The Impact of ICT in Educating Students with Learning Disabilities in Australian Schools: An ANT Approach

The Impact of ICT in Educating Students with Learning Disabilities in Australian Schools: An ANT Approach

Tas Adam, Arthur Tatnall
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0034-6.ch088
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The term “Learning Difficulties” (sometimes also referred to as Special Needs) is used in reference to students who have significant difficulties in the acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills and need extra assistance with schooling. This is a large heterogeneous group. Another more specific term is “Learning Disabilities” that refers to the small sub-group of students who exhibit severe and unexplained problems. This chapter presents a report on an investigation, framed by the use of actor-network theory, of how the use of Information and Communications Technologies can aid in improving the education of students with Learning Disabilities. The study involved case studies and participant observation of the use of ICT in two outer Melbourne suburban Special Schools and an investigation of the impact of Education Department policies on these school environments. Research at the two Special Schools revealed that use of Information and Communications Technologies can have a very beneficial impact on these students by improving their self-esteem and facilitating their acquisition of useful life skills.
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Special Needs Schools

In Australia, and around the world, there are a significant number of primary and secondary school students with Learning Disabilities, otherwise also known as Special Needs. These students require some assistance and support in their learning. There are over 100 Special Needs Schools in Victoria and over 1,200 in Australia (Australian Schools Directory 2011). An analysis revealed over 1,000 special schools in various categories, including Learning Difficulties/disabilities of general nature, intellectual and physical – ranging from mild to physical and severe Learning Difficulties. Table 1 below provides the various categories that can be found in the directory of Special Needs Schools.

Table 1.
Summary of Special Needs categories (Australian Schools Directory 2011)
General DisabilitiesIntellectual Disabilities/Autism
Hearing ImpairedLearning Difficulties
English LearningModerate to High Needs
Distance EducationMultiple Disabilities
AutisticPhysical Disabilities
Emotional BehaviourSpeech / Language Disorders
High NeedsVision Impaired
Intellectual DisabilitiesYoung Mothers

Although policies have existed for several decades to integrate students with Learning Difficulties into the mainstream classroom, this has not always provided the best learning environment for all these students (Johnson, Gersten and Carmine 1998) and this contention is supported by more recent work from Shaw, Grimes and Bulman (2005). The literature provides many examples where the demands of the students in this category could not be catered for in an adequate manner in mainstream classrooms (for example Klinger (1998) and Zigmond (1995)). In the USA many students with Learning Disabilities do attend mainstream classrooms, but most of the research on Learning Difficulties which has discussed this environment produces findings that clearly indicate that the needs of these students are not being adequately met (MacMillan and Hendrick 1993). In Europe and the UK similar learning platforms and standards exist for Special Needs students, and these are referred to there as Special Needs Education (SNE). However, in the UK, there has been strong interest to establish an understanding and recognition of the rights and privileges of Special Needs students (Riddell and Watson 2003; Shakespeare 1999).

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