The start of a new year is always also a good moment to look back at what happened the last year and which new things one learned. For me, it was the conclusion that while the topic inclusion has been high on the agenda of many European countries the last few years and many students with special needs moved from special schools to mainstream schools, the topic is still not mainstream enough to be a concern for all educators. Below I share the most interesting facts around inclusion and accessibility issues I came across during SENnet workshops and Peer Learning visits in Portugal and Estonia in 2014.
(1) Who is a student with special needs and who is not depends on the definition used. The term is, according to the OECD, not well defined internationally. For the Estonian government, for example, also very gifted students are students with special needs.
(2) Devices like tablets can enable students with special needs to make independent choices and communicate who could not do so otherwise. (see SENnet Austrian Case Study video)
(3) At the Pelgulinna Gymnasium in Tallinn, students with special needs are particularly interested and active in coding and robotics classes.
(4) Teaching students with special needs and teaching with ICT are the areas in which teachers need professional development the most. (TALIS, 2013)
(5) One cannot assume that parents of students with special needs can always provide all necessary support. The UK Teacher of the Deaf Darryl Bedford shared at the SENnet workshop on 21 October that most of this students are not even able to communicate at home, as their family does not learn sign language .
(6) Providing continuity in external support provided to schools is vital, as teachers will only cooperate with services they know and trust.
(7) Including students with special needs in mainstream schools is a benefit to all students, as all students learn important skills for life while learning and cooperating together.
(8) Making texts/ audio/ video etc. accessible benefits in most cases all readers, not only those with special needs.
(9) Especially having in mind today’s ageing population, also people with no disability at present might develop a special need later in their lives. Having that in mind, any step towards more accessibility/ inclusion is in any of our best interests.