Digital technology should be prioritised in schools for pupils with learning disabilities

Digital technology should be prioritised in schools for pupils with severe intellectual disabilities.

That’s according to the deputy principal of the Rusthof School for learners with special educational needs, Dr Zelda Botha, who recently obtained her doctorate in educational support at Stellenbosch University.

Botha’s research focused on the role that digital technology can play in promoting skills development for pupils with severe intellectual disabilities.

As part of her study, Botha asked teaching staff and a speech therapist at a Western Cape school for pupils with severe intellectual disabilities to complete an online questionnaire.

She also held focus group discussions and individual interviews with them to determine how often they used digital technology in the classroom and how many years of experience they had in using it.

Botha said she chose the specific school because it was the only one for pupils with severe intellectual disabilities in the province where teachers and pupils used digital technology.

The school is also one of five in the Western Cape equipped with basic digital technology as part of the smart classroom project.

Botha’s research revealed that digital technology in the teaching of pupils with severe intellectual disabilities helped with the development of skills they need to function optimally in the workplace, at home and in society, and also to be independent and spend their free time meaningfully.

“Digital technology with visual illustrations, actions and movements makes skills development attractive and interesting for these learners. The use of interesting and interactive software leads to a higher level of involvement [active participation] in various activities and skills learned.

“Because digital technology accommodates learners’ different learning styles such as visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles, learners can be more successful. They are less anxious and frustrated and experience a greater sense of accomplishment and enjoyment.

“The application of digital technology in the classroom improves these learners’ thinking skills, creativity and their ability to solve and communicate problems,” Botha said.

She said pupils would, on a personal level, be able to apply their functional skills in their everyday routines, household tasks, work routines, productivity and partially independent functioning.

“Though some educators were initially sceptical about the use of digital technology for learners with severe intellectual disabilities, they became more confident through the regular use of the devices and applications and were enthusiastic about sharing the success of the learners,” said Botha.

“Educators need ongoing training and support to be able to use digital technology effectively and to fully support learners’ participation. The use of digital technology as a tool for teaching and learning should be part of pre-service and in-service training programmes because it will equip teachers in special schools to teach with confidence.”