A way to facilitate better learning

Last Updated 31 January 2018, 17:15 IST

The positive impact of parental involvement in the education of their children is well documented. Research has thrown light on its importance while recent studies have documented remarkable results. In the 1980s, the idea developed to draw the inputs of the parent as part of the remedial programme for children with inadequate early learning skills so that together with the learning support at school or the remedial centre, the child would stand to benefit. The parent was given guidance and training to carry out the remedial activities at home. This was known as Parents as Teachers programme, which is also referred to as Home Programme.

A viable option

A home programme is an individual educational programme (IEP) drawn up for the parent to carry out with the child at home. It consists of a list of goals supplied to the parent who is a facilitator in the teaching of the child with learning difficulties like dyslexia. The parent attempts to achieve the goals over a fixed time frame and the child is regularly assessed to ensure that learning is happening and change is recorded.

The home programme is a viable option for parents who are willing and able. They may have done some minimal training in teaching or even completed a course in special education but need guided inputs on helping their children make significant progress in reading, spelling or whatever their area of difficulty is. Over the last two decades, home programmes have drawn great interest among committed parents and it is common to witness a massive turnaround in a child who has been under long-term home remedial programmes.

This learning can be augmented by incorporating blended learning. Blended learning is a mixed mode method of teaching where a part of the face to face teaching is replaced by online content or web-enhanced instruction. This approach is beneficial for students, providing the convenience and flexibility associated with online learning, freeing up time for other activities. Blended learning also develops a skill set for each student that otherwise would not be possible in a classroom.

Let's take the case of Kyla, who was not able to read or spell beyond two and three letter words when she was eight years old. After an assessment with a professional, it was shown that she had visual and auditory dyslexia. This explained her difficulty to benefit from routine methods of teaching. Her mother swung into action and enrolled for a course in teaching children with learning disabilities, while simultaneously enrolling Kyla for a home programme so that she could give her child a sound, professionally guided remedial programme.

Every month, the goals were updated and informal assessments continued as the child gradually picked up reading and then spelling. What ensued was a phenomenal success story. The remedial home programme paid off and the child successfully completed her schooling through National Institute of Open Schooling and has gone on to study graphic designing in Singapore. While the concept of blended learning had not yet surfaced at that time, the same scenario remains for many children who today could benefit from this kind of learning methodology.

Beneficial outcomes

While blended learning has its own challenges, the benefits are not to be bypassed. This is particularly true in a country like India where access to remedial services are very difficult, classrooms are unmonitored and unsuitable for children with dyslexia to survive without learning support, and where digital platforms are increasingly serving as tools for information and knowledge. Blended learning offers hope to millions who are dyslexic and are in risk of developing social and behavioural issues. Here are some ways that blended learning can help students:

* While the home programme is limited - as in, it only outlines goals and may suggest activities but largely leaves the bulk of responsibility on the parent - a blended learning programme could explore the child's potential in exacting ways like individually prepared word lists, worksheets and detailed guidelines for the parent on implementation.

* It also provides a platform for continuous interaction and intervention whenever needed. If trained teachers were to adopt the blended learning programme, then many more children could benefit.

* As classrooms are sometimes overcrowded, children are left behind in basic skills like reading. While some are identified but do not receive help, others remain overlooked till secondary factors like behavioural issues crop up. Even for children who are identified and assessed, finding a trained person to provide a remedial programme within reasonable travelling distance and affordability becomes difficult.

* Blended learning also offers time flexibility. This allows teachers to feed in information at his or her convenience in an online platform and the child can log on and access the work at a suitable time.

* Face to face interactions are very much a part of the whole deal, just with the additional provision of online resources to further facilitate the process. Many parents are committed to their child's progress and are imploring learning support personnel to guide them in teaching their children.

The case for blended learning remains to be implemented in India in order to be evaluated for its benefits. Pilot studies show that blended learning is essential in school education and is a method to bring educational advantages to all students, urban as well as rural. Though theorists may be sceptical, professionals at the grass root level will attest to its need.

Blended learning should be used as a tool rather than a means and should only supplement rather than uphold an entire programme. At the end of the day, if it serves the purpose of indirectly contributing to the child's progress, then the world of education technology would have truly arrived.

(Published 31 January 2018, 11:06 IST)

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