Children with special learning needs continue to require attention worldwide. The U.S. has moved from a policy of isolating such students in special-education classes and schools to one of mainstreaming, which integrates them with students in general classrooms. Since 2000, this philosophy has been strongly endorsed by Unesco’s Education for All initiative, which affirms that education is not only a “fundamental right” for all children but that “all children have the right to learn together.” The goal by 2015 is to provide every child in the world with a primary education. Until recently, educational opportunities for learning-challenged students have lagged. But now new digital technology solutions for mainstreaming special-needs students have come to the fore.
One such program, from Kurzweil Education, a division of Cambrium Learning Group Inc., is Kurzweil 3000-Firefly, educational software that, as Richard Flower, director of international sales, puts it, “allows students to read, understand, and demonstrate their knowledge” within one intuitive environment. The program includes a cloud-based central library giving access to curricula, anytime, anywhere, on a variety of different devices.
Part of what makes the program effective, says Debby Frohbieter, marketing project manager, is that “no adjustments need to be made to the curriculum.... Special-needs students use Firefly to keep up with their classmates.” A key element of this, as Flower points out, is for students to be able to “show what they know.” A dyslexic student who has learned using technology-based tools will not have a level playing field if a test is only paper-based.
Firefly, which launched in the U.S. two years ago and was primarily marketed to K–12 schools, school districts, and parents, is being introduced into Europe with a new iOS version and applications in a variety of languages, including French, German, and Italian. In addition, Kurzweil Education recently announced that Sensotec, Kurzweil Education’s partner in Belgium, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Jordan Education Initiative, a nonprofit started by Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, to pilot Firefly in four Jordanian schools. The one-year program, which begins this month, will allow a deeper understanding of how Kurzweil software can enhance Jordanian students’ English skills. A results-based evaluation will serve as a proof of concept for the prototype. Efforts are also underway in other Middle Eastern countries and in South Africa to find strategic partners that can take the program to the level required by each market.
Jim Lichtenberg is president of Lightspeed LLC, a New York City–based consulting firm.