Using technology to bridge gaps

Using technology to bridge gaps

In today’s technology-driven world, the learning environment doesn’t have to be confined to a place. Perhaps, a better way to think of the 21st century learning environment is one that is conducive to better learning.

Increased access to digital technologies is enabling personalised learning pathways, especially for those students who need additional support to learn. This helps remove learning barriers and provides numerous choices that matches a student’s needs and skill level.

Many years ago, special classes were created for students with special needs or learning disabilities. Educators felt that they could teach these students separately in smaller groups and help them catch up. However, the reality is that students in segregated specialeducation classes were lagging behind. To bridge the gap, technology was leveraged to help students with special needs. Over a period of time, general education classrooms grew to include diverse set of students.

Teachers now realise the value of considering each student as unique. Inclusive education happens when children learn together irrespective of their abilities. It is based on the simple idea that every child is valued and offered equal opportunities. The benefits include:

 Students develop a positive understanding of themselves and others. They learn to appreciate diversity.

 With higher expectations and good instruction, differently-abled children learn academic skills with the help of others in the class. It instills a sense of good competition that drives them to give their best.
 Since the philosophy of inclusive education is aimed at helping all children learn, everyone is benefitted.

Effective approach

The use of technology to enhance learning is an effective approach for many
children. Students with learning difficulties often experience greater success when they are allowed to use their strengths to work around their challenges and these tools combine the best of both practices.

Assistive technology addresses many types of learning difficulties. A student who has difficulty in writing can compose a school report by dictating it and having it converted to text by a special software. A child who struggles with numbers can use a handheld calculator to keep score while playing games. People have their own unique set of strengths, weaknesses, interests, experiences and special abilities. Therefore, a technology that may be useful for one person may be redundant for another. Similarly, a technology that is appropriate for a specific purpose in a particular setting may be of little use in some other situation.

Some popular assistive technologies that have been enabling children to learn are word processors, spellcheckers, proofreading or grammar checkers, speech and word recognition systems, and alternate keyboards. These are just some of the tools that have been designed to facilitate seamless learning and enable students with learning difficulties to work on their strengths and build confidence in their abilities.

Learning at home

The growth of technology is also allowing students to study from home. Home schooling has become a preferred option for students with special needs. Some disabilities are limiting, and in such cases there are technologies that help students get education on par with others in the comfort of their homes. 

Although students learn better in the company of peers, it is said that home learning has helped many students to learn and keep up with the outside world. They learn at their own pace without any pressure. This fosters a sense of achievement in them. Home learning has a long way to go in terms of assessment of performance and regular performance monitoring. Having said that, it is a blessing for students who cannot be physically present in a classroom.

The way forward

The future of learning is truly all about access, learning and collaboration. Teaching and learning are going to be increasingly social, making infrastructure paramount to the future of technology in education. With increasing penetration of technology across industries, it is only right to say that education is also reaping the benefits of this revolution. The tremendous power of technology has been accelerating change in education making it more current, informative and holistic than ever
before.

(The author is with Pearson India, Bengaluru)

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