UNLEARN Workshop on Difference Learning
09-10 April 2016, New Delhi
Associate National Executive Officer, Research and Futures Programme,
With an approximate number of one billion people across the world suffering from some form of language-based learning difficulty, the need for inclusive education has never been direr.
Against this backdrop, UNESCO MGIEP is working towards generating awareness among instructors about learning differences, and advocating for difference learners by mobilizing young people to join forces with policy makers and leaders to induce change on national and global levels.
Seventy five million adults across the world lack basic reading and writing skills. 15 to 20 per cent of the population, that is, approximately one billion people, have some form of a language-based learning difficulty. Although efforts are being undertaken by the United Nations and other development agencies to reduce the disparity in access to education and providing equal learning opportunities to all, there is still much work to be done.
To this end, the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) aims to contribute towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4) by working for the often ignored community of children with learning differences.
Difference Learning applies to one in six people worldwide who struggle with the basics of reading, writing and spelling and require specialized educational materials, teacher delivery and learning assessments to cater to their needs. These children, sometimes known as difference learners (4Ds – dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia) whose educational needs, if not addressed early, can result in frustration, marginalization and even long-term economic distress – rather than the successful, tax-paying members of society they easily could have been with some slightly adapted educational experiences.
Realizing this gap in imparting education, UNESCO MGIEP’s Inclusive Education programme aims to implement literacy testing in the mother tongue, in order to provide remedial learning for improving the functional literacy rate of all students, including children with learning differences.
As part of the programme, UNESCO MGIEP, in partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-D) organized the UNLEARN Workshop on Difference Learning on 09 and 10 April 2016 at IIT, Delhi. The workshop was attended by nearly 400 participants, including 300 teachers, special educators and administrators from government and private schools in the Delhi region. The workshop was aimed at generating awareness among instructors about learning differences and providing them with simple techniques to make classroom teaching more inclusive and effective.
The workshop focused on six learning differences – dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, visual processing disorder, auditory processing disorder and auditory processing disorder (SID/dyspraxia). International and national experts from organizations such as the Australian Dyslexia Association, Decoding Dyslexia, National Brain Research Centre, Maharashtra Dyslexia Association and Alpha to Omega Centre were invited to participate in discussions to inform the audience about learning differences and asking them to question the conventional understanding within conventional learning systems that only success correlates with intelligence. The sessions focused on the definition, diagnosis, treatment and limitations of assistive technologies in a multi-lingual society. Several myths were tackled, and it was reinforced that the ability to read does not reflect a child’s intelligence. Further in-depth discussions were conducted on evaluation and assessment models, the leveraging of available support systems, and tips on classroom accommodations for difference learners. To substantiate the information being imparted by the panels, two activity workbooks – the MakeSpace Theory Book and the MakeSpace Practical Book – were provided to instructors. They explored the definitions and included innovative teaching methodologies and comprehensive exercises for the teachers.
As an outcome of the two-day long discussions, the following observations were made, which need to be addressed to accommodate difference learners within educational institutions:
- An alarming disconnect was realized between extensive evidence-based research and existing practices in the area of difference learning and in literacy, in general.
- An urgent need for universal screening for K-2 primary classrooms was recognized, not only to address students with learning differences, but also to improve literacy of all students.
- A vacuum in the support systems, the relevant products and enabling frameworks for parents, teachers, policy makers and the individual learners.
Developed by the National Brain Research Centre in India, the Dyslexia Assessment in Languages of India (DALI) is a package that contains screening tools for school teachers and assessment tools for psychologists in Indian languages to identify dyslexia.
Based on these discussions, the participants listed five immediate interventions required to enable difference learners and to progress as a society:
- Developing an enabling legislation or a policy framework which recognizes that to achieve the 2030 SDG on education, transformative education system measures inspired by difference learning will need to be applied to all learners.
- Building a global online community to provide stakeholders with updated information and to support and share knowledge on best practices in inclusive education.
- Creating and sustaining a network that is easily accessible to educational and research institutes, parents and experts, and allows them to collaborate on various projects.
- Expanding the reach of multi-format assessment tools in the mother tongue that allow for a culturally appropriate, systematic and reliable diagnosis for children whose first language is not English.
- Producing resource toolkits and programmes for the extensive capacity building of pre-service and in-service teachers, standards development and certification of screening/testing organizations and the private sector-led development of reading materials.
Developed by the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC) in India, the Dyslexia Assessment in Languages of India (DALI) is a package that contains screening tools for school teachers and assessment tools for psychologists in Indian languages to identify dyslexia. The tools are available in Hindi, Marathi, Kannada and English.
UNESCO MGIEP aims to extend the DALI test in other regional languages in India and the Asia Pacific region for early detection and diagnosis of learning difficulties. In addition, UNESCO MGIEP is developing a cost-free online website called SixthSpace, that will be an open source, digital one-stop repository of all information, tools and advice related to learning differences for parents, teachers and students.
Difference learners are exceptional minds with an excellent visual capacity to “think outside-the-box”. Their ability to tackle obstructions with innovative solutions is a trait that will be invaluable in a rapidly-changing global future.
Reading-based education systems not only hinder their cognitive capacities, but also bring to light the ineffectiveness of such a system. Emerging assistive technologies are gradually removing the barriers that learners face.
The need-of-the-hour is a learner-based system that builds on a child’s gifts and talents. The modern world requires a youth population that has been empowered with the capacity of adaptation, innovation, critical analysis and problem-solving.
The UNLEARN workshop was a step in this direction to educate and empower the youth, particularly the special minds in our society.