Open Discovery Space

SENnet (The Special Educational Needs Network) funded by the European Commission has been having a major impact for young students with special needs (SEN) in mainstream schools across Europe. The network aims to ensure that the ability to learn is truly universal and inclusive for all and the knowledge extracted is accessible and digestible. Current steps are to train non specialised teachers and equip them with an arsenal of information, guidance and resources to help cultivate a more inclusive environment in their classrooms. The deep core belief consensually agreed by world leaders, elected officials and those working within the rights and justice sector, is that those with impairments should have equal rights to live the same as other able bodied individuals in order to live independently away from the trap of disability poverty and avoid being institutionalised. This coined term ‘independent living’ has been a championed rhetoric and belief supported by governments in the West for many years and exists within bioethics. Therefore, it is clear that SENnet believes that young people with disabilities should have the fundamental right and opportunity to have access to learning, broaden their knowledge and gain a meaningful education to enhance greatly their quality of life and choice outcomes. Arguably, it is not down to those with special needs to adapt to the society they inhabit, rather it is society itself that is disabling and obstructive to the needs of those with disabilities, and steps to alter the fabric of that existing environment to a more accessible world is paramount. Adaptive, specialised and supportive technology offered by the network is a disruptive innovation that seeks to dispel the hurdles those with special needs face, by making sure learning is tailored and accessible to the specific needs of the individual student.

Aversive disabilism, a subtle non intentional prejudice aimed at disabled people due to lack of awareness, knowledge or information is an issue SENnet wishes to address with teachers and those within the education sector. For example, the network will engage with teachers and school leaders in order to help them understand, promote and practice the doctrinal values of inclusion of learners with SEN and also make better use of ICT. A lack of familiarity with technology amongst teachers at all learning levels is a much broader problem. Many teachers are not digital natives who are highly aware of new trending technology since an early age, unlike the current youth generation, whilst others are more comfortable with the traditional practices they adopt. Therefore, revolutionising education and incorporating technology to suit the digitised age has become a repetitive mantra amongst elected officials. Special needs teachers have an even greater need to adopt specialised ICT as it is seen as a functional need for many young disabled pupils rather than simply a supplementary tool of support.

SENnet aims to set up and trace new learning environments and develop scenarios for those with SEN. For instance, digital resources for learners to use in these environments for both access (such as communication tools for those visually impaired) and learning (to develop basic skills). Moreover, SENnet hopes to improve the supply of professional development resources for SEN at the EU level. By the time the project ends it is hoped that there is a significant increased use of on-line resources to support learners, and that a series of on-line learning modules will be easily translated and adaptable to national contexts.

The SENnet website includes video case studies on inclusion in action, reports on innovative classroom approaches to the integration of SEN students, various suggestions for digital tools and its applications, formative and regular updates on progresses in the sector and on open on-line training modules designed to aid teachers and solve the problems they confront with insightful solutions. In coming months the network will publish information and case studies on Universal Design for Learning and serious games, whilst also rolling out on-line training courses, indicating that there is much to anticipate in the near future for SENnet. The project ran from December 2011 and will end in November 2014 and is managed by European Schoolnet. The European Schoolnet is a consortium of thirty ministries of education, who work towards the principle of ameliorating access to digital learning resources, supporting teachers and collaborating between schools. Associated partners also include, The European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, which is an independent organisation acting as a platform for collaboration in the special needs field across Europe, and FIESTA. FIESTA is a European Commission funded project set up to develop multi-disciplinary learning approaches for professionals to facilitate support for those with learning difficulties.

This project is of importance to experts and teachers within the adaptive and specialised learning stream and the greater educational sector and to Open Discovery Space, as it focuses on the use of technology to promote adaptive individualised learning, improve teacher performance and student learning.

For more information please see the official website.

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