Schools of the Future: Optimising Learning for Special Needs

by Inga Yandell

Choosing a school which nurtures the potential of your children, is important to all parents—but perhaps more challenging for those with special needs. Depending on the challenges impeding the learning of a child (be they physical: impaired mobility, vision, hearing, or neurological, as with autism and attention deficits) the search for schools with the capacity to cater for, and even specialise in overcoming educational hurdles, can become extremely stressful.

Emerging techniques and technology can help bridge this gap, and the more ubiquitous these tools become in the educational sphere, the more diverse our choices for learning are. This is the subject of a new book entitled: ‘Is My Child Ready for School?’ by Special Educator, mother and author, Karen Seinor. The narrative is primed for supporting parents in making an informed decision about their child education, with nuance for the expansive options in special needs learning. The pitfalls to avoid and the facilities and approaches which signify a school that is open to the potential of technology in optimising learning for all children (not just those with special needs).

Karen’s research and experience offers a glimpse at the future of learning, and an effective strategy for accessing your options right now. BE Journal asked Senior to paint a picture of what this might look like, and how it could be applied.

Technology has improved learning for students with special needs in many ways but recently technology has enabled the mainstream classroom and curriculum to be more inclusive and accessible. Students with special needs are better supported in a number of ways.

For example in the school that I teach at two children have a vision impairment, both study brail with the use of a braille keyboard and they regularly Skype with their braille teacher. In the past they wouldn’t have access to this in a mainstream classroom or they may have a specialist teacher visit once a week, now they are able to have personalised instruction in their classroom on a regular basis. Children with vision impairments are also better supported in a number of ways. Through the use of iPads, learning material can be accessed so the size may be increased so that are better able to read it, or they can use audio functions to listen to the material rather than read it. This also means they don’t require a teachers aide or specialist teacher to be attached to them all the time which is positive for developing their independence but also in a social sense as they don’t appear so different to the other students and equally as capable.

Children with hearing impairment are also benefiting from the increase technology in classrooms. Teachers simply wear a headset that transmits into there hearing aid so that the student is clearly able hear instructions and information. A simple device and modification enables hearing impaired students to operate in a mainstream classroom with virtually no extra support from teachers aids.

The increasing amount of apps or programs have also optimised potential for students with special needs. There are many apps/programs that assist students to record information and present their ideas in a way that may have not been possible in the past. For example a child that may be limited orally can now use an app to share their ideas, or design tutorials, animated stories, and presentations. The teacher can then mirror this to the Apple TV and this can be shared with the class. Tools such as these are particularly powerful when they are interactive and promote social exchanges with their peers and also when they highlight the capabilities of the students.

In my opinion the greatest change that technology has created is that it has supported teachers to explore new methodologies and philosophies about how children are taught. Teachers are moving away from the old industrial mode of teaching, where one size fits all or teaching to the middle. Educators are now realising that all students should have there learning individualised, the focus is not on what we teach but how we teach. When the interests, passions and abilities of our students
drive the learning only then learning is optimised for all students.

About the book: Is My Child Ready for School? (New Holland Books, 2018) is a guide for parents on all things school. Based on current research on brain development and insights from many years of teaching, it examines many aspects of development related to learning. Whilst based on theory, there are practical and simple suggestions to help parents make the important decision about when to start school and what skills and knowledge are required. It also provides tips on selecting a school, how to make a smooth and successful transition to school and, how to support your child in their first year of learning.

About the Author: Karen Seinor has been a passionate educator for over 17 years. She has worked as both a classroom teacher and an ESL teacher and whilst she has enjoyed her many roles as a teacher, her passion lies in Kindergarten, which she taught for many years. She has a focus on education in Australia as she examines key issues through the lens of both teacher and parent.

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Inga Yandell
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a platform for science exploration.
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