IT in Special Education — Kolbe Special School’s Achievement

by Kate Steed, Inclusion Ireland AGM and Conference, Tullamore

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Kolbe Special School was established on 1 March 2000. It is a co-educational day school and offers education to students from age 4 to 18 years. At present there are 16 pupils with severe and profound general learning disabilities on roll. The staffing ratio is 6 pupils to 1 teacher, with the total staff consisting of four teachers, including the principal, nine special needs assistants, two nurses, secretary, caretaker and 3 bus escorts. The school is governed by a board of management in accordance with the Rules for National Schools as set out by the Department of Education and Science. Kolbe Special School follows the Revised Primary School Curriculum and the curriculum guidelines for pupils with severe and profound general learning disabilities. Visiting professionals include physiotherapist, speech and language therapist, PE teacher and occupational therapist.

The Digital Schools Award initiative recognises the excellence in a school’s approach to the integration of IT in teaching and learning. The Award scheme is unique in that is has the full support, not only of NCTE, but also CESI, INTO, IPPN and NCCA, all of whose views have been fully represented in its development. The Digital Schools Award was launched by the Minister for Education and Science Mary Hanafin, TD, in 2006 and now is available to all primary schools throughout the country. It is planned to extend the initiative to the post-primary sector in the future.

The award builds on the excellent progress, dedication and commitment of teachers and schools in relation to IT usage and encourages them to strive for further progression and improvement. It focuses attention on using IT by promoting good practice, expertise and innovation in teaching and learning.

For those with ambitions to become a Digital School, but work still to do, the initiative offers a roadmap. It can help them develop their IT planning and application to a point where there are demonstrably benefits throughout the school, and across the curriculum. There are criteria clearly set out with a focussed set of achievable targets to aim for. Such schools may contact the Digital Schools Coordinator at the NCTE and other schools who have achieved the award. All can offer support to schools interested in acquiring Digital School status.

School participation is optional and schools who wish to take part can do so in their own time and at their own pace. Schools who meet the criteria will be presented with a Digital School Award, which they maintain for two years after which time they must reapply. The award includes a specially designed plaque and artwork which can be used on the school’s literature and web site.

The school will be listed as a Digital School on the Digital Schools website where examples of work and good practice from the school will be displayed. Gaining the Digital Award was an important day for all at Kolbe Special School. It gave recognition to students, staff and all those involved in the school—recognition of the ongoing work undertaken to give the students the best educational opportunities available. For the pupils of Kolbe Special School IT is truly an integral part of their learning, from switch-controlled toys which help develop their cause-and-effect skills to more complex computer based programs which help in developing choice making and communication. It is important for every person to receive praise and encouragement for their endeavours and the pupils of Kolbe School are no different. Unfortunately our children’s achievements are often overlooked and the focus is on their needs and differences. So gaining the digital schools award, which is open to both mainstream and special national schools, is a wonderful way of highlighting the children’s achievements and the similarities that we all share. IT is important in today’s world both in mainstream and special education. The fact that we are the first school for children with severe and profound needs to gain this award will set a precedent for other similar schools to go ahead and recognise that they too can achieve in this area.

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