A new high-tech wing at the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) School in Clontarf, Dublin, which will enhance the learning environment of students with disabilities, was officially opened this morning by Education Minister Mary Hanafin TD.
Funded by the Department of Education and the CRC, the new project includes five specialist classrooms designed for children with special needs, a music room, art room and an independent living unit. All of the new classrooms contain special adaptive features that enhance accessibility for the students’ special needs. As part of the building programme a number of the existing classrooms were also refurbished.
The expanded school is home to a unique technology project called Inclusive Learning through Technology (ILT), which was also launched by the minister today. The ILT project incorporates a new learning philosophy, based on the CoRT and the Six Thinking Hats philosophies of thinking-guru Edward de Bono, with supporting computer technology tools to classes within the junior and senior streams. Billed as one of the first pioneering projects of its type worldwide, ILT is led by the CRC School, its partner school, St Gabriel’s in Limerick, the McMahan Centre in the US – a charity active in this area – and Dell Ireland.
In the initial pilot phase of the programme, 21 students aged between eight and 18 are using Dell wireless notebook computers combined with specialist instructional educational technology and specialist software. In the new environment, students are invited to become active participants in the learning experience by questioning and thinking in a structured way.
At history class, for example, students might listen to video clips on World War 2 and then organise the chronological order of historical milestones by physically touching the dates on an interactive white board, positioned at the front of the classroom. The students can write, delete and manipulate toolbars, text and pictures by touching the screen. At the outset of each class, the teacher decides what is core and needs to be learnt by all students and then highlights additional optional information. Students are encouraged to break into smaller groups to continue learning at their own pace. Both schools use multimedia to enhance the learning experience and communicate regularly via video link.
Additional funding has been secured to further expand the programme based on the success of the initial pilot phase of the programme.
At the opening, Patricia McCrossan, principal of the CRC School, said: “We are delighted that the school building programme is complete. It has not only increased the range of facilities available to our students but has also improved the overall learning environment … The feedback from students and teachers has been extremely positive and the substantial progress made by the children on this programme presents a strong case for rolling out this initiative more broadly in all schools,” she said.
Speaking at the launch of the ILT, Ger Craddock, manager of client technical services at CRC, said: “This project is truly the first of its type in Ireland and indeed one of the first worldwide. The new approach to learning combined with the technology tools has helped to open up a new world of thinking for the students involved.”
By Brian Skelly