In 2014, Logicify developed an online educational platform aimed at enhancing inclusive e-learning in the former USSR republics. This turned out to be our first EdTech solution, which eventually shaped our expertise field and determined one of the core areas of our activity – developing custom software for educational needs.
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Challenges of Inclusive Education: Global Perspective
No breaking news, no surprise: inclusive education faces numerous challenges globally. But the extent of the problem in post-soviet states is simply jaw-slackening for many EU and American citizens. Though ex-members of the USSR did sign and ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the vast majority of disabled children in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine are still devoid of the opportunity to learn in the mainstream classroom with other kids.
Worldwide, despite enormous progress 18 years after the Millennium Development Goal, requiring all children to complete a full course of primary schooling, millions of girls and boys still remain beyond literacy and numeracy pales. The situation indeed gets horrific when it comes to children with disabilities. Though there are no accurate statistics, in developing countries, less than 10% of children with disabilities attend school, and less than 1% of children complete primary education.
Traditional learning methods in pre-K and elementary schools are not generally accessible for children in post-soviet states due to lack of transport and physical accessibility infrastructure. To make the things worse, neither teachers nor parents know how to adjust standard curricula per inclusive education patterns. Other obstacles facing children with disabilities are negative attitudes among classmates, parents and teachers, high tuition fees, lack of accessible schools and long distances to them.
Here you go with some pallid statistics: UNICEF estimates in 2017 suggested that there were at least 93 million children with mental, physical or sensory disabilities in the world. Though there is no precise data on the exact number of children with disabilities in former USSR, it could roughly be defined as 5 million, approximately 3,5% of the total child population. ⅓ of these 5 million is out of school. These kids are denied the ability to make friends, learn to read and write, and master most of the skills we apply in day-to-day life. They are excluded from school life and – as a direct consequence – from the society at large.
The Idea of Eltiland
The first EdTech project we completed for one of our clients became known as Eltiland. It was aimed at enhancing inclusive e-learning at home and abroad. Back in 2012, when we endeavoured it, Logicify team had little to no idea about implementation of educational projects. But the main idea of Eltiland - bridging the gap between children with disabilities, their parents and tutors by a single online educational platform - sounded like a great social initiative worth trying.
Eventually, the project made a mark not only in domestic inclusive learning classroom but in Logicify area of expertise. Since the day Eltiland was officially released for general public, we managed to successfully complete a few more projects in educational technologies and gain solid experience in the industry.
Eltiland came out at the right time and place as there was an acute need to crowdsource a learning-oriented platform for teachers, parents and, of course, children. It worked out as a hub for everyone involved to get educational materials and, on the other hand, for the teachers to advance their training. The library with educational materials has been growing up like a beanstalk.
Behind the scene, the client launched a massive methodological campaign for nurseries, kindergartens, educational establishments and other facilities to engage in building the project and piling the database of materials. This way, we were advised that the sense of literacy was quite broad: some kids need visual bridges, such as photos and pictures, to become literate, while others require to touch the words, physically placing them in sentences like pieces in a puzzle. Others need to sign or draw concepts and words or hear musical sounds in order to capture their meaning. Each path to literacy called for a variety of materials on the platform.
So, Logicify took on custom software development for Eltiland in 2012. We started from scratch and applied fixed-scope approach for the project. All the requirements and specifications were outlined shortly, and the dedicated team from Logicify side comprised 6 people. Initially, the platform was aimed mostly at inclusive distance e-learning, so, after the first sprint, it had corresponding functionality to allow users build their own education courses, enroll groups and communicate with their members via a messenger. We have chosen Java as the main technology and used such frameworks as Apache Wicket, Spring, as well as Hibernate. The database was built using PostgreSQL on Tomcat server.
After a few months, the project’s focus shifted to sharing content – arranging, publishing, and managing educational materials for teachers and parents – so we used Brix CMS to create the library and fill it with the relevant content. Brix is mostly written in Java, and, at that time, it was the only Wicket-based CMS framework available. To ease navigation in the database, we used ElasticSearch for title- and full-text search per record types (document, presentation, picture, video) and pre-defined tags in material collections. To make the search even more sophisticated and accurate, we also added faceted navigation for text and visual materials.
A few custom modules were added to Brix CMS to make user interaction even more convenient. We added a contact form and a forum for teachers and parents to discuss their accomplishments and challenges in real-time. When the contributors of the platform came up with an idea of sharing the gained experience during webinars, we integrated Eltiland with the webinars and conference service. In-built functionality from Webinar.ru, based on HTML5 and WebRTC technologies, allowed users to register and pay for webinars online via Assist. The platform also allowed for these seminars to be recorded online.
Social Impact of the Project
There is still a long way to campaign for promoting inclusive education for all disabled learners, especially in developing countries. Though domestically the struggle for inclusive education continues, with the help of Eltiland, we were able to get thousands of pre-school and elementary-school teachers trained on including children with disabilities into a mainstream class.
Though Eltiland web app was the first EdTech product of this kind implemented by Logicify for Eltiland, we competently nailed it. After 2,5 years of active development, we created a one-of-a-kind solution uniting children, parents, educators, pediatric psychologists, speech pathologists, and other specialists with the aim of promoting inclusive education. Since the time Eltiland was publicly released, it gave thousands of children with disabilities a chance to enroll in a traditional school and made a lifelong impact on their learning, achievements and employment opportunities. Logicify is proud of having helped these children to enjoy fundamental human rights without discrimination and of promoting inclusive learning in developing countries.
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