I am the Director of CALL Scotland, the Scottish Assistive Technology Centre for learners with Additional Support Needs. CALL is funded primarily by the Scottish government and provides strategic leadership, a programme of professional learning, comprehensive information resources, a loan bank of equipment for evaluation before purchase, direct assessment and support for learners in schools, and action research.
What benefits does digital technology offer learners with ASN? The benefits for achievement and inclusion are huge according to Professor Andy Hargreaves, a member of the International Council of Education Advisers:
“The use of assistive technology to support the needs of special education students has been a revelation and has begun a small revolution in student achievement, so that many students are now able to access, develop and display what they know in ways that have never been possible for them before.
Assistive technologies, the results of this study show, can increase participation, enhance inclusion, develop positive identity and self-confidence and raise achievement in the community of students with special educational needs. They can also enhance, extend and engage learning among all students.”
The Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy offers an enormous opportunity to progress CALL Scotland’s vision, which is that “Every child / young person in Scotland with a disability or additional support needs has the curriculum materials, the Assistive Technologies and/or Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools they may need – and the support to use them effectively.”
There are many challenges that must be addressed if the strategy goals are to be addressed: shrinking budgets, balancing the needs of education against the requirements of data and child protection and network security requirements.
3. NDLF and Strategy
CALL Scotland is helping to deliver the objectives of the Strategy by providing a range of services for schools in Scotland.
CALL’s websites received 870,000 visits in 2015-16.
Our free infographs and posters are enormously popular: for example the ‘iPad App Wheel for Learners with Dyslexia’ has had 83,000 downloads to date.
3.2 Improve access
Digital technology must be accessible to learners with additional support needs. Some learners require adjustments to be made to computer settings to enable access. CALL worked with Scottish Government to create an audit checklist to help local authorities ensure that computers are accessible: providing access to the Ease of Access Control Panels is a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act.
‘Text-to-speech’ is one of the most valuable assistive technologies for learners with reading difficulties, dyslexia, visual impairment, learning difficulties and EAL, and is also helpful for all learners for proof-reading, for example.
Schools can download free computer text reader software such as WordTalk and NaturalReader from CALL’s web sites. Schools can also obtain high quality Scottish computer voices from CALL’s Scottish Voice web site. The Heather and Stuart voices, (and now Ceitidh, the world’s first Scottish Gàidhlig voice), with the free text readers, offer Scottish education a saving of over £2 million compared with buying commercial text reader software.
3.3 Enhance curriculum and assessment delivery
Many learners with ASN have difficulty accessing traditional paper-based curriculum materials and assessments.
CALL’s Books for All Scotland Database provides books in accessible formats. A learner with a visual impairment, for example, can access a textbook on an iPad by zooming in on the text. A student with reading difficulty can use text-to-speech software to support the reading. A young person who has physical difficulty manipulating books can access the same material on a computer or tablet. Schools downloaded 88,161 books from the database in 2015 – 16.
In the area of assessment, CALL and SQA developed Digital Question Papers for SQA examinations and half the secondary schools in Scotland used the papers in 2016. Digital papers increase independence and reduce reliance on human readers and scribes; while also reducing demands on accommodation and staffing. However, we are aware that we need to support the rest of the schools to benefit from these digital assessments.
3.4 Empowering leaders
Effective use of assistive technology is essential to raise attainment and improve equity in Scottish education. However, progress has been and still is hampered by a lack of leadership: some local authorities have designated ASL technology teams and staff, but many do not. Assistive technology is a specialist field which requires knowledge and experience and so CALL will be working with local authorities, Education Scotland, SCEL and GTCS to further develop a network of Assistive Technology leaders across the country.
Digital Technology has the potential to raise attainment and improve equity for all learners in Scotland. CALL Scotland will continue to provide strategic leadership and practical services and support for practitioners and learners in Scotland to achieve the objectives identified in the digital strategy.