Students with specific learning difficulties (SLD) often feel excluded and misunderstood throughout their school journey, and are subject to early school leaving. The issue lies in school methodologies: with universal learning methods, students are left behind and their potential is un-expressed. To increase social inclusion and decrease early school leaving, students’ needs must be accommodated. The project “Specific Learning Disorders no more! (LEAD!)” precisely aims to empower students with specific learning disorders aged 9-14 years old, to develop the right competencies, through promoting adaptive technologies and their use. The project’s overarching mission is to enable students with SLD to understand their own difficulties and to support them in using adaptive methodologies, to thrive in education. Consequently, students not only learn adaptive ways to read, write, make calculations, but also develop lifelong learning competencies such as learning to learn and being autonomous.
“LEAD!” is a two-year-long Erasmus+ project. Its partnership spans across four European countries – Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Romania – and is composed of: ‘ENFOR, an Italian training and social research organisation; University of Valladolid; the Lifelong Learning Platform, an umbrella for 42 European organizations active in the field of education, training and youth; the schools ‘Istituto Comprensivo 2 Giovanni Paolo II’ of Policoro (Italy) and of the ‘Inspectoratul Școlar din Iași’ (Romania).
The project’s direct target group is students aged 9-14 years old with SLDs, namely dyslexia (difficulty reading), dysgraphia (difficulty writing), dysorthography (difficulty writing and following grammatical rules), dyscalculia (difficulty calculating). Besides teachers and tutors, the project’s indirect target groups include all of the school and not-in-school staff involved with the students with SLD. The indirect beneficiaries are instead the students’ families. The ‘MY SKILLS’ online platform – one of the project’s results – meets the project’s objective of empowering students with SLD and of achieving more inclusive education. The platform guides students in their learning, and, in doing so, provides them with the right competences and increases inclusion in school, as a consequence.
Project Outputs: ‘MY SKILLS’ Platform & Student License
‘MY SKILLS’ is a platform for students to learn compensatory tools for reading, writing, making calculations, and their uses, where teachers can also access student progress. Its content is designed following the European Guidelines of the Validation of Formal and Informal Learning (CEDEFOP). The platform has a twofold advantage: (a) it can be accessed both online and offline, so that learning paths are readily available no matter the context; (b) it encourages the use of information and communication tools, and telematic forms of communication between teachers and students. Towards the end of one’s journey on the platform, students have the opportunity to gain the European license on the use of compensatory instruments. Overall, the project’s two outcomes denote innovation from both a content and digital point of view by embedding compensatory tools for SLD students within the digital world.
At the end of the project, the partners organised multipliers events in each country involved, as well as an international conference in Brussels, entitled: “Achieving inclusive and learner-centred schools”. The conference included an interactive panel discussion with experts (Luisa Lopez, member of the Italian Dyslexia Association, board member of the European Dyslexia Association; Augustin Mihalache, Attaché Education, Permanent Representation of Romania to the European Union; Rachel Vaughan, Head of Operations, EASPD; Erik Ballhausen, Senior officer in EU program management, EACEA). The project’s conference highlighted three main points in relation to the project “LEAD!”: 1. Importance behind inclusive education; 2. Importance behind inclusive communities; 3. Need for evidence-based good practices for inclusive education.
Firstly, embracing diversity is essential, and empathy is key in doing so. “LEAD” reflects how it is important for education to be inclusive, because we all have different learning methods and paths. Students with SLD should be offered the possibility to make use of adaptive technologies when reading, writing, calculating. If not, education is not inclusive because it does not allow equal learning opportunities for all.
Secondly, building learning communities is important to achieve inclusive education. “LEAD” kickstarts the possibility of having an interaction between parents, teachers, and students. Here, just like for teachers, parents can learn from how children learn, and adapt to their needs accordingly. COVID-19 and homeschooling is a good moment to learn how children learn, and we should, therefore, take advantage of it.
Lastly, there is a lack of practices – and, more specifically, of evidence-based ones – that address inclusive education. Drawing on the project “LEAD”, new practices may be added and built upon, to collect a database of practices on inclusive education for students with SLD. Insights into pedagogy are relevant and are impactful to use to establish such good practices.
Overall, the Erasmus+ project “LEAD” stems from a pan-European partnership which aims to increase inclusive education and decrease early school leaving of students with specific learning disorders (SLD). The project’s outcomes – the ‘MY SKILLS’ platform and the resulting student licenses – attempt to empower students with right competencies – both concerning reading, writing, calculating ones and learning- to-learn – to succeed in school. Ultimately, the project’s final conference both re-enforced and shed new light into the need for inclusive, community-centered education, and the creation of evidence-based practices that address inclusive education. The aforementioned points are some of the policy recommendations raised from the data, observations and feedback collected throughout the project, which address policy makers at local, regional, national and EU levels. The conference’s discussion supported how “LEAD!” is the right step towards achieving inclusive education and creating standardized good practices for it.
How do I Access the Platform?
To become more familiar with the ‘MY SKILLS’ platform, have a look at the explanatory video on how the platform works. Both teachers representing a class, and individual students, can sign up. Whereas students wishing to join ‘MY SKILLS’ can select “Student” as a role during the registration process, teachers can ask to have their school involved by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.