Ensuring that special needs children receive an education has proved extremely difficult in South Africa. Up until 1994, up to 70 percent of these learners remained outside the school system - and, even today, most schools who are dedicated to educating disabled students have few resources.
One such school is the Alma School in Pretoria which caters for children with cerebral palsy as well as a wide range of other physical and intellectual disabilities; earlier this month they received a SMART Board interactive whiteboard from DionWired.
A SMART Board combined with a data projector harnesses the power of a computer to provide a compelling focal point within a classroom. Information can be presented visually, making language more accessible which facilitates speech for a child with low or no functional speech. Touch screen technology enables a child with physical limitations and those who are blind or partially sighted to participate in learning. Students can write with pens or move objects such as images with their fingers.
All SMART Board interactive whiteboards come equipped with powerful collaborative software called SMART Notebook which allows teachers to create and deliver interactive lessons that can be saved and printed. Internet access introduces educational resources such as Google Earth and YouTube as well as lessons from the web. Edit Microsystems, which markets this technology in South Africa will assist the Alma School with both installation and teacher training.
According to Andrew Jackson, general manager of DionWired, the SMART Board has, until now, only been available to schools with substantial funding. "Nowadays, people with disabilities are making an important place for themselves within our workforce. For them to achieve this, they need to have the best education available to them. Unfortunately, because highly specialised equipment and care is often needed for them to realise their full potential, many are denied important opportunities. Because our product range features the latest technological innovations, we are perfectly positioned to provide some of our country?s most courageous learners and their teachers with the very best tools. We believe that the SMART Board will help them achieve far more than they ever thought possible.'
Although each learner at the Alma School has unique disabilities, needs and capabilities - this cutting edge technology will open up a whole new world to all. 18 year-old Precious Nyakhulalini will be just one of the disabled learners who will benefit. Wheelchair bound, she sits with the help of a wheelchair insert. She has very poor hand function and is therefore not able to write. It is also very difficult for her to pick up objects such as puzzle pieces or building blocks during activity play. Her specially adapted wheelchair is fitted with a wooden tray which enables her to participate in school activities - and she is always eager and tries her best.
"Precious cannot hold a pen or pencil properly to write. However, through the use of a computer, she is able to press the keys on a keyboard to write her name and transcribe from a book. Computer technology makes it easier for her to explore and enhance her world. She is an ideal candidate for using a SMART Board through holding an assistive device. This is something she will be able to do with her minimal hand function,' explained school principal Zirke Bondesio.
Jackson said that learners like Precious were often much more "visual' than their counterparts in mainstream schools. "The more they see, the better they remember things. They often need more tactile experiences and are instantly engaged by the colourful images and can directly interact with the interactive whiteboard by manipulating letters, words, pictures and numbers.'
Precious?s disability is the result of a spinal injury during a difficult birth. From a very young age, she received physio- and occupational therapy. At the age of nine, she had to undergo surgery to lengthen the muscles in her hamstrings to make lying and sitting easier. Initially, she spent the majority of the day hanging in a swing, with minimal stimulation and interaction.
At the age of six, Precious was enrolled at Alma School in response to desperate pleas from her parents who wanted their daughter to have the specialised education and services that she needed. "Since starting her education at the Alma School in April 1999, Precious has blossomed into a friendly, outgoing, enthusiastic and eager to learn child. Working with a multi-disciplinary team, she receives daily physio- and occupational therapy and also follows a specialised adapted educational program.'
Bondesio explained that the Alma School strives to equip learners like Precious with the life skills they need to play meaningful roles in their communities and live with dignity as individuals. "We now have a fantastic opportunity to do this thanks to the generous and selfless donation of SMART Board interactive whiteboards, hardware and software from DionWired,' he said.
DionWired will extend this positive learning experience to more disabled learners in months to come. By June this year, DionWired will have donated 15 SMART Boards to schools for the disabled across the country.