Editor’s Note: Sudha Nair, a special educator, a fierce activist, and SRV leader from Pune shares a personal account of developing a program based on core values of Social Role Valorization (SRV).
What makes a good program? What are the ingredients? A dash of skills training, a garnish of presuming competence, a sprinkle of multi-sensorial methods, a sauce of individualized education…et voila! Think again. The beginning, middle, and ending of any program is the person, the people we serve. This is the thought process that went into formulating the Learning Has Meaning Program, the lodestar being Saurav Das aka Gopal. A young adult from Bhubaneswar, whose mother, Pinki Das is a fellow leader in Social Role Valorization in India.
What does Gopal need? What does Gopal want? Where will he fulfil these needs and wants? Who will facilitate them? What will the mentoring consist of? These were the directive principles and not, “Sudha Nair has a lot of experience under her belt and knows that Gopal needs to be taught life skills, communication skills, and how to keep busy.”
The Good Things of Life underlie the tasks/activities comprising each month’s theme. The learning happens in typical places, with typical people, doing typical things. These experiences are then documented and further moderated online, to underline concepts, interaction, language and communication, rights and responsibilities, and personhood in terms of choices and agency, among other things.
It started with what the individual needs, what the individual wants, what are the comforts for the individual, and what is the individual’s comfortable world. It then goes on to knowing their rights and responsibilities, knowing their community and the importance of community, and then shopping. Each week homework was assigned which was done in typical settings such as to take a walk in their locality and explore the services available or to find or talk to their neighbor or relative about their rights and responsibilities or to go shopping in the neighborhood.
All these homework assignments were helping Gopal and his classmates recognize and take on valued roles in family and community (community member, a customer) and understand the responsibilities they need to shoulder to assume these roles. For example, in the valued role of a family member, he needs to engage in household chores or as a member of the community, he needs to greet fellow community members or as a customer in a shop he needs to interact politely with the shopkeeper.
During this we experienced some beautiful moments: One day Gopal stood up for his friend who was not treated nicely; neighbors started noticing him; one shopkeeper was deeply touched by his way of saying thank you with folded hands and blessed him and told him his shop is always open for him; another shopkeeper needed to give him an array of choices and convince him to buy because his mother insisted no purchase would be made unless her son is convinced to buy.
The valorizing effect began with the students as they were seen as not only partners in learning, but also in the role of leading the learning. Each classwork was informed by the homework, and each homework was based on a meaningful task / activity conducted in the natural course of the day / week / weekend. Photographs submitted were carefully selected, to ensure they portrayed the student in the best possible light – for example, a slight stain on a T shirt, or a student engaged in an activity that had deviance imagery, were asked to be replaced or the activity replaced. The student was also facilitated to assert his right to refuse a chore that he did not want to do.
When initiating the new groups in April, a slight temptation to jazz it up crept in. Mercifully, the Model Coherency tenet came to the rescue: Questions such as “Who are the people?” guided the thinking. That’s where it is at. The starting point isn’t an “ace program”; it is about the people served. Sudha’s students, and what they need; what they want and deserve. And what we all want and deserve. A comfortable life. The Good Things of Life.