The education of all children, including children with special educational needs, was forced to transform from regular classes to online learning due to the challenges of the pandemic global crisis. The association for assistive technology – “Open the window” responded to this challenge by setting up a free online learning support platform for children with special educational needs, the Online Service, which is financially supported by UNICEF.
The platform delivers four types of services for children with special educational needs, namely, individualized support for computer and internet use; early developmental stimulation; speech therapy services and counseling support for parents / guardians. The services are based on person-centered approach and are aimed at improving the personal development of the children. Since the launch of the platform in April 2020 until today, it has registered 236 students with disabilities who receive regular support. Of these, 107 receive speech therapy support and 129 special education support in learning. The total number of hours given so far is 7019 and this number is growing daily. The support of the platform is offered in three languages, Macedonian, Albanian and Turkish, and the users are residents of all cities and rural areas on the territory of our country.
Krenar Qoku, Public Relations and Fundraising Officer and Online service operator at the platform, said: “We started the Online service with a dose of fear due to the fact that online learning before the pandemic crisis was still an unknown process in our educational practice. Within a month, over 100 users signed up for the platform, which was our first success indicator that we received from the project. As the number of students grew, so did the number of special educators in our association in order to meet the needs of every family that requested support from the platform. Especially important is the fact that through this platform, children with special educational needs are enabled to study at home, who due to their health condition avoid and refuse to leave home or to have any physical contact with other people. Also, through online learning, we connected with children from the most isolated areas in Macedonia in which students not only do not have the opportunity to be served by a special educator, rehabilitator or speech therapist nearby but also do not have a satisfactory infrastructure for transport in winter conditions. Such achievements and the interest of families to include their children in our platform are a clear indication to us that technological development and online learning can contribute greatly to the process of building an inclusive society.”
The special educators included on the platform stated:
“Speech therapy support through the Online Service platform has been a success story for us speech therapists for a year and a half, but also for the many families involved in this project. Thanks to the creative digital tools, the continuous communication with the parents and the work with the children, the first words were heard in a lot of children and we also improved the communication ability of those who spoke, but had difficulty with articulation or grammar in pronunciation. This powerful digital tool is the reason for receiving everyday sincere and warm smiles from children and words of praise from their parents”.
Dragana Simjanovska, clinical speech therapist
“Every child needs a little help, a little hope and someone who they can trust. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic period complicates the education and day-to-day activities of children with disabilities and their parents, but our commitment and readiness for distance teaching have broken down every barrier, resulting in great success”.
Nermin Shaqiri, clinical speech therapist
“Participation in the UNICEF project has brought me a very dynamic everyday life, but it is a great pleasure to work with a team that is fully committed to achieving the common goal. We try to reach as many parents and children who need our help. Although the pandemic brought unexpected challenges, I made many new acquaintances on this platform and with our work we make daily progress and positive changes in the development and education of children”.
Dance Todorovska, special educator.
If you want to learn more about the Online Service, please click on the link below: https://servisnasluzba.mk/