Over the last couple of years it has proven to be increasingly difficult for children with special needs to gain entry into international schools. Those who do get in often find support services very limited. As a group of educational consultants based in Singapore, it was difficult to sit back and watch this happen. There just has to be a better way, we thought.
In what was initially a intended as a “holding plan” until we could get students into “proper schools,” we ventured into the new world of online learning. We connected with the K12 International Academy, an accredited online private school program of K12.com, and together worked to train our inclusion support staff to facilitate the K12 online program in our center.
Based on our experiences with online learning as an option for children with special needs, we found this type of educational alternative may very well exceed the quality of instruction offered in brick and mortar, mainstream international schools. The key reasons are listed below:
- International schools are selective. Mainstream international schools often have discriminating admissions standards for children with learning concerns. The online program solves this issue because nearly all children gain admission. If siblings attend other schools, the online program can accommodate any holiday schedule.
- International schools offer limited learning support. Let’s face it. Even for those children admitted to international schools, very few can consistently plan, deliver and maintain a model of individualized programming that is at acceptable and appropriate levels. With online schooling (facilitated by trained learning coaches in our learning center) student needs, learning styles, behavioral trends and motivators are regularly accounted for.
International schools have minimal differentiated practices. Although international schools can boast cultural diversity, very few of them cater to diverse learning styles. Differentiated instruction is critical in heterogeneous classrooms. However, as we have seen, these techniques do not seem to be implemented as often or comprehensively as necessary. The supported online learning model we have developed over the past couple of years with K12 has afforded a unique opportunity to truly differentiate for each and every child according to her academic, social and emotional needs. Individualized programs are developed for the child as opposed to fitting a child into a school’s “one size fits all” curriculum. One-to-one facilitation allows for individualized learning, yet with more than a dozen children working on their own K12 programs in our center, we can implement social skills activities: common break/lunch times, morning meeting activities and drama/PE classes, to name a few.
- Expats are transient. Students often move from country to country, forcing them to start the process of admissions, advocacy and programming over again in each new international school community. By taking advantage of the mobile aspect of K12, the child can complete the curriculum from anywhere, thus reducing the transitional challenges associated with moving with a child with learning needs.
- The “learning support” label is removed. Unfortunately for students in the international school world, if a child requires assistance in school, this label follows him, making it a continual challenge to be accepted and accommodated in each new location. Because K12 is an accredited international school there is no label associated with enrolling in such a program. Students aren’t identified with the “learning support” tag in their transcripts and are in fact able to prove just how successful they can be when taught in ways they learn best.
We know that when a child is accommodated for appropriately, she can achieve at or beyond what is expected. When she is educated in a caring, safe environment without the stigma of being “different” than everyone else, anxiety is reduced and more learning occurs. Firsthand observation indicates kids are achieving more–and at a quicker pace–than if they were educated in brick and mortar international school. Because our model is a one–to-one ratio, each child gets incredible attention and support, alongside a focus on independence and skill building.
There is no doubt online learning is growing at tremendous rates, and is the future of education. Children currently enrolled in this “Learning Coach” program are actually part of this trail-blazing phenomenon that is changing education. How about that? Kids who are currently excluded from the mainstream may well end up redefining it.
Carrie Lupoli, a US-certified and experienced special educator and school administrator, has been living and working internationally since 2005. Originally an expat wife herself, she saw the discriminatory practices against children with special needs and knew she had both the experience and knowledge to help. Although starting Live and Learn meant giving up her “expat coffee mornings,” Carrie has never looked back and continues to oversee the company remotely from her newest expat assignment, in Northern Europe.
Though Carrie is now working remotely, she remains very active with Live and Learn, consulting with European and Asian schools, parenting two beautiful daughters and writing. To learn more about Carrie and Live and Learn, please visit http://www.liveandlearnasia.com.