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INCLUSIVE EDUCATION FOR YOUTH WITH DISABILITIES: EXPLORING THE ONLINE LEARNING MODEL

All recent findings by international bodies concerned with youth affairs confirm that the number of youth is increasing tremendously. The most worrying issue on these findings is that the majority of these youth fail to get their basic human
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  9 th  C  ommonwealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting, July, 2017   Page 1 INCLUSIVE EDUCATION FOR YOUTH WITH DISABILITIES: EXPLORING THE ONLINE LEARNING MODEL By Prince Wasajja James Kiwanuka, Ph.D President, Royal Open University- (Uganda) president@royaluniversity.ac.ug  Abstract All recent findings by international bodies concerned with youth affairs confirm that the number of youth is increasing tremendously. The most worrying issue on these findings is that the majority of these youth fail to get their basic human rights/needs hence being rendered vulnerable and unproductive. The situation has become even worse for the youth with disabilities. This paper presents the current status of youth in higher education, with focus on the youth with disability. It highlights how inclusive education has helped in formulation of educational materials that considers their differences. This paper then proposes a formal model based on the current rampant innovations in ICT, media and telecommunications that can answer the education problem among the youth, most especially, those with disabilities. Key words; Youth with Disabilities,Inclusive Education, Online Leaning, ICT Innovations Introduction Education is central to development and to the improvement of the lives of young people globally, and as such has been identified as a priority area in internationally agreed development goals and World Programme of Action for Youth. Education is important in eradicating poverty and hunger, and in promoting sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth and sustainable development. Increased efforts towards education accessibility, quality and affordability are central to global development efforts. Yet children with disabilities have lower probability of entering school as well as staying and advancing in school as children without disabilities (World Health Organisation and the World Bank, 2011). By the time they enter adolescence, many youth with disabilities run risk of being illiterate, leading to restricted opportunities for further education, employment, and income generation (Eide&Kamaleri, 2009; Singal, Bhatti& Malik, 2011) The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognizes the importance of ensuring that all persons with disabilities, irrespective of age, enjoy the same  9 th  C  ommonwealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting, July, 2017   Page 2 human rights as everyone else and provides a framework for legal, civic, and socioeconomic empowerment ( Hitchcock, 2001)  Innovations in ICT have been suggested in this paper to ensure smooth transition to an inclusive model of service delivery among youth, without discrimination. We live in a time of rapid technological advancement, with innovations in education holding great promise for improving teaching and learning, particularly for students with unique needs. High-quality online educational materials, tools, and resources offer students relevant, up-todate, and innovative ways to acquire knowledge and skills. Technology-rich learning environments, supported by digital materials, are appealing to today's students and teachers who wish to use the transition to online learning as a way to personalize and otherwise improve instruction. The major purpose of this paper is to explore how youth with disabilities in the Commonwealth can acquire higher education through harnessing the opportunities availed by ICT and innovations to bypass marginalization based on their disabilities and economic background. Youth and Education The number of youth in the world is greatly increasing. According to the UN Office of the Secretary –   General’s Envoy on Youth, there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24. This is the largest youth population ever. Most of these are concentrated in developing count  ries. In fact, the world’s 48 least developed countries, children or adolescents make up a majority of the population. The new joint report from UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Global Education Monitoring showed that 142 million youth between the ages 15-17 are not in school. The report revealed that ofthe regions, sub-Saharan Africa as the highest rates of exclusion. According to World Bank, 225 million youth, or 20% of all youth in the developing world are not in education, employment or training. The UNDP Human Development Report also revealed that, worldwide, 103 million young people (ages 15-24) are illiterate. W hile the UNICEF report states that “ensuring basic literacy and numeracy s kills for young people in low-income counties could lift 11 million people out of poverty, resulting in a 12% cut in global poverty. United Nations estimates suggest that there are between 180 and 220 million youth with disabilities worldwide and nearly 80% of them are in developing countries (Groce, 2003; Roggero, Tarricone, Nicole &Mangiaterra, 2005; United Nations 1990)  9 th  C  ommonwealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting, July, 2017   Page 3 Inclusive Education All students, irrespective of their sex, race, color, ethnic or social srcin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability have the right to have equal opportunity in education ( Browder, & Cooper-Duffy, 2003 ), and to be considered as being an integral part of the learning community. Recognition of this right has recently given rise to the concept of “inclusion”, which has gradually substituted that of “integration” . Throughout the 1980s, the concep t of integration was, in fact, based on the distinction between “normal” students and those with special needs (thus requiring specific educational interventions); the idea of integration suggests that the school stays the same but takes steps to accept also those students who present a variety of problems or difficulties (Northway, 1997). Inclusion is actually a much stronger concept which refers to “the right to belong to the mainstream”; leaving behind the idea that only few learners have “special needs” , the social model of inclusion rather suggests that all students as individual learners present their own peculiar characteristics and have their own specific educational needs. “Inclusive education - according to UNESCO - means that the school can provide a good education to all pupils/students irrespective of their varying abilities. All children will be treated with respect and ensured equal opportunities to learn together. Inclusive education is an on-going process. Teachers must work actively and deliberately to reach its goals”.  