Education

On an equal footing

Create inclusive classrooms and empower students with disabilities to progress   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Kshama (name changed), 11, isn’t fond of reading. Not even the most well-crafted stories, with intriguing plot-twists can hold her attention for more than a few minutes. Her writing is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, her vocabulary isn’t up to the mark, and her teachers dismissed her as lazy and unfocused. But the actual problem was dyslexia, a learning disorder that affects around 15% school-goers, according to the Dyslexia Association of India.

This was one of the reasons that Andy Butler helped found Square Panda. “My interest in education stemmed from the challenges I faced while finding the right learning resources for my dyslexic daughter. So, I explored not just dyslexia, but also expert literature on the neurology of reading, early learning, and language skill acquisition. Technology is a powerful lever. By providing customised learning curriculum that addresses learners’ individual needs and styles, it can assist learners realise their full potential,” says the co-founder and CEO of Square Panda, an English learning system.

Often, slow learners and those with learning disabilities are left behind in the learning process. Butler believes that this can be overcome by utilising technology, “The 21st century classroom is decentralised and democratised, and people are witness to its benefits. Undeniably, the biggest beneficiaries are students who require additional support.”

The advent of specialised classes for students with different learning abilities, tailored to their needs, skill, and knowledge levels, has been instrumental, in bridging education gaps and improving student engagement. With technological help, learning becomes democratic, social, and collaborative, and this benefits all learners — not just those with different academic standards, and performances — realise their full potential. “Let us not forget that the last two years have seen education undergo a massive transformation, with students now learning from the comfort of their homes. This model of anywhere, often anytime, learning allows students to learn at their own pace as per their innate abilities, and further equalises the education playing field for all.”’

(from left to right) Andy Butler, Andre Agassi, Ashish Jhalani

(from left to right) Andy Butler, Andre Agassi, Ashish Jhalani   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Former tennis star Andre Agassi, who is the Chairman of the Board, points out, “The impact of creating an educational ecosystem goes far beyond the classroom; not only does learning increase, but crime rates dwindle, and parents and educators play a greater role in shaping a child’s future.” Agassi believes that the possibilities of integrating tech to provide a holistic learning experience can be a great equaliser and enabler.

Butler explains how they use multiple tools to support those with learning disabilities. “SquareTalk, a chatbot helps students get quick access to self-study resources, check FAQs, or chat with counsellors to resolve their queries. Since reading greatly boosts cognitive functions, the SquareTales reading app encourages independent and confident readers’ development.”

Ashish Jhalani, Managing Director of Square Panda India, elaborates on the Early Learning app, which uses AI-based technology and and features games involving words, writing, phonics, songs and more. “This helps develop essential English language proficiency skills — Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing (LSRW), and core skills such as phonics and word reading, phonological awareness, vocabulary, and more.”

In India, he hopes that edtech will help arrest pandemic-induced academic regression. The goal is to democratise learning and make it more engaging while simultaneously engaging all stakeholders. “We have to step up because, in India, digital education is an unequal playing field. We discovered in a survey that almost 60% of children could not access learning resources, 90% of children with disabilities from vulnerable backgrounds said they were unable to participate in online classes, and over 90% of teachers said that no meaningful assessment of children was possible in online classes.” Square Panda has developed India-focussed foundational learning and educator empowerment programmes under its initiative Aarambh.

As technology advances, it presents multiple opportunities for various domains to advance and education — especially for slow learners — is no exception. Assistive technology can go a long way in bridging the gap between regular learners and those with learning disabilities. With technological aids, schools and colleges can create more inclusive classrooms and empower students with disabilities to progress academically and, by extension, in life itself.


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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 12:23:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/how-technology-can-help-ensure-that-those-with-learning-disabilities-are-not-left-behind/article37836103.ece

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