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Technology is a vital factor in the world we currently live in, and even more so this year with the Covid-19 Pandemic. This global pandemic not only created a health and economic crisis but a crisis that has been overlooked; The education of students with educational special needs (SEN).

With the closure of millions of schools interrupting the education of ‘’1.5billion’’ learners globally. Many of these schools have switched their mode of delivery to online. However, this mode of teaching leaves many SEN learners behind.

This shift to online learning was almost done overnight & was troublesome to say the least due to having very little preparation. With every pupil being different and every teacher having a different teaching style it was paramount that this was going to be effective and accessible for everybody but that hasn’t been the case.

Students under the SEN umbrella can have many disorders and impairments, from physical disabilities to specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia. For both students & teachers as well as student’s families it has been a worrying & tough time trying to adapt to the new type of delivery.  Here is a short video of how parents in Hong Kong are coping.

Wong Hoi-man, a mother of two SEN children, says she is worried about her sons’ education with the move to online – CGTN

Challenges for Low Income families

Now this pandemic has led to a disproportionate impact on learners with disabilities who were already at a economical and educational ‘‘disadvantage’’. Some families are unable to afford the technology to take part in online learning pausing the child’s education.

A study carried out in mid-western Brazil teaching human anatomy to SEN students faced this problem as a large number of their students came from disadvantaged backgrounds & many were unable to access online classes and dropped out.

Some schools may have the finances to supply the technology to families who are struggling but some families aren’t able to get that financial support. In Australia particularly this seems to be an issue.

For students with disabilities it’s been even harder, without the in-classroom support they’re used to” – ABC News Australia

Parents roles reversed

SEN Students have that extra specialist support in the classroom but at home this becomes difficult. You’re able to receive some of support through ‘’a zoom call’’ but not when it comes to students for example requiring physical therapy that aids their education, it presents a problem.

Some schools are able to send work packages or lesson plans to the students if they aren’t able to use or have access to technology but sometimes the work given is not modified to address the students needs. At one university 75% of faculty reported having never made modifications when it came to their online material and parents are not too pleased.

NPR news;  A mother from Washington D.C who has a 14year old son with down syndrome said ‘’ He can’t look at a five-page worksheet and learn – If there’s no accommodations or modifications for him, he really can’t attend to that lesson plan unless I modify it for him.”  This has left many parents who are not teachers by any means to take that on the role.

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Students with SEN extensively use their senses to learn and with the movement to online learning, this is unable to be carried out and has forced parents as well as some teachers to get creative and think outside the box, to accommodate this mode of learning as much as they can.

Not all SEN students fall into one category.

“Our district overall is implementing Google Classroom,”

Ann Hiebert special education teacher from St louis, America.

She says that this mode of delivery doesn’t work well for all her students, some of these students having disabilities such at Autism. Students like Hiebert’s are non-verbal, struggle to write or type and cannot use technology independently. So, these online streaming services may be a success for those who do not have SEN but the same cannot be said for the students who do.

As of 2015 only Blackboard – Out of all the online management systems used in schools– has been the only one awarded gold certification for its accessibility by the National Federation for the Blind. It’s clear there needs to be a change in the way these systems operate to be inclusive for people with all types of disabilities.

Student concentration & Engagement

Concentration & Engagement levels in students took a massive hit by the move to online delivery and myself as a university student in the UK struggled to adjust. When it came to staring at a screen for 2hours trying to comprehend and understand what is being taught from a computer screen its completely different from what we’re used to, and It did prove difficult. I am sure when it comes to SEN students they would have found this difficult too.

The use of technology in this pandemic just hasn’t impacted students with physical disabilities. Students with ADHD tend to suffer with many things, one of these being inattention – They find it a lot easier to wander off tasks & struggle to maintain focus. So for students with ADHD to be expected to learn from a tablet/ computer screen is for sure going to be more of a challenge than it would be in the classroom.

A study in Nigeria concluded there were negative effects made from the shift to online delivery of learning. This wasn’t only due to the student’s own disabilities but the lack of information and communication technology skills the teachers had with the high-tech learning platforms this impacting their students.

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Concluding Thoughts

Professionals still see this issue as a grey area and are still figuring it out as we go along. There is no denying it, SEN students education has been impacted hugely by the move to online learning but if this is the only option for now, to receive the full benefit of online learning there needs to be effort focused around structure and this means going beyond the Zoom Classroom, promoting inclusion & personalization of every student.


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