Levelling the education field

The Gauteng Department of Education has taken a major step towards making education accessible to all learners. The recently completed rollout of the GautengOnline initiative, which was launched in 2002, has led to the introduction of standardised, fit-for-purpose specialist ICT teaching laboratories in more than half of the public schools in Gauteng.

The benefit of this rollout to the disabled community is that 87 of the 94 schools providing educational services to learners with special educational needs have been fitted with the labs. The GautengOnline initiative is driven by an e-Learning Framework which identifies the learners as central players. Through this, the learners will be able to use and maintain ICT in an appropriate, effective, efficient, ethical and responsible manner.

Learners will be able to collaborate with others, locate and evaluate information, solve problems, process data, communicate and present information using ICT.

Through consultative workshops and research GautengOnline has identified the special needs of each school and matched them to a basic toolkit of assistive devices and enabling software. Using this, educators can craft a Customised Learning Programme to enable each learner, no matter the level of disability, to engage with the curriculum and attain its Learning Outcomes. To ensure that the GautengOnline labs were accessible to learners with disabilities the department adjusted the number of computers to suit the average class size of the particular school and augmented it with the appropriate assistive devices.

The devices included are switches, roller ball mice, joysticks, touch screens and head mice. The devices are interoperable and learners can use a combination together. Learners can use the assistive devices to complete cause and effect activities, practice coordination, play games and engage in e-Alternative and Augmentative Communication.

The South African Bureau of Standards was commissioned to test all of the equipment for robustness of design, construction and materials to ensure that it would serve the necessary purposes.

There is a range of software provided to the schools, starting with the basic Sensory Suite and progressing to more complex activities. As learners progress they will use Kidspiration, a mind mapping tool which helps structure thinking. Other tools used include Clicker, which is a sentence builder enabling learners to write with pictures and words. Boardmaker is a system which uses 3500 Picture Communication Symbols, allowing for printed communication boards, device overlays, worksheets and schedules. This enables learners to assign a variety of actions to the buttons on any board so educators and learners can use the computer for Assistive and Augmentative Communication and inclusion. This enables developing speakers to easily communicate a need or response to a question and reduce the frustration and powerlessness often felt by disabled learners.

Schools for the blind and visually impaired have been equipped with scanners, large screens and Braille printers. The learners can draw text into the talking software provided in Accessibility Suite. There is also a talking dictionary, calculator and PDF reader, and an application that will read web pages out loud.

Rolling Inspiration’s IT Interest columnist Celeste Mukheibir and her company Inclusive Solutions were involved in supplying and training educators in the use of the software and hardware used in the rollout. Her last three articles in the magazine have been about the AAC program Board-Maker and the Assistive Devices mentioned will be discussed in detail in her columns later this year.

The GautengOnline rollout and the use of assistive devices in schools is challenging traditional methods of teaching disabled learners, allowing them to participate on an equal basis with other learners. Contact the Gauteng Department of Education for more information and the locations of schools catering for disabled learners.

World beater

Ernst van Dyk was honoured at the Laureus World Sports awards recently when he received the Sportsperson of the Year award for an athlete with a disability. Ernst received the award at a glittering event in Barcelona, Spain.

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