The education industry is taking some drastic measures to improve the quality of education for learners with special needs. However, certain challenges remain. In our profound experience, we have found education authorities do have a strong intent for reform, but they fall short of the right approach. It is crucial to identify the existing barriers in the system and counter them with the right technological advancements.
How does Edtech help students with special needs?
Edtech or education technologies need no introduction. They have served as a great tool to help accommodate the needs of the education industry at the time of the pandemic. Now it is time to move a step ahead and work towards building a strong base for learners with disabilities.
Technology has advanced to a great extent. Today, we have tools that allow easy access to knowledge and resources for learners that have special needs due to any physical or learning disabilities. Some devices have specific features that help accommodate the needs of differently-abled learners. Purpose-built software that is more inclusive of the needs of specially challenged learners is getting good traction and has a high adoption rate.
With the right application of education technology, you can turn the situation around for your institute as well. You can break the barriers that are stopping learners to get a high-quality education due to their physical limitations.
Barriers found in the education system for differently-abled learners
Students with disabilities face barriers daily. Daily life activities such as transportation, social interactions, performing tasks of daily routine, exploring opportunities, etc. are challenging.
Also, teaching students with special needs require patience and special training so that teachers can curate creative ways to overcome challenges that hinder effective learning. Some of these challenges are:
- Opinions and stereotypes
- Accessibility to knowledge resources
- Physical access
- Lack of focus on student strengths
- Personalizing curriculum to meet the needs of students
- Classroom management
- Poor working conditions
- Lack of support from community and parents
- Budgetary limitations
One of the best things to happen to the world, Assistive Technology (AT) is a term coined in 1998. It means any item, equipment, or product that can help in providing or improving the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.
Edtech for students with special needs thus is a part of assistive technology. It means tools that can be used to improve the quality of education and learning experience of students that are physically challenged. These tools can be used in a general classroom setting or in an online learning environment to promote higher education retention and increased accessibility. This results in developing stronger learning and life skills.
- Promotes equality
Every country has public policies that govern special education and support students with special needs. Some countries have made education free for learners with disabilities. This also includes making special provisions in public schools to improve the education experience for these students. They condemn restrictive environments and allow learning in general education classrooms.
These laws and continuous efforts put in place by the governments of the world have increased the participation of students with special needs by 90% from 1976 to 2010. Today, about 62% more students with special needs are getting an education in general classrooms.
Although these facts reflect only the positive side of education for students with special needs, on the ground level, students still experience challenges in their everyday life while performing classroom activities. This frustration can lead to a lack of motivation and some studies have shown a high student drop rate.
In general, governments around the world, stand successful only in opening the doors of education for students with special needs. But when it comes to engaging these students and catering to their individual needs they fail miserably — leading to students falling academically behind.
Education technology thus can help in reducing stress and frustration. It also allows an increased success rate in the learning area. It is a vital part of enabling students equal learning spaces, engaging with teachers, developing confidence, and building a strong academic understanding.
2. Access to assistive tools
The increased hardware capabilities of the devices have allowed teachers to use them in a general education classroom. It is very common to see teachers using interactive whiteboards, laptops, computers, and tablets regularly to increase student engagement and improve their knowledge retention.
As the teaching methodologies shift to these common teaching devices, assistive technologies become an integral part of it. Common features such as talk-back and speak selection etc., have drastically improved the adaption rate of technology in people with special needs concerning education, here are some common features, that serve as a key to modernized learning for students with special needs:
- Speak screen: Speak screen or talkback feature reads aloud the content on the screen. This is a great tool for students that learn better through audio. Also, the feature can be personalized to meet the needs of students, and settings to personalize voice, language, and dialect are available.
- Speak Selection: Speak selection allows a user to highlight a section to be read to them. Students with low vision or students that want to switch to audio learning can use this feature.
- Voiceover: A gesture-based feature, it reads the onscreen content and helps students to navigate through their devices.
- Guided access: Guided access allows teachers to provide access to the apps that are necessary for the students, it can be a great help as even with internet access the student would only be able to access content that is for learning purposes and would not waver from their tasks.
- Safari reader view: Another good addition to ensure focused attention in learning, the tool allows teachers to remove videos, photos, ads, and other things that are irrelevant to the chapter and provide a clutter-free learning experience to the students.
Also, web applications such as Chrome and others also come with added accessibility features. These allow better accessibility to the students and offer a greater learning experience in an online learning environment.
3. Counters Physical barriers
One of the biggest challenges is mobility and physical accessibility. Students with special needs, especially the ones with physical impairments find it difficult to access buildings and other physical resources. The unavailability of wheelchairs, special washrooms, elevators, ramps, braces, and other mobility aids can decrease the motivation of students.
This challenge is completely eliminated through educational technologies. With solutions such as AR and VR, students can access amazing content over devices and engage in an immersive learning experience.
Also, online learning alone would reduce the need for students with special needs to be physically present somewhere. Accessibility to a world-class curriculum can be made possible through robust learning management systems that are guarded by passwords and provide secure access to knowledge resources anywhere and anytime without the need of being physically there.
Video-recorded lectures, interactive whiteboards, wall-mounted displays, AR and VR supporting devices, etc. can be of great use.
4. Improves interaction and promotes transparent communication
Barriers in the system and inaccessibility to information can lead to reduced confidence in students with special needs. This can further lead to lowered participation in the classrooms and may create a barrier for a student with special needs to become an integral part of a general education classroom.
Thus, using education technologies you can create groups and communities that allow easier interaction and a platform where students can connect and collaborate. Especially for students with speech and hearing impairments, the use of apps and these platforms to easily interact with their classmates and participate in various institutional activities can make a huge difference.
On the same lines, augmented and alternative communication (AAC) has emerged as an innovation. It allows the use of pictures, photos, drawings, and other elements to help students communicate. It is very useful for students that are coping with autism, cerebral palsy, and other speech-limiting impairments.
Today, many apps are built to enable education for students with speech and hearing impairments. These apps are built on the idea of providing a platform for seamless and fast communication of thoughts and ideas. These tools are enabled with a text-to-sound conversion tool which is another modern tool that helps children that find reading difficult. Here are some other examples:
- Cowriter app: uses predictive analysis for speed recognition and aids writing
- Smartpen: ability to record class audio and digitalize student notes
- Braille-enabled apps
- Hearing aid compatibility headsets
Education for learners with special needs is challenging. There are systemic barriers and budgetary constraints that put administrators at crossroads when taking any decision for improving the engagement of students with special needs. But, difficult or not, it is our duty that we build an education system that is more inclusive of the needs of the students that are differently abled, and not ignore the challenges that they face on daily basis. We must come together and build robust solutions to counter these barriers.
Education technology thus provides a cost-effective and advanced solution to these problems. Be it economic, physical, budgetary, or any other type of challenge, education technology is making this possible for education institutes to ensure diversity at their institutes, and accommodate the needs of students with special needs. A blog by Academia ERP, you can explore more about education erp here.