Recently, she has been nominated for social innovation initiative 1M1B's Lead Z Teacher award in the Changemakers in Education category. Ten award-winning teachers will showcase their work at 1M1B Activate Impact Summit scheduled at UN, New York in December 2021
Over 40 of Dr Jyothi's 58 years of life have been spent this way and surely, the coming years have also been written off to this crusade. If, somehow, the heavens above are running in full capacity and she would be sentenced to another life on this wretched and weary planet, she would choose the same cause, over and over again. That of turning her benevolent gaze on you, in full force, as if to say, "I see you, I hear you and for me, you matter."
Picking her battles
Even as a child, when a young Jyothi's roving eye would study the world around her, it would always pause at those with physical limitations. Her big-hearted aunt, who was also a headmistress of a government school, would always be the one to tell her, "When you grow up, become a teacher and serve society." Though the wide-eyed girl was married off at 18, the need to serve had already taken root in her heart. After writing her Teacher Training Examination, it was her aunt who urged her to work for special children. A Diploma in Education, with specialisation in working with the hearing impaired followed at Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped (AYJNIHH), Southern Regional Centre, Secunderabad in 1987 and secured a job at the same institute. As of 2021, she continues to teach here. "It's one of the things I am proud of, to have studied and been employed in the same institute," says the jovial special educator.
Identify, ideate and implement
Dr Jyothi's greatest contribution, aside from the lives she has touched, has been the Pre-school Training Programme that she initiated for children who have hearing and speech impairments. This she continues to oversee till today. "The problem begins when infants don't respond or don't speak even after a certain age. The parents assume they will speak eventually, which never comes," rues the teacher. So whoever brings their children to get screened at AYJNIHH, they are counselled accordingly. If the children are above 18, vocational training is recommended. Those who are below 18, they are directed towards appropriate special educational institutions with references. If they are between three and five years, Dr Jyothi takes them right under her wing. "Early identification and intervention are key. Only then can their oral and hearing really be worked upon," she says, with the heft of four decades of experience behind her.
A few of the awards she has won
Dr Jyothi insists that a parent comes along with the child for this two-year programme not just because they are tiny tots, but also because parents are the primary teachers and need to take the lessons forward at home. The first year goes into comprehension, vocabulary development, concept formation, auditory training with musical instruments, speech sounds while by the second year, children are able to describe objects, answer simple questions and do basic Math. Everything is activity-based. One of our favourite activities that she conducts is a role play activity wherein, parents are vegetable sellers and children need to haggle with them. Festivals are celebrated, simple books are read and confidence is built under the watchful eye of Dr Jyothi, one activity at a time.
It’s time to integrate
At the end of the programme, apart from the gift of learning, the children receive a consolidated comprehensive report of what exactly the child is capable of. This report serves as a tool for the children to get admission into schools. "Back then, there was no integrated and exclusive set up nor did the Right to Education Act exist. We only had the support of the PWD Act, 1995 [Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995]. Despite that, it was tough," rues the teacher as she adds, "I remember one particular school would simply refuse to take our children. I had to pay a visit to the head, a step I took quite often anyway, and explain the whole situation to her. She reluctantly conceded but upon seeing the improvement of the child, she was fully convinced. Today, she gives admission to our children immediately. She says, 'If you are a student of Jyothi ma'am, we will admit you'." This programme was replicated in other regional centres by and then, implemented pan-India. Awards like the Best Teacher Award (Annie Sullivan) by the Government of (United) Andhra Pradesh in 2002 decorate her already populated award shelf and most recently, she has been nominated for social innovation initiative 1M1B's Lead Z Teacher award in the Changemakers in Education category.
The journey goes on...
Many more programmes, UGC projects, research papers and workshops — all of this has paved the way for her to impact over 10,000 families. Her students are now moving on with life, some work with the government, others are gainfully employed, but this is for sure that all of them are on the path to leading a dignified life. While looking back, Dr Jyothi's eyes might fill with nostalgic tears but they dart right ahead, seeing that the journey is long and labourious, but must be made so that every child feels, "I am heard, I am seen and therefore, I am."
Parents weigh in
Since the day Sree Keerthi was diagnosed with hearing impairment when she was nine-months-old to today, working as a Junior Assistant in the Backward Class Welfare Department, Government of Telangana and having two kids — Dr Jyothi has been with us all through. Sree Keerthi is a bright, young woman who makes her own decisions and we are proud of her. It was only because of early detection, extra classes like home tuitions since class VI and many other additional efforts that she is where she is today. Now, she is preparing for TSPSC Group 2 exams
U Vasanta Lakshmi, Mother of Kandalam Sree Keerthi (30)
Akhila was born premature and when she was about two-years-old we found out that she has a hearing impairment. Friends suggested that we approach Dr Jyothi ma'am. I personally sat with Akhila in the training classes with ma'am and understood so much. She went on to pursue her Bachelor's in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from St Peter's Engineering College and in the exam, she was in the first class division. She got a good rank in PGCET as well and is now pursuing her MTech from Malla Reddy Engineering College. She wants to write GATE and government exams also
Sanjeeva Rao, Father of Nagurla Akhila (23)
Stars on her belt:
- 2000: Co-Principal Investigator in Research Projects on Mother's Training Programme and Early Intervention Programme for the parents of hearing-impaired children. Funded by the Rehabilitation Council of India in collaboration with AYJNIHH, Mumbai
- 2005-2006: Research Assistant in the project for coming up with different research modules in the development of the language in normal and hearing-impaired children in Department of Linguistics, Osmania University. A UGC-funded project
- 2009-2012: Panel member and subject specialist in the preparation of speech therapy material for the establishment of Mandal Resource Education Centre (MERC) for children with special needs, Rajiv Vidya Mission, Hyderabad
- 2009-2012: State Nodal officer for ECE study conducted by Director, Early Childhood Care Education, Dr Ambedkar University, Delhi
- 2008-2012: Project Manager, Community Managed Education Services, Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, Department of Rural Development, Government of Andhra Pradesh
You can reach out to her at email@example.com