Technology proving to be a powerful tool for educating special needs students
By the time we cross the threshold into 2020–just one year away from achieving Vision 2021–Alpen Capital predicts that 13.7 million students will be enrolled in schools across the Gulf region. With this said, educators and governments can expect to welcome three percent more children every year into the region’s schools. That is 13.7 million students who will depend on us to provide a world-class education system–one that encourages children to be active participants in their own education.
Smart systems and devices are not yet a mainstay of mainstream schools; however, it may be that special needs classrooms and their students are the best role models in the region for shifting successfully from traditional classrooms to the classrooms of the future.
Of course, this should come as no surprise. Long before the rise of digital era, special needs students were the original digital natives, depending on assistive or adaptive technologies that helped them to bridge the gaps in their learning potential and gain a sense of independence and freedom. Speech-to-text, audio books, talking calculators and even special transmitters allowed students to be self-sufficient and to set high goals in and outside the classroom.
Several schools for children with special needs have taken these young minds beyond assistive technologies to fully integrated smart classrooms. In partnership with Samsung Gulf Electronics – as part of Samsung’s Corporate Citizenship, Samsung Hope for Children – the Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs has enhanced the educational curriculum with more than 150 products provided to students, including tablets and PCs, making the classroom more interactive. And the Al Nibras Ideal School in Kuwait followed last year, with its first phase of 60 tablets.
The Samsung School Solution is not just a set of devices, but they create a teacher-to-student ratio that is one-to-one, providing individualized learning that reaches each and every student. At the Al Noor Training Centre or Al Nibras School, teachers can instantly observe how well individual students understand the lesson and allow them to deliver prompt feedback. Teachers can even monitor the progress of the class as a whole or interact with the work of each child one at a time.
Over the tenure of the program, teachers at Al Noor have observed increased attention spans and reception to learning at higher engagement levels. Some students have even achieved their educational goals faster using Samsung’s products and technologies, which is testament to the potential for technology in any educational environment.
In addition, Samsung actively encouraged UAE based developers to create a series of educational applications for the curriculum at Al Noor. These applications are now being used as part of the school’s everyday curriculum, teaching students vital skills such as identifying objects, comparing phrases and imagery and applying classroom studies to everyday life through grooming techniques, sharing and safety skills.
As well as making learning more fun and interactive, technology can unify the education experience, helping special needs students better understand concepts and keep up with their peers. According to a 2012 White Paper by the IDC (The Next Generation Classroom: Smart, Interactive and Connected Learning Environments), technology in the classroom encourages greater interactivity, resulting in increased learning retention. The work of the global ‘Samsung Smart School’ initiative is also referenced in the study, as a program dedicated to improving student engagement and academic performance through interactive classroom learning environments.
The success of Samsung Hope for Children at private schools, in the UAE and Kuwait, have paved the way for a Citizenship MOU agreement between Samsung and the UAE’s Ministry of Education to enhance the education of the students with special needs across the country. In line with the government’s Smart Learning initiative, the MOU will see the roll-out of the Samsung GALAXY Note 10.1 devices and Samsung ATIV Smart PCs for special needs students in Grades 1-3 and teachers in public schools across the country.
Recently, Samsung’s e-board solution has further enhanced learning solutions in partner schools. Used in a classroom at Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs, the Interactive White Board simplified the planning process for educators and encouraged the engagement of students in the classroom. With an interactive touch-sensitive screen, teachers at Al Noor have found that the concentration levels and memory of students are improved, thanks to the more inclusive learning process that caters to different kinds of learners – be they audio, visual or kinesthetic. With merely seven years to realize our visions for children in the region, and with such overwhelmingly positive results for what technology based learning is in 2014, isn’t it about time that we take a cue from students with special needs and their educators for 2021?