Trends in special needs education: More mainstream technology and call for involvement of all stakeholders

by Katja Engelhardt, member of the Observatory team

On 26 November, I presented European Schoolnet’s SENnet project at the conference on image_largeModern Technologies in inclusive education in Warsaw (Poland). I am part of the Observatory Team of European Schoolnet and support the SENnet project. This was the first conference organised by the Polish Ministry of National Education which was simultaneously translated into sign language. At the conference, Pawel Kubicki (Educational Research Institute) said that inclusive education was still a fresh research topic in Poland.

For me two topics touched upon by several speakers were particularly interesting. The first one was the shift away from assistive technology towards mainstream devices with multiple accessibility features (Universal design: find here the new SENnet report). Both Janusz Krupa (Polish Ministry of National Education) and Marlena Plebanska (Centre of Education Development) shared the belief that what was good for all students should also be good for students with special needs. Amanda Watkins (European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education) shared figures illustrated this trend. In this year’s collection of 50 country examples of use of ICT that supports students with special needs (collected within the ICT4I project), 75% of the examples illustrate the use of mainstream technology. In a similar collection of best practice examples in 1999, it was only 60%.

A second crucial issue discussed was the need for a multi stakeholder approach to best cater for the needs of special needs students. Amanda Watkins emphasized that it was important to include all teachers, not just a few specialists. Iwona Olszówska (Educational Consulting Centre at Special Education Centre no 1 in Czestowa) stressed that also the role of the specialists has changed.  While in the past the main task of special needs teachers was to support students with special needs, today they are also expected to guide colleagues and parents.

Iwona Olszówska initiated an Educational Consulting Centre in Czestowa (Poland) which puts the idea that a multitude of stakeholders must be involved into practice. In the centre, teachers give open lessons, which can be attended both by colleagues and parents. It also offers consultation hours to parents and involves student teachers.

A step towards more involvement of parents has also been taken on a national level: Today it is the decision of the parents to which school they send their child with special needs. Janusz Krup (Ministry of National Education) put forward that also the Powiat (regional) level had it role to play in the support of special needs students.

Katja Engelhardt has joined the European Schoolnet Observatory Team in 2012. She mainly works on the Creative Classrooms Lab project and the SENnet project. 

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