Computers in schools.

.. what is happening now?

By Di Hillage, Chairman, BDANTC.

About thirty years ago the first computers started to appear in schools. Teachers looked for ways in which these new devices might help to teach their subjects. Many pupils became interested in creating their own programs and some went on to become the back bone of some of the major computer companies nowadays.

During the 1990s, my local dyslexia association acquired BBC systems that we could lend to dyslexic children who could then use word processing programs, with the wonderful free Speak utility that meant they could not only produce nice looking work, but actually hear it being read to them as well.

Technology has moved on considerably since then, but is it being used as effectively as it could be in all schools?

Computers, in many forms, are everywhere nowadays. The wealth of information available on the internet can be accessed anywhere, not just in a reference library. Efficient use of a computer is assumed in most workplaces. The only people who now have to produce handwritten documents under pressure of time are students taking examinations. Tools are available to enable even the most severely handicapped people to operate almost as effectively as their able companions. The Access to Work program and the Disabled Students Allowances exist to ensure that disabled people are not prevented from working or studying effectively.

Yet there are still schools where dyslexic pupils are made to feel inferior and not allowed access to simple tools to help them. Schools which have spent thousands of pounds on computer hardware, then employ adults to read and write for their dyslexic pupils in class and in examinations, rather than encouraging them to use tools that would let them work independently. Some schools will not allow pupils to provide their own hardware and use it in class for fear that they may cause problems for the school’s network. Some network managers will not allow certain assistive software titles to be installed on the network. Some teachers will not allow a dyslexic pupil to use a computer in the classroom because they think it is cheating. I wonder if they allow their pupils with sight problems to wear their glasses in class?

Responses like this from a teacher suggest that some attitudes to computers in some schools are still somewhat outdated: “In our current paper homework system, they are learning literacy, spelling, numeracy etc. rather than just I.C.T. skills. For some of our students doing something on the computer and printing it off are not skills that they will need in their life – spelling, handwriting and numeracy are more important.” The idea that computers might help with the development of those skills does not seem to have occurred.

Pupils happily tap away on their mobile phones using predictive text but the feature is not available on their school’s word processor. Some teachers are using speech recognition themselves, but pupils who might benefit are not given access to this facility.

So what can be done? Obviously there are good examples of the use of technology as well and some contributions giving examples of good use would make excellent reading in future editions of B.D.A. Contact magazine. If you have something to contribute please e-mail B.D.A. tech in the first place.

Scotland is providing digital text books and exam papers so that schools can save money by not have to pay readers and scribes for pupils, and has run the Books for All project. The accessible Resources Pilot Project in England has shown a way forward.

There are hundreds of apps being developed for iPads and other small devices which are useful to dyslexic users. Some schools are issuing iPads to all pupils.

Another item in the international news…

“The Norwegian community of Skien (about 100 kilometres south of Oslo with 25 schools with 6,500 students aged 6 to 16) has provided a text-to-speech program (English and Norwegian), extended spell checker and dictionary, and software to read audiobooks free to all its students, to use at school and at home. They are also being provided with keyboard training (touch typing) and mind mapping. It will cost about 2 euros for each student every year. The head teachers were convinced after being shown 1) that it was required under national disability and educational legislation and 2) the effectiveness of the software. The biggest challenge now is to train teachers and students, and give information to the parents.”

If you have a dyslexic youngster or are working in a school, please help to raise awareness of the ways in which technology can help dyslexic learners, as well as their peers, so that they can all become independent and effective learners. We know that time and money are in short supply nowadays but, if properly managed, technology can help to save both of these. You will find lots of useful information here on our website and we welcome your feedback.

This is a comment from a teacher involved in the Accessible Resources Pilot Project.

“I have to say what I loved this afternoon was watching the students, the faces, the sheer excitement that they have about having something they can use. J & L are two of our most severe dyslexic students. Both are statemented and find it really hard to access material and have done so throughout their whole time here. J just said “I can read this” and it was wonderful. To see a child who really does experience difficulty across the curriculum find something that allows success is great.”

© BDA New Technologies Committee. June 2012.
Copies of this page may be made providing it is unchanged and the source is acknowledged.
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