Leveraging online education for children with special needs | The Financial Express

Leveraging online education for children with special needs

As per the 2011 Census, there were 26.8 million persons with disabilities in India, which corresponded to 2.21% of the total population of 1.2 billion.

Leveraging online education for children with special needs
Children with special needs confront the greatest educational obstacles. (Image – Unsplash)

By Pabitra Margherita

According to the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2002 free and compulsory education for all children in 6 – 14 years of age group is a Fundamental Right under Article 21-A of the Constitution. This Act not just covers every child irrespective of their economic background, caste, creed, and gender, but it also covers a more neglected section that is, children with special needs (CwSN).

The National Education Policy 2020 which has been released under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji recognises the importance of developing enabling mechanisms to provide Children with Special Needs (CwSN) with the same opportunities for quality education as any other child.

Children with special needs confront the greatest educational obstacles. Their access to school is frequently hampered by societal stigma, a lack of teacher training, and an inability to comprehend the special needs of these students. These students are frequently confronted with an unconducive school environment that lacks classroom support and methodical and thematic learning materials tailored to their specific requirements.

As per the 2011 Census, there were 26.8 million persons with disabilities in India, which corresponded to 2.21% of the total population of 1.2 billion. Clearly, children with special needs confront the greatest educational obstacles; their access to school is frequently hampered by societal stigma, a lack of teacher training, and an inability to comprehend the special needs of these students. These students are frequently confronted with an unconducive school environment that lacks classroom support and methodical and thematic learning materials tailored to their specific requirements.

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Chief Minister of Assam Himanta Biswa Sarma Ji has taken the lead among states and announced full implementation of the NEP across Assam by March 2023. He also recently announced a Rs.5000 crore plan to revamp the physical infrastructure in government schools of Assam. Work has started in schools and the target is to reach 4000 schools with modern teaching facilities. The CM said the idea is to “convert educational institutions of Assam into centres for human resources development”.

Traditional offline methods, such as Special schools under the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and the concept of inclusive education, have reached their limit in terms of their ability to benefit special children. Every student learns at their own pace, for example, a special student who falls under the category of physical disability with a lost limb may be able to grasp things faster than someone with autism or ADHD who have a lesser attention span. Children with learning differences often find it difficult to cope with traditional curriculums and classroom setups.

Though the COVID pandemic has played a calamitous role in recent history, it has as a by-product compelled the IT, health, and educational sectors to develop modes of e-learning that cater to all ages of children for their mental and physical development, allowing them to realize their full potential and integrate more effectively into society. To meet the issues provided by the demand for e-mode education, substantial efforts have been undertaken to prioritise the needs of children with special needs. A consequence of this activity is the provision of educational modules for education aimed at Children with Special Needs.

Ministry of Education recently announced the launch of e-content and gave a set of guidelines that particularly targeted e-content for CwSN. The Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Education had constituted a committee of experts that recommended that textbooks may be adapted into Accessible Digital Textbooks (ADTs). The content of ADTs would be provided in multiple formats (text, audio, video, sign language, etc) with turn-on and turn-off features. Further, ADTs would provide flexibility to CwDs to respond to its content/exercises in multiple ways.

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India’s greatest edtech startup story recently acquired an American company called Osmo. Through Osmo, they want to provide “phygital” education, creating interactive learning games that allow children to use real-world objects to connect with the digital world, providing a more tangible learning experience. While individuals with disabilities may not learn in traditional settings, accommodations and support go a long way in breaking stereotypes of them being incompetent.

We must recognise that each student is unique. Two children with the same handicap may have different demands; online education has the potential to cater to the majority of the needs at an individual level depending on the type of disability. For example, giving self-paced information for youngsters to pause and grasp based on their attention spans, including hand signs in video lectures with subtitles in many languages for students with hearing impairment, and text-to-speech for the visually impaired. For visually impaired users, the ability to modify font size, colour, and other formatting characteristics is available. Someone with neurological or learning issues who cannot adjust in class could benefit from online education and be phased in class. For autistic students, visual content with reinforcement mechanisms will be included. Someone with a blood disease who would have to miss classes in an offline school could complete them later in an online format.

In all disciplines, technology is growing more advanced and robust, making people’s life easier. The use of technology in education has and would help break the barriers for students with special needs. Technology would help provide students with personalised learning opportunities, allowing for greater flexibility and variability in instructional approaches. Each new advancement will help Children with Special Needs realise their full potential and do more than they ever imagined possible and will all be able to fulfill Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji’s vision of providing all children with education and opportunities.

(The author is a Member of Parliament, representing Assam in the Rajya Sabha the upper house of India’s Parliament. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)

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First published on: 23-11-2022 at 11:44 IST