Language assistance software aids students with learning disabilities
Asia-Pacific, July 15 2016
THAILAND: Students with learning disabilities are usually unable to write and read Thai words correctly, which hinders their ability to move ahead with their education. In the past, they had to get their teachers to correct their errors for them.
But now, thanks to Thai-language programs such as word search, word prediction, word processing and spell checkers, students with learning disabilities can learn for themselves how to write and read the Thai words correctly, and have fun doing so.
Thiyadaporn Sae-Jea, a Phathom 6 student who was trained to use these programs, said she enjoyed using them to search for new Thai words and learn how to spell, write and pronounce them exactly.
“In the past, I had to ask teachers all the time, but now I can learn the correct spelling and pronunciation by myself. I have learned many new words,” she said.
In Thailand, there are more than 300,000 students with learning disabilities in more than 20,000 schools. Only 5-10 per cent of them have been trained to benefit from language-assistance software. However, this year the government has budgeted Bt60 million to improve that figure.
Under a plan jointly initiated by the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and the Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec), 9,240 teachers and students with learning disabilities in 2,310 schools throughout the country will be trained in the use of these programs.
Chadamas Thuvasethakul, vice president of the NSTDA, said that this year his agency and Obec were working with Srinakharinwirot University, Thammasat University’s Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology, Chiang Mai University and Khon Kaen University to set up learning-improvement camps for training in these programs throughout the country.
Winita Sroipechprapa, a teacher at Klong Ban Prao School in Pathum Thani province, said around 37 of its 813 students had special needs, and more than half of them were students with learning and intellectual disabilities The main problem faced by students with learning disabilities is that they cannot read and write the Thai language.
“If these students cannot spell, they take more time to complete in-class assignments. At our school, students with disabilities learn in the same classes as their friends, so once they get stuck on spelling a word, they cannot complete the sentence and cannot complete the assignment in time,” Winita said.
She said this was a problem not only for Thai-language subjects, but also for science and social studies.
At the school, each classroom has a computer connected to a projector as a tool for the teacher. The school does not have a computer room with these programs, but plans to install language programs in 12 computer units in the library for students to use.
“Our students have been trained [in the language programs] since last year. Now, we have given the programs to students to install on their computers at home. This way, if they cannot complete their assignments in-class, they can do them at home. But in the future, once we have these programs in the computers in the library, they will be able to use them when they are at school,” Winita said.
Permsak Panpai, a teacher at Watsirijandhamram School, said the kindergarten-to-Phathom-6 school had more than 200 students, 20 of whom had special needs, including 12 students with learning disabilities. The school has been using language-assistance software for a year that it has installed in its computer rooms.
Five teachers at the school have been trained to teach students with learning disabilities on these programs.
“These programs can be applied when teaching any subject, since they assist students on how to search for the words they want to use and how to spell them. Therefore, with these programs, students with learning and intellectual disabilities can learn quickly how the words are written and pronounced,” Permsak said.
He added that the students seemed to enjoy learning more, since these programs helped them get past their limited abilities. The language programs give them confidence in how to write and pronounce words.
Piyamas Rodrat, a teacher at Wattaykhoa School, said it was a small school with only 145 students from kindergarten level to Matthayom 3, and had only one teacher to take care of its five special-needs students. Language-assistance computer programs help the teacher a lot.
“Students have been trained in how to use these programs. Previously, students with learning disabilities had problems spelling some words, for example the mark placed over the final consonant of a Thai word to indicate that it is mute. It is very difficult to them. These programs make it easier for students to spell and pronounce the words correctly. Students enjoy learning more,” Piyamas said.
She said these programs had been installed on fewer than 10 terminals in the computer room, which are used by all students, not only those with special needs. The school tries to let its special-needs students use the language-assistance programs for at least one hour a day.
Alisa Suwannara, head of the Assistive Technology Assessment Service Section, Institute of Technology for Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly, National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec), said language-assistance programs had been developed from more than 30,000 words in a database collected from Thai textbooks, news stories, and the NSTDA’s word database.
LD students usually have problems with homophone, and these programs correct the words for them. The programs help improve the ability of students to write and pronounce words correctly.
“We spent two years to developed four [language-assistance] programs as well as doing lab and field tests. These programs have been used in some schools in some provinces since 2013,” Alisa said.
The institute has received a budget of Bt40 million from the Education Ministry, which was used for software licensing and conducting camps to train students with learning disabilities in how to use the programs.