Published: 27th April 2018
Meet Roopa Rao, who is responsible for changing the education policy in favour of dyslexic students
Dyslexic school students in Karnataka have to study only one language, which is the language of instruction, as a result of professor Roopa Rao's fight
You might not have heard of Professor Roopa Rao, but if you or if anyone dear to you is dyslexic, she's the one you want to thank. Wonder why? It was a result of Rao's long fight with the Karnataka government and the Department of Education that allowed many exemptions for dyslexic students today. If your child has to learn only one language, which is the medium of instruction, that is the result of this mother's fight.
Meghna was a six-month-old baby when Rao adopted her. From that moment on, that little girl became the most important part of Rao's life. Her baby steps, her first words and her chatter made every run-of-the-mill day feel special. This was in the early 90s. Dyslexia wasn't a familiar term then. "Meghna was an intelligent child and therefore, I always thought that schooling would be an easy deal for her," recalls Rao. But she was wrong.
Right from kindergarten, Rao saw her little girl struggle through spellings, numbers and sentences. "She wasn't able to remember the multiplication tables and her spellings were always jumbled. I had a hard time devising techniques to teach her," she says. Then one day, Rao accidentally noticed a sheet of newspaper that she had crumpled up earlier. It was an article on dyslexia. She was hearing about it for the first time at that moment. "This alerted me. I began to wonder if my child was dyslexic. She had all the symptoms mentioned," narrates Rao.
Fact file: Dyslexia affects the Broca’s area, a region in the frontal lobe
Worried, she first approached the Regional Institute of Education in Mysuru, but she was asked not to worry. But Rao wasn't convinced. She took her child to a therapist in Mumbai, where she was told that little Meghna needed intervention. "I was shocked, upset and confused, all at the same time. I didn't want her to have dyslexia. But I also wanted her to have dyslexia so that her condition had a name and I could help her," she says. The next step was to take the child to NIMHANS in Bengaluru and get a government order stating that she must study only in her first language.
But there was a problem with that too. "The school's medium of instruction was English, but Meghna's first language is Kannada. That meant that she was only exempted from learning Hindi," she says. What happened next was a mother's struggle against the education system and the government.
I didn’t want her to have dyslexia. But I also wanted her to have dyslexia so that her condition could have a name and I could help her
Roopa Rao, Professor
"I was lucky to find a couple of more mothers, whose children were dyslexic. Together we visited authorities and ministers regularly. Convincing them wasn't easy at all. The then Karnataka education minister thought that exempting the child from learning Kannada would lead to a protest by Kannada activists," she says. But Rao didn't give up. She continuously wrote letters to the Rehabilitation Council of India and the government.
In 2000, Meghna was still struggling through her subjects. And so were the children of the other two mothers. Their class VII public examinations were fast approaching and something had to be done. The trio went all the way from Mysuru to Bengaluru to meet Prof B K Chandrashekar, the then Minister for Primary Education and Minister for IT, Karnataka. What welcomed them was a pleasant surprise. A committee that was formed to discuss the issue had its final meeting that day. And the result? Victory! "The order said that the child only has to learn one language, which is the medium of instruction. The exams were to start the next day. We rushed to the school to give them the order," she recalls in excitement.
Rao’s daughter Meghna is now a Montessori teacher in Bengaluru. She doesn’t hesitate to approach her mother when she comes across other dyslexic students. She’s giving back to society in her own way
Rao didn't stop there. She went ahead and wrote to the RCI, requesting it to adopt the law in the other Indian states too. Now, many other states have adopted it too. Also, the Government of Karnataka later introduced several policies in favour of dyslexic students. These were the little joys in Rao's life. Meanwhile, she started delivering lectures, counselling people and writing handouts about dyslexia. And that is something she still continues to do.
And what about Meghna? She's a Montessori teacher in Bengaluru now. Life wasn't easy for her as a student, but her hard work paid off. And she doesn't forget to approach her mother when she comes across other dyslexic students. She's giving back to society in her own way.