Digitalisation and inclusive education: Leaving no one behind in the digital era

To prevent the spreading of COVID-19 pandemic, most governments across the world have taken measures to close schools, resulting in distance learning. During this time, it has become clear that different school realties can impact students’ education and widen existing differences between students even more, which has brought issues of educational justice and equal opportunity to the fore.

While many schools have risen to the challenge and developed effective distance learning forms, others have fallen behind, leaving some learners without access to quality education. Studies have shown that the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the exclusion of students with disabilities from education, showing they are least likely to benefit from distance learning (UN, 2020). Teachers had to adapt to new pedagogical concepts and modes of delivery of teaching for which they either have not been trained in or did not have sufficient guidance or resources on how to include students with disabilities in distance learning.

Responding to this problem, the project “Digitalisation and inclusive education: Leaving no one behind in the digital era” (DigIn), will increase the participation of students with various disabilities in digital education and respond to the “Innovative practices in a digital era” priority by strengthening the profiles of teachers and hence foster social inclusion. The goal is to empower and professionalise teachers from various age groups and different school types not only in the field of digital education but also in inclusive education.

Recognising this need, the proposed project sets out to fill the gap. The project objectives are to:

• Design and implement a teacher training for in-service teachers that will foster teachers’ digital competence and increase their capacity to support students with disabilities in either the inclusive classroom, in a blended learning format or during distance learning.

• Offer the teacher training after the project ends as an online resource for all interested pre-service and in-service teachers.

• Design new techniques and materials for including students with disabilities in digital education, including first-person accounts from teachers, teaching videos and lesson plans and best-practice examples.

• Develop tools that will offer advice and guidance for teachers about the accessibility of existing tools (e.g. communication platforms, learning apps, etc.) based on the Universal-Design for Learning criteria and their pedagogical strategies (Hall, Meyer, & Rose, 2012).

• Evaluate the digital potential and inclusive practices of schools.

To achieve these objectives, the DigIn project is a collaboration between six partners in four countries: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy and North Macedonia. The project partnership consists of three higher educational institutions, a school and two non-governmental organizations working in the field of teacher education. The countries have different educational systems and resources, which allows for different ways to include students with disabilities in digital education under various circumstances to be uncovered. The substantial differences between the participating countries—in terms of the development-stage of inclusive education and experiences with digital education—and the actor constellations—between universities, schools and non-governmental organisations—are essential for the strategic partnership. These differences represent a significant resource for DigIn due to the possibility of comparing, discussing, exchanging and reflecting upon examples and experiences in the field of digital education and inclusive education. Transnational research will be conducted throughout the project.

The intended outcomes are:

1. Teacher training with a total of five modules

2. Best-Practice-Examples Toolkit

3. To(ol)-Check instrument

4. In(novation)-Check instrument

5. One cross country comparison of the digital potential of inclusive schools using the SELFIE tool

6. Case studies (four in total)

7. Five academic publications that will report the finds internationally.