I was particularly excited for the class on inclusive education, as inclusive education has been the focus of much of my research since beginning my academic career. Access to quality, meaningful education is still an issue for many persons with disabilities, whether a result of accessibility issues, a lack of educational resources, or otherwise. Often, scholars and experts in the field have maintained the power of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) to help supplement where resources and educational access are scarce. For persons with disabilities, the idea is that ICTs allow a more personalized learning experience and can be used as a tool to learn both inside and outside of the classroom. In fact, Sustainable Development Goal 4 identifies ICT access and skills as a major indicator for progress in inclusive education.
In tandem with documents such as G3ict’s Model Policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education for Persons with Disabilities, it’s clear that ICTs have the potential to fill educational gaps, allowing persons with disabilities to express themselves and explore opportunities for lifelong learning. Yet, what I feel is a major issue to consider when implementing ICTs is the logistical component of adopting them. To start, these policies assume that everyone has equal access to amenities like electricity, functioning internet, etc. Moreover, ICTs require trained individuals to ensure proper implementation. G3ict’s policy identifies three major groups in the process, IT trained individuals, teachers, and other stakeholders which can be interpreted as local officials, students themselves, even parents. Policies such as these assume that all relevant stakeholders have the necessary competencies to understand and implement these technologies into their lives. I draw on the example of the One Laptop Per Child initiative born out of MIT research labs. The program offered low-cost, light and durable laptops for children in rural areas with a specialized software developed at MIT to foster coding skills, online learning, and additional access to learning materials for expanded learning. Despite the accessibility component, addressed by the computer’s durability, extended battery life, and broadband, students still did not know how to properly use the device and in many cases did not use the device. (A complete overview of the OLPC program can be read here). Additionally, many teachers are not trained to implement technology in the classroom. I think back to my own educational experience. My high school received a grant for Chromebooks that were placed in several of the advanced placement courses. The devices were rarely used, only making it out of their storage cabinet when a teacher was being evaluated by our administration. I would argue that in many contexts, students know more about devices than teachers, leaving the potential for an instructional gap between what the students can do and what the teachers are capable of facilitating. Finally, there are practical considerations to be accounted for, particularly in regards to persons with disabilities. Is there enough research and funding to generate devices with a universal design, as advocated for in the G3ict model policy? How do we measure the impact of these devices on learning outcomes? How do we ensure that the devices are actually being utilized and utilized for their intended purposes?
While I believe in the power of technology to help close the educational gap between developing and the developed world, between persons with special educational needs and the traditional learner, there are practical implications that must be considered. Many early technological innovations in pursuit of inclusive education (One Laptop Per Child, Hole-in-the-Wall Education Project, etc.) were overly praised when in fact, they delivered minimal positive results on students’ academic outcomes. There is true potential for technology in the inclusive educational space; however, more research, more funding, and more programs generating success are needed to support this approach.