Inclusion should, then, be regarded as a long-lasting process which requires time, effort, competence and strong conviction by all those involved in students’  education, first and foremost, by teachers. From this perspective, ICT resources are promising; there are grounds for maintaining that they help most students overcome barriers to learning, thus increasing their school achievement, together with their autonomy, willingness and self-esteem. Indeed, educational research provides strong evidence that: “ ICT is both a medium and a powerful tool in supporting inclusive practice. It provides wide-ranging support for communication, assisting many learners to engage with learning, including those who are hard to reach, and helps to break down some of the barriers that lead to under-achievement and educational exclusion” (Becta, 2007).  The online learning model conforms to the ‘Universal Design for Learning’ w  here all categories of people, with all their individual differences can acquire education easily and cheaply.   9 th  C  ommonwealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting, July, 2017   Page 4 Universal Design for Learning The term "universal design" means a concept or philosophy for designing and delivering products and services that are usable by people with the widest possible range of functional capabilities, which include products and services that are directly usable (without requiring assistive technologies) and products and services that are made usable with assistive technologies. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides for the development of accessible learning materials that recognize and account for the needs of all students at the outset. UDL includes the foundational concept of "universal design" described above and establishes the following three primary principles for curricula development: 1. Provide multiple means of representation, presenting information and content in different ways; 2. Provide multiple means of action and expression so that all students can demonstrate and express what they know; and 3. Provide multiple means of engagement, stimulating interest and motivation for learning A prominent feature of Online learning environments is the ability to present content in multiple ways — one of the major principles of universal design for learning (UDL; Rose & Meyer, 2002). The combination of audio, video, text, and other means to convey meaning has the potential to provide students, with a range of abilities and disabilities, greater access to curricula and learning opportunities and additional ways to demonstrate their understanding when multiple options for student expression are made available (Bruce et al., 2013). With more immediate access to student performance data, teachers can customize the pace and focus of instruction to best meet students’ unique learning needs (Bienkowski, Feng, & Means, 2012). Inclusive Education and the Commonwealth In 2006, the United Nations advanced the development agenda by agreeing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). In 2007, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala, it was agreed to implement this Convention throughout the Commonwealth. Already more than half the nations of the world have ratified the Convention and 80 per cent have signed it. The task now is to ensure implementation of its provisions. In the Commonwealth Guide to Inclusive Education, Richard Rieser wrote about the disabled youth (aged 16-25) who voiced their grievances in the UN Convention and later  9 th  C  ommonwealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting, July, 2017   Page 5 presented to the ad hoc committee in New York. It included groups in nine Commonwealth countries –  India, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland. Two hundred and twenty-two young people took part in the focus groups and were asked to identify the five areas which were most significant in their lives. The right to education was among the top three issues in 75 per cent of groups. Discussion on ‘access to education’ overlapped with ‘communication’ and ‘negative attitudes’.”   The Proposed Commonwealth Model for Youth with disabilities through Online Learning In June 2015, the Commonwealth Secretariat organised an e-discussion through the recently launched knowledge service - The Commonwealth Education Hub. This was a precursor to the 19 Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) which was held in the Bahamas, 2015. The discussion highlighted that the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) will be central to learning at all levels in future and that educational models will change dramatically as a result. Policy-makers and educators alike will need to adapt to support this change, focusing in particular on - broadband provision, educator training, higher-education business models, and ICT policy integration. Exactly six months later, in her Opening Address during the115th anniversary celebrations of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization, the Commonwealth Secretary General said that; “ In celebrating and building on the rich global diversity of our member states, the Commonwealth makes a distinctive practical contribution through inclusive networks for mutual support, developing opportunities and safeguarding rights for all. All Commonwealth citizens have the right to enjoy the benefits of ICTs, regardless of their country’s size or endowment.”  She said that the advance in telecommunications have revolutionised the way we work, learn and connect, and Commonwealth (Telecommunication Organisation) has been an advocate and guiding hand for the practical benefits of new communications technology since the dawn of the 20th century. It is without doubt that the cost associated with going to college and obtaining a degree is one of the biggest concerns for our youth today. Many youth solely base their decision on getting an education on the cost associated with a particular school or university. Colleges and universities that offer online degree programs tend to be cheaper than going to a brick-and-mortar university. Those schools that solely specialize in offering online degrees, have fewer expenses to incur; no vast swaths of land, property and buildings to
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