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Inclusive Education: An interview with group moderator Marijana Smolcec

eTwinning has dedicated 2017 to the theme of Inclusion, and in this spirit, we would like to introduce you our featured group on Inclusive Education.

One of the four priorities that the European Commission has set after the Paris Declaration is “fostering the education of disadvantaged children and young people, by ensuring that our education and training systems address their needs”.

eTwinning following its solid commitment to collaboration and communication among teachers and students across Europe has chosen Inclusion as this year’s thematic topic, to galvanise teachers and schools around the subject.

The eTwinning Featured Group Inclusive Education, is aimed at educators that work with students of special needs, learning disabilities, or in some cases gifted students. eTwinning Groups are one of the best ways that teachers can share and exchange with one another. We had the chance to chat to the moderator of the group, Ms Marijana Smolcec a teacher of English from Croatia and ask her some questions. We hope you will find her answers as engaging as we did!

1. From your experience as well as experience from other teachers of your group, how much do you think perceptions have changed among teachers, as well as, parents and pupils towards pupils with learning disabilities or special needs?

I think the perceptions have changed a lot. The teachers are more aware of struggling students or Special Educational Needs students and they are willing to help them achieve their learning goals and be included into mainstream schools but they still need help from the specialized institutions or SEN teachers. Teachers are not always prepared enough to work with inclusive students, so the communication and collaboration between SEN teachers, psychologists, parents and other specialized institutions is very important. However, when there is a lack of such support, teachers usually turn to each other and this is why, I have started the online group where teachers can seek for support, share ideas, lesson plans, and learn from each other.

2. Could you please share with us any tips of how teachers can stimulate and engage pupils with special needs such as autism or learning disabilities like dyslexia, and gain the confidence they need?

From my experience, students with certain learning disabilities can be easily motivated by the use of various web and technology tools in general. There is a wide range of great assistive technology available and in most of the cases, it is freely accessible. We also had several online events within “Inclusive Education” group with experts who presented tools and strategies that teachers can use when teaching struggling students. But most importantly, we need to bear in mind that each student is an individual. If you are teaching SEN or any other struggling student, e.g. dyslexic, ADHD or the autistic student then the first thing is to try to get to know your student well; what interests him, inspires him and what he enjoys doing. These are the things that can help you in creating adaptable and stimulative learning materials. Most of all talk to your students, give them time to express themselves and I am sure this will boost their confidence.

3. How has being an active eTwinner and participating in eTwinning projects contributed to tackling the challenges that an inclusive classroom presents?

Bringing eTwinning into our classroom, we give our students different and motivating ways of learning. Students can more easily build the necessary communicative and digital skills, but also learn about tolerance and cultural diversity.

4. How much has technology and eTwinning contributed in your daily practice as a teacher and how have they assisted teachers who work with special needs pupils?

The answer would be a lot. When teachers start certain projects on eTwinning the first thing they need to answer is how can a project help their students and what would be the benefits. It is not just about how to use a certain web tool, but which goals and learning outcomes can I achieve by using a specific technology? eTwinning definitely helps our students to become more confident, more skillful, to gain great friends but also, to be more tolerant towards different inclusive students and open to multiculturality. I am sure the teachers who mainly teach SEN students in their school would agree with me.

5. How can eTwinning help schools with limited budget towards inclusive education? What do you hope for the future?

eTwinning has been doing a great job so far, offering teachers its networking site to collaborate, exchange ideas within various groups, do projects, invest in their personal development through online events and seminars, but it would be even better to organize more onsite events on inclusion, diversity and multiculturality. Another good example would be job shadowing opportunities, especially for those schools who are new to inclusive education. Witnessing examples of inclusion and talking to teachers who have more experience in inclusive classrooms can be of great help. For the future, I can identify with the motto of the Regional Support for Inclusive Education in South East Europe, which says, “inclusive school is a school where every child is welcome, every parent is involved and every teacher is valued.” I am very glad eTwinning has dedicated 2017 as a year of Inclusion!