By Dr. Elka Walsh, National Learning and Skills Lead, Microsoft Canada
Education transforms lives and every child deserves the opportunity to find their love of learning. The world is full of diverse learners, and they deserve access to an education that is inclusive, respectful and supportive of their needs—an education that empowers them to build life skills for future careers, and as our future leaders. School systems around the world still face challenges with implementing the resources and tools required for building an inclusive environment, and this means students still face barriers in accessing the learning they need. If we’re not creating classrooms founded on inclusive learning and offering students of all abilities the same opportunities, what’s the point?
Research shows us that inclusive classrooms provide better opportunities for learning, increase collaboration and participation among students, and create a greater sense of belonging and friendships among peers—all in addition to more student success. The great news is, building inclusive learning environments is entirely possible in today’s educational system with the contributions of parents, students, teachers and technology.
Take the Louis Riel School Division in Winnipeg, Manitoba for example. Two years ago, teachers, students, psychologists and occupational therapists came together to launch the Assistive Technology Pilot Project to change the learning experience of students who have learning disabilities. They leveraged assistive technology to increase student engagement, support mental health and empower academic achievement. Using Microsoft’s Learning Tools, like Immersive Reader and Dictate, they were able to help students overcome individual barriers to their education and as a result, witnessed an increase in self-esteem, autonomy and engagement.
Bringing technology into the classroom and empowering students with access to devices built for educational needs and programs can equal the playing field for all students and make classroom content more accessible for all learners. Our new edition of the Windows 11 operating system, Windows 11 SE, and the lower-cost devices it supports, such as the Surface Laptop SE, bring student-centred learning further into focus and help educators give students the individualized support they need to succeed.
As a mom, I know first-hand that integrating the right technology into learning is just one component of an inclusive education, and that building a truly inclusive environment is not possible without the support and dedication from teachers committed to universal design of learning. Teachers must be inspired and equipped with proper resources and the professional learning they need to teach with technology, and to help students with diverse learning needs thrive.
On the Microsoft Education blog, we offer several free courses to help teachers understand accessibility tools. They’ll also find free documents and templates to create inclusive classroom environments that help every student to learn anywhere. When educators gather in the spirit of serving students, they lay the groundwork for truly inclusive learning. Visit aka.ms/microsoftcanadaeducation to learn more.
Dr. Elka Walsh leads Microsoft’s pan-Canadian education and skills strategy to prepare students to thrive in the digital future as the National Learning & Skills Lead. As a leader in education with over 20 years of experience ranging from executive positions at colleges and polytechnics, to Chief Education and Learning Officer at one of Canada’s largest science centers and as founder of UDiscover Learning Inc., Dr. Walsh has advised provincial and federal governments as well as international organizations on education and skilling strategy and policy, and has published extensively on student success. With an earned reputation for leading innovative change initiatives that result in tangible outcomes, Dr. Walsh holds a PhD and Master’s degree from McMaster University and an Honours Bachelor of Arts from University of Toronto (Victoria) and has taught at Humber College and McMaster University.