Today, H810 kicks off, my third module in the MAODE master programme of the OU. The title of the module is 'Accessible Online Learning: Supporting Disabled Students'.
The start seems very promising, with an already active tutor group an interesting learning materials (nicely available in epub format). Blogging is heavily encouraged and this first week we are asked to reflect on our context and expectations for the course.
I believe that a qualitatively rich education is an universal right for everyone, not only for the 'average' or 'traditional' learner in developed countries. Not only is education for many the best chance for upward social mobility, it also enriches and empowers people and gives them a sense of achievement and self-fulfilment. In Cambodia development programmes are often geared toward increasing enrolment rates, reducing attrition rates and improving the general quality of education. Learners' special needs are rarely recognized and only but a few NGOs focus on improving educational accessibility for disabled learners.
Online learning offers tremendous potential for learners in developing countries. Open courses, such as those offered by Coursera and EdX have many participants from developing countries, attracted by the prestigious institutions involved and the free admission. MOOCs espouse a completely new educational formula, based on distributed content, networking, participation and self-motivation. However, in all the hype surrounding these developments I've never encountered so far any mention of disabled learners. Do they participate at these courses? Are these course designed for them anyway?
Cambodia has come a long way since the first elections in 1994. Schools have been built, teachers been trained and enrolment rates in basic education been vastly increased. Resources have understandably been focused on getting the basics in order (schools, teachers, books) for traditional learner groups. Understandable as in this way with limited resources a maximum number of learners can be targeted. On the other hand, it also means leaving a considerable number of people out in the cold. Should we as development partners focus on inclusive education, even if it means that a lower total number of people will be targeted? Inclusive education means expanding educational opportunities for all learners, including disabled learners, learners with learning difficulties, and learners from minority groups.
I'm looking forward to learn more about what improving accessibility can mean for these various groups of learners. How they can cope with the educational challenges thrown at them. How instructional design can be used to develop inclusive course materials. And how, in Cambodia, we can improve opportunities to those who still fall through the (wide) mazes of the educational net.