Digitized education levels the playing field for students with special needs — edtech experts

digitized education levels the playing field for students with special needs edtech experts - Digitized education levels the playing field for students with special needs — edtech experts

By Mariel Alison L. Aguinaldo

Digitized education levels the playing field for students with special needs, said Shaina Tantuico, co-founder and executive director of TinyLabs, a virtual class platform for children up to seven years old. 

In a recent webinar on education, Ms. Tantuico shared that a hard-of-hearing student had an easier time understanding her online lessons because her hearing aid was better able to pick up her teacher’s voice over the computer. “Teachers are able to teach to the whole class as if they’re all at the front row, and not at the back of the classroom,” said Ms. Tantuico.

Furthermore, multiple teaching assistants can handle smaller groups, allowing them to customize their lesson plans. “If you have fifty students, you can’t do fifty different learning styles; you only have one professor,” said Aurélien Chu, co-founder and chief operating officer of Eskwelabs, a blended learning artificial intelligence and data science training academy for adults.

To motivate students, Unifinity, a virtual academy, set up a reward system based on cryptocurrency. Coins are loaded in students’ digital wallets and can be used for actual transactions.  “We are rewarding the students based on their proof of activity, proof of attendance, and proof of performance by distributing their scores into a transparent distributed ledger technology,” said Veronica Andrino, Unifinity founder and chief executive officer.

With President Rodrigo R. Duterte mandating the physical closure of schools until a vaccine is found, the Department of Education (DepEd) had to find a solution that would accommodate students of varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

DepEd came up with two options for distance learning: modular distance learning, which provides printed or digital self-learning modules for students who either have no devices or no Internet access; and online distance learning, wherein a teacher facilitates a virtual class in real-time, for students who have reliable Internet connections.

However, slow digital adoption poses a challenge for both students and teachers. “They may have laptops and computers, but prior to COVID-19, these gadgets were for encoding and social media purposes only,” said Antonio E. Etrata, Jr., a faculty member of the University of Sto. Tomas. While his institution has had a learning management system for 20 years, Mr. Etrata admitted that, pre-pandemic, he would only use it for making announcements.

“We can never tell something will not work unless we will try. This is my assurance, and I think, this is our commitment to our students,” he said.

The education webinar was part of a series of breakout sessions held during the Impact Hackathon, a virtual event that aims to create sustainable digital solutions.

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