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This profile below was prepared when Kate Currawalla was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.

Fellow Sketch

Kate Currawalla promotes the rights of people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities within the mainstream education system, creating access to all levels of education and developing their talents. Through her organisation, Maharashtra Dyslexia Association (MDA) she mediates with key stakeholders to build an education environment that is more attuned to the special needs of those who learn “differently”.

Kate is bridging the gap that exists between the medical system that diagnoses learning disabilities and prescribes treatments and the educational system where the disability manifests. She works at different levels of the system by bringing together all stakeholders important for students with learning disabilities (SLD) on a single platform to create support and consensus about the issues of learning disabilities. Doctors are involved beyond the clinic so they understand the far reaching effects of their prescribed treatment on the daily life of SLD. Stakeholders including paediatricians, teachers, therapists, families then push to ensure that right interventions exist at every stage of the education system. They are also involved in advocacy with government departments and examination boards at the national and state level to institutionalise guidelines creating a better environment for education. 

Over the last 18 years, Kate has been instrumental in bringing marked changes in the education system. This includes changes in expectations and curriculum demands adapted for SLD, authorization for a writer or a computer while appearing for examinations and subject specific changes. For instance, instead of compulsorily pursuing 3 languages, SLD can choose to finish only one language. Kate was at the helm of successful efforts to persuade the national boards (SSC, ICSE and CBSE) and education authorities in Maharashtra in introducing accommodations for SLD so they can appear for examinations at school, university and professional courses. Consequently, the number of young people gaining access to higher education and professional courses and achieving high grades has exponentially increased. This has enabled SLD students to capitalize on their many talents and become independent, productive adults. 

Kate also works with schools and colleges to bring adherence of the instituted guidelines through her consulting and training programs, integrating SLDs into the mainstream classroom and developing a flexible educational environment. Kate has reached out to over 200 schools across the country through her workshops and training programs and has over 80 schools as institutional members. MDA’s 4 resource centres in and around Mumbai offer information, counseling, assessment and remedial support for students and adults with dyslexia and their families. Every year about 200 students enroll for the remedial programs and over 300 students come for consulting and diagnostic services. 

MDA has been building a cadre of well trained professionals in this nascent field through its awareness and training programs. In 2008, Kate introduced the first of its kind Dyslexia Therapist Training Program in India, with a two year, hands-on curriculum well-adapted to distance learning. This course trains teachers in scientifically developed, tried and tested methodologies for teaching students with reading and learning problems to read, write and spell proficiently. Apart from the existing courses, Kate recently expanded to offer a more comprehensive set of courses focussing on reading and teaching of core subjects like maths. MDA’s research and development initiatives create tools for screening, assessment and intervention, that ultimately feed into these training programs.  

MDA has also successfully brought together diverse groups to lobby for a new category of “Neurodevelopmental Disorders” to be included as part of the upcoming version of the People with Disabilities (PWD) Bill. This will help provide appropriate differentiated support for persons with SLD, amongst others. 

This profile was updated in September 2014. Read on for the Election Profile.