Written by: Dragana Malidžan Vinkić, Education Coordinator, Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia
Fourth year in a row, the British Council and its partners organized the “New Technologies in Education 2017” international conference in Belgrade from 9 to 11 February 2017. While the conference’s primary focus was on how to use new technologies available in the classroom today for educational purposes, how to make classes more interesting and stimulating for young learners and what the optimal technological conditions are for kicking off the process of innovation and application of information and communications technologies (ICT) to education, it also revealed the many roles that education plays in 21st century society, and how a teacher can respond to the new challenges in the classroom. Technologies have thus given rise to the need for new approaches to teaching, for adjustment, to ensure that everybody is included, both technologies and people. From a broader point of view, this is a story about inclusion (Lat. inclusio – inclusion, inclusivity, comprisal and inference).
This conference includes a session on application of ICT in support of inclusive education. This session always provides excellent examples of practices that are based on the premise that all people are entitled to equal rights and opportunities, regardless of individual differences. The focus is on solutions, rather than problems.
In the course of this two-day session, held on Friday and Saturday, solutions were presented for various needs that arise in the classroom, including examples related to not only students with disabilities or developmental difficulties, but also those in the extended curriculum programme. Excellent examples were presented of cooperation between mainstream schools and special schools for children with developmental difficulties, of cooperation with schools abroad and genuinely original solutions designed by individuals (the “My Computer” educational interactive software application by Ludologer). Of particular interest were the presentations on the use of software and online tools that were inspired by previous conferences, (Kahoot, Bitstrips, QR Code Reader, Web 2.0 tools, Skype, Wikispaces), which are nowadays part of the standard practices in working with students with learning difficulties and others learners. The Belgrade Open School presented its own game designed to develop social competencies and creativity, i.e. a skill set that is important for developing good interpersonal relations.
Special emphasis was given to the issue of accessibility of tuition and teaching materials, and the participants thus had the opportunity to learn not only about the terminology (universal design, accessibility), but also about how to create universally accessible textbooks and other electronic content (documents, presentations, PDFs, video content), and to hear a presentation on the accessible Catalogue of Assistive Technologies prepared by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF.
Very strong messages were delivered to further increase the capacity of teaching staff – believing in oneself, team work, developing empathy, which in turn has a direct impact on developing good interpersonal relationships and creating a positive emotional climate in society and in the classroom, encouraging the active participation of all students in the learning process because children must learn and develop together with their friends and peers, ICT is one of the key tools for fulfilling individual learning needs, and access to adequate technologies is a basic human right.
These excellent practitioners went a step further in their reflections on the role of the teacher, by confirming that it is important for them to eradicate inequalities in access to education and that every student in the classroom is an individual deserving of respect and acceptance as a human being.