The rapid shift to remote teaching and learning necessitated by the global COVID19 pandemic exposed areas of significant need in VET schools, especially in those who are targeting students with disabilities and fewer opportunities. It has underscored previously unknown or poorly understood gaps in equity, access, tools, and infrastructure but as well in the VET educators of this underrepresented group. VET educators had to accelerate technology implementation plans and their own professional development to move their teaching online, while simultaneously building educators and students capacity to use technology. Of equal importance was the need to ensure that students with disabilities had the supports necessary to work remotely from home.
The European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education sends the message “Preventing school failure involves developing an inclusive system where all learners-including those at risk of failure and most vulnerable to exclusion-receive a high-quality education” (https://www.european-agency.org/). By 2020, 1/5 of the EU population is expected to have some form of disability. The most current and accurate estimate points at over 100 million persons with disabilities living in the EU, which includes 99 million persons according to the EU-SILC survey of 2016 (Eurostat, ISSN 2443-8219). Unemployment rate of people with disabilities in EU was 18,6% in 2018; in Greece and Spain this rate reached 32,8% in contrast of 16,7% in Italy (www.disability-europe.net). RNM in November 2017 amended its 2009 Law on Social Protection. This was the result of a long overdue process of reform aimed inter alia at improving the social protection of people with disabilities (ESPN Flash Report 2019/40).
Keeping an eye on issues of equity in remote learning environments can seem overwhelming, particularly when moving teaching and learning from the classroom to an online platform, mostly for VET students with disabilities. During this time of transition, ensuring equity for students with disabilities involves ensuring that all digital materials and platforms are accessible & work with the assistive technology tools available to students. The areas of education and training where students with disabilities can thrive differ significantly from those of mainstream students. Thus, SOIL project is focusing on a training area that has been proven beneficial for students’ skills and competences development and at the same develops a digital suite of educational tools that will ease VET educators’ job, as well keep students engaged.
SOIL is seeking to prevent social exclusion of VET students with disabilities from COVID19 outbreak. It has been proven that gardening & therapeutic horticulture are practices that help the inclusion of marginalised groups. Creating and maintaining flower and vegetable gardens has long been recognized as being therapeutic and is now being widely embraced as a tool to help students with special needs develop skills necessary to enjoy all of the positive paybacks that come with being in nature. It provides a source of exercise, friendship, stimulation and relaxation and moreover it helps to the development of diverse skills (communication and social skills, confidence, physical ability, knowledge, enjoyment, etc).
SOIL target groups are:
- VET students with disabilities and fewer opportunities who are enrolled in a VET schools’ curriculum. We focus on this target group of VET students with disabilities are undoubtedly among the most vulnerable at risk of educational exclusion during COVID19 outbreak. There is a great need for them to continue their VET education as this is the channel through which they achieve personal development and participation into the community;
- VET trainers and educators who have found themselves amid a significant need to transfer their teaching curriculum online with the use of digital tools which have to correspond to the augmented needs of their students with disabilities. The online learning environments require them to demonstrate high quality digital delivery skills &confidence in using web conferencing solutions.
SOIL objectives and needs identified concern all the countries involved. The partnership has a European interregional character with organizations coming from countries at different stages of development relevant to our target groups, with distinct geographical, social, cultural and economic perspective. This diversity facilitates the exchange of ideas and existing knowledge but most important enriches the added-value of gardening as an education and social cohesion tool. The synthesis of partners will result in further internationalization of VET trainers and schools activities to foster digitaisation in their curricula. The current challenge is to design tools that alleviate the negative impacts in the short term and help identify new opportunities in the medium term for different actors engaged in the VET education of people with disabilities.
SOIL project lies under the Horizontal priority of innovative practices in a digital era as it aims to develop a digital suite of education tools that will equip the VET education and training system of students with special needs and fewer opportunities to face the challenges presented by the recent sift to online and distance learning.
There is no doubt that students with disabilities and fewer opportunities present a challenge for VET teachers when it comes to the use of digital tools and methodologies for their education and training. How to meet the needs of all students-including those with significant disabilities-is among the most challenging issues facing VET schools attempting to serve all students via remote learning.
Gaze to the future, but act in the present! This is the basis on which SOIL project is developed; SOIL includes outputs and results that promote innovative pedagogies and methods for teaching, learning and assessment that support VET educators and learners to use digital technologies in a creative, collaborative and efficient way. SOIL priority is to support VET educational and training centers to take up digital technologies as set out in the European Framework for Digitally Competent Educational Organisations (https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/digcomporg) and the Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027.
COVID19 outbreak put emphasis on the need for VET educational centers to review their strategies in order to integrate digital technologies in their teaching, learning and organisational practices. SOIL is addressing the need to reinforce the ability of education and training institutions to provide high quality, inclusive digital education. In the project we are planning to work on building up the capacities of VET teachers and trainers to implement online, blended and distance teaching and learning; to develop digital pedagogical competences and enabling them to deliver high quality inclusive digital education by developing high quality digital content with innovative online resources and tools. Thus, SOIL is responding perfectly to the priority of supporting the uptake of innovative approaches and digital technologies for teaching and learning.
Many young people and adults have learning difficulties in that they struggle with some or all aspects of learning either temporarily or permanently. Their needs must be included in any educational strategy to change and develop vocational education programmes and qualifications for learners with disabilities and other special needs. SOIL project provides VET learners who have disabilities or other special needs with access to relevant, high-quality VET educational digital tools which will enable them to learn effectively and moreover enhance their social inclusion and interaction with other elements of the community. We should not forget that all individuals have the potential to learn and through the SOIL outputs and results will be provided with educational services which enable them to learn as effectively as possible. Moreover, the use of technology can break down barriers in the classroom and out in the world and in SOIL we are planning to use it to foster not only access to digital VET education in digital Gardening but also social inclusion as VET students with disabilities are an are underrepresented group and they are facing differences in relation to the access to digital training. In that way we are answering to the priority of enhancing access to training and qualifications for all.