Videos like Baby Shark aren’t just about sparking viral dances alone. It’s a glimpse into the immense, but the as-of-yet untapped potential of what educational technology can do for our students, particularly those with special needs.
Edtech helps bring to life the multi-sensory techniques necessary to reach SEN learners, who are the most disadvantaged with the current one-size-fits-all approach to teaching where a teacher simply imparts knowledge. For example, a student with dyslexia would respond to a teaching method differently from another without dyslexia and educators believe edtech can help bridge this gap by its potential to teach in ways that best engage them.
“Technology should be regarded as a tool to make it a level playing field for all students of abilities and disabilities,” said Tanuj Patmanathan of HELP International School Malaysia, at a panel discussion “Exploring the benefits of edtech for SEN learners” at the Bett Asia Leadership Summit 2017 in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month.
Gary Lim of the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN), Singapore agreed: “Edtech is a great enabler for people with SEN. It could be exploited even more.”
For Dr Deepa Raj, a SEN consultant at The Galaxy Education System India, technology works immensely when it helps a child to become an independent learner, in spite of any other difficulties they face.
“They have immense power to make them lifelong learners.”
SEN learners are those who have a wide-ranging or specific difficulty or disability that makes it harder to learn from them than other learners their age and would generally require additional support or adaptations in the content of studies or how they behave around and socialise with their peers. SEN covers a range of needs including physical or mental disabilities, and cognition or educational impairments.
SEN is much more common than you think, too – The proportion of children with SEN varies from one percent in Korea to above 10 percent in the United States, according to OECD data. In Iceland, the figure goes up to one SEN learner per four children.
And according to Albert Lee of Dyslexia Association of Singapore who moderated the panel, as many as one in five students in mainstream classrooms in the US may have dyslexia.
There is general agreement globally that all children – with or without SEN – have the right to be formally educated individually and/or together. Yet, not all countries place SEN students in mainstream classes in mainstream schools.
When they are, the curriculum falls far from being inclusive, a “tremendously unsettling” experience for the learner who cannot do what his or her classmate can do so easily.
This is where edtech can step in, according to Tanuj, as the electronic tools that best use a multisensory approach to reach their audience, such as Word Shark, engage learners better. This benefits both SEN and non-SEN learners.
“Statistics says that we absorb 10 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we hear and see, 40 percent of we hear, see and say, but 70 to 100 percent of what we hear, see, say and do. The more senses we [use] to understand something, the better we comprehend it,” Tanuj said.
Other tech tools that should be explored more is Virtual Reality, Lim suggested. The fear of making mistakes “literally paralyse” many of his students back, Lim recounted, but with the use of this computer technology, they are given a very safe yet realistic environment for his students to fail in.
“The fear of failure is no longer there. You could help them make small steps towards succeeding,” Lim said.