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Humanistic Approach and Technology: Enhancing Inclusion of Children with Special Needs in the Education System in Israel

Ruth Penn is the retired Head of Division of Special Education, Israel’s Ministry of Education

Any educational policy should be based on a set of values that are cherished by the society or the nation which it serves.

In Israel the special education policy is based upon:

*  Respect for Humankind and Respect for Life

*  Equality

The right to education, from which the right to a special needs education is derived, is one of man's basic rights. It fulfills the principle of equality. It grows directly from the core of man's dignity and the preservation of his humanity.

 

The goals of the education system in Israel are derived from the Law of Compulsory Education, and thus, pertain to all children, including those with special needs. They are:

*  Equal opportunity for all

*  Education towards qualitative and meaningful lives

*  Attitude of respect for all students

*  Acquisition of base of knowledge by all

*  Development of involvement and responsibility

*  Acquisition of judgmental and critical faculties.

There is another very important law in Israel: the Law of Special Education. The goal of the law is to enable the student with special needs to acquire acceptable behavior in society, which will ease his/her participation in society and in the circle of employment. The Ministry of Education took upon itself to design and plan an educational policy and ensure its implementation across the entire education system.  This enables students with special needs to obtain conditions suited to their needs, so that they can realize their visions, abilities and qualities, and participate proactively and significantly in the educational framework and in the community.

New technological developments are a "hot" tool to enable and enhance inclusion of children with special needs in the Israeli school system, K-12. As a matter of fact, Israeli teachers, especially special education teachers, have always been fond of technological inventions and thus have always put them to use in mainstream as well as in special education classes. When the first "Commodore" computer was introduced, it immediately found its way to a special education kindergarten, for children with severe communication disabilities. That was in 1982. It was an instant hit with the children! For the first time in their lives there was a friendly tool that would easily, simply and willingly convey to the world what they wanted to express, but couldn't due to their disability.

The pace of development of new technological tools is astronomical. Every day the world is bombarded with news about new development and inventions. Alert and ingenious teachers find infinite ways to enlist the new technology to their students benefit.

Fifteen years ago, sixty-five Community Support Centers (“Matya”) were established throughout Israel. This body centralizes the support for children with special needs who are studying in educational institutions for which the support center is responsible, both in special education and in mainstream education.

One of its goals is to serve as a library for advanced technological tools. Schools and kindergartens approach the centers in order to borrow expensive technology for the benefit of a student with special needs who is enrolled in that specific school. When the students graduate, or no longer need that tool, or need a newer invention or technology, Matya is there for them.

The teacher's role is to evaluate the depth of the involvement of students with special needs in the educational and social environment in the education system, and to develop a dialogue between students leading to the creation of a society and environment where there is room for everyone.

The learning environment should be designed according to the principles of Quality of Life and Universal Design, which is based on a holistic approach to the environment and relates to all of its components, in order to convey a basis for relating to every individual without labeling him/her. A child with special needs working with an I-pad looks and behaves no different than his/her peer. A television screen that enlarges letters, enable a nearly-blind child to be an equal participant in the class. Any child with special needs can communicate like Stephen Hawking thanks to advanced technological developments.


There are enough inventions to accommodate all disabilities and enable personalized learning. All it takes is a humanistic approach of teachers and a strong belief that all are equal and deserve respect for their human rights. These teachers will educate a new generation. A generation that will relate holistically to the environment; will create new environments without obstacles, suitable to the needs of the entire population; and will discern the unending development of physical, moral, human and cultural environmental adaptation.


A generation like this will not need dividing lines and labeling.  For it, society is a society of proactive people, where everyone can express her or his personal tendencies and abilities. For students who participate in this process, it will be obvious that society is made up of people with different needs.  They will understand naturally, that society and environments must be designed for the needs of all.