Students with Special Education Needs (SEN) have been among the hardest hit groups during the pandemic. While many schools have prioritized bringing SEN children back to in-person learning, ongoing closures have severely affected students learning.
Research studies show that SEN students are amongst those most at risk of regressing significantly amid COVID-related learning loss. In the current crisis, SEN students have been overlooked. They lack the specific support required to meet their needs, and the lack of timely support can have long term consequences.
Now, we need more inclusive school policies that can help overcome the learning slide for SEN students. School leaders should positively influence the school climate of inclusion using policies at different levels to allocate resources for SEN students.
Following recommendations can help schools become more inclusive and provide better support for all students:
We need early intervention for SEN students and to provide that, we should focus on kindergarten and elementary grades. When children in early years receive the right help, we are setting the foundation for lifelong learning and participation while preventing potential delay in development and disabilities.
Schools should have a policy of screening children early for their difficulties. Catching children early and identifying problem areas can prevent delays and disabilities later. It also helps to gather the resources that the students need.
Elementary grade students should be screened for their reading and writing skills regularly, and if they show any learning gaps, they should be placed in reading and spelling programs that can help them catch up with foundation skills.
Schools should have a physical education program for SEN students. This program can significantly help students who suffer with hyperactivity and those with difficulties with concentration. Research studies show exercise creates a sense of wellbeing in children with SEN needs. Physical exercise programs also help reduce problem behavior in children. Movement learning, when incorporated in kindergarten and elementary school, improves children's learning ability.
Having a calming environment at school helps all children with sensory issues. Having neat and uncluttered space across classrooms and corridors helps SEN children to regulate themselves. Multiple recess time also gives children downtime to process.
School meals should be nutritious, consisting of healthy food that is low in sugar and does not include processed food. Providing nutritious meals can help students improve their attention span as food is fuel to the way the brain functions.
A resourced SEN department at school is essential to meet the needs of all students. The SEN departments at school should have a team of specialist that includes psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, social workers who regularly visit the school and their expertise are used to meet the needs of all students.
For SEN students, an inclusive setting means meeting both their academic and social and emotional needs. Including value and character building curriculums for all students is essential to avoid bullying and create a climate of respect, discipline, and inclusion.
In the hybrid and distance learning environment, SEN students do need extra attention and support. Allowing them to work at their own pace and training the students to use technology is needed. Teachers need specific strategies to meet the needs and track the learning of SEN students in distance learning environments.
Continued professional development of teachers in SEN areas helps the teachers to remain informed and be more inclusive in their classrooms. It also helps them provide opportunities to SEN students to participate in the classroom activities and helps teachers balance the everyday needs of all students.
Empowering parents is the most crucial strategy to help students. When parents work in tandem with teachers, the progress we achieve is faster. Skills training for parents, parents support groups and family educational programs organized by schools can go a long way in supporting SEN students.
While much more needs to be done to support all students but most importantly, we need leadership in our schools that focus on inclusive policy for everyone and fosters both a positive and motivating culture and prioritize learning. It would be all for nothing if a group of children in our schools did not receive our attention and support, they needed in most crucial years of their lives.