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CBSE schools work on re-igniting the passion for reading

Source: Education Times

Reading Mission initiatives aim to make students read more to develop essential communication and soft skills

Educationists say that the trend of students visiting libraries voluntarily for reading beyond course books has been on a decline for a while now. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) organised the ‘CBSE Reading Challenge 3.0’ for students of classes VI to X to reintroduce them to the habit of reading.

About the initiative
Biswajit Saha, director (training and skill education), CBSE, says, “The reading competition is a micro intervention of the larger Reading Mission we had introduced earlier. Recently, we received feedback from across schools that pinpoint to the fact that students are not paying attention to the habit of reading, a phenomenon that needs to be addressed on priority.”

“CBSE plans to introduce more case-based questions in the future, which demand fluency in reading. Students must need to not only understand the questions but be able to answer them precisely and correctly. This is only possible for students who have a habit of reading,” tells Saha adding how the educationists demanded the need to encourage reading habits in schools.

Issues being faced
Jerry George Matthew, principal, Clarence High School, Bengaluru, says that a shift in technology towards more interactive options draws students away from reading a hard-bound book. “Only about 10% students voluntarily visit the library beyond designated periods. The lack of interest in reading is visible in poor vocabulary among students across classes,” he tells.

Father Stanley Ignatius, rector and correspondent, St Bede’s Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School, Dominic Savio Matriculation School and St Bede‘s Academy, Chennai says that about 25% of studens he has observed willingly visits a library. “I often see students struggle while speaking in front of an audience. I attribute this to their lack of reading skills,” he says.

It is the need to take a break from the continuous act of reading and writing during classes that may lead students away from libraries, says Shim Mathew, director, academic operations, and international partnerships, VIBGYOR Group of Schools, Delhi. “Reading helps develop communication skills. Today, students lean towards physical conversations during their break from classes rather than read a book to get a change,” he tells.

Initiatives by schools
“Before the pandemic, we started a programme wherein our librarian would give an age-appropriate book every week to students across classes. During the pandemic, we moved this exercise online with the help of online libraries. The ensuing discussions would reveal that many students took this initiative seriously and enjoyed reading,” tells George Matthew.

Ignatius introduced a programme wherein the last 20 minutes of each day is set aside as reading time for students. “The class teacher would supervise this activity. Further, once every week, students are invited to speak on the stage, which tests their fluency. The addition of extracurricular activities aimed at improving students’ reading skills is also required,” he says.

Shim Mathew talks about a Library Reading Programme at the schools, where students are issued an age-appropriate book on a weekly basis and are required to discuss the same with their teachers. “Accompanied with practical activities such as designing a book cover adds to the experience and gives students an incentive to read more.”

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Future-proofing the workforce for AI innovations with continuous learning  

By Alexia Pedersen, VP EMEA at O’Reilly 

The UK government has made clear its intentions to make the UK a global AI superpower. Key to this is the National AI Strategy, which aims to boost enterprise use of AI, attract international investment and develop the next generation of tech talent to ensure the UK plays a leading role in discovering and developing the latest innovations.  

This sentiment is echoed by business leaders, with our latest ‘Generative AI in the Enterprise’ report revealing that a significant number of businesses are increasing adoption and investment in generative AI. 

Amid unprecedented adoption, business leaders must prepare their workforce for the advent of such technologies in the workplace. This requires greater emphasis on continuous learning and development (L&D), offering ongoing opportunities for employees to develop new skills that are required for the effective and safe use of such technologies. Looking ahead to 2024, what should business leaders do to get started?  

The current state of play  

Understandably, business leaders are pushing ahead with generative AI investments, given its potential to drive growth, optimise operations and deliver exceptional customer experiences. In fact, more than two in five (44%) IT professionals confirmed that their company plans to spend between £25,001–£50,000 on these solutions in the next 12 months alone. 

Yet, we cannot ignore that almost all (93%) IT pros are concerned with their C-suite’s ambitions for the use of generative AI tools, which is due to fears that workplace policy and training opportunities are failing to keep pace.  

According to IT teams, staff outside of their department have been provided limited (32%) or no training opportunities at all (36%) about how generative AI will impact the workplace. As a result, more than a quarter (27%) of IT professionals identified the lack of training for employees as one of their biggest concerns around AI adoption, which is on par with their fears of more advanced cybersecurity threats posed by such technologies.  

This year, increased L&D opportunities will be pivotal in bridging gaps in knowledge – ensuring companies can continue to invest in AI tools but with greater assurance that deployments will be ethical and safe.  

Future-proofing your workforce with a continuous learning culture  

Fortunately, in today’s digital landscape, staff are keen to invest time in their development and take on new opportunities that provide growth opportunities.  

Within IT departments, the majority (82%) of staff want more AI-related L&D opportunities to help advance their current roles. They feel so passionately about it that more than two in five (43%) IT employees have sought external training opportunities over the last twelve months, and a similar amount (61%) are considering moving companies over the next twelve months if their employer fails to provide upskilling opportunities around generative AI. 

These findings highlight that if employers want to recruit and retain the best talent in 2024, they need to play a vital role in creating a culture of continuous learning – empowering staff to take on new challenges, seek out opportunities for growth and share their knowledge with others.  

To help employees prioritise learning around day-to-day responsibilities, companies should consider ‘in the flow of work’ learning opportunities. This concept was coined by Josh Bersin to describe a paradigm in which employees learn something new, quickly apply it and return to their work in progress. While traditional learning approaches such as attending a seminar or conference are effective, many employees simply don’t have the time to devote to them or they prefer to learn at a time that suits them best.  

Instead, ‘in the flow of work’ learning provides employees with the tools needed to quickly find contextually relevant answers to their questions at a time that suits their schedule. Companies can offer more flexible learning opportunities via a trusted L&D partner, who will tailor materials to an individual employee’s unique learning style and objectives and also offer structured learning to upskill. For example, badges are becoming an increasingly popular method for verifying an individual’s knowledge and skills. Because skills training and upskilling opportunities have risen in popularity as benefits that candidates seek, employers can attract and retain key talent by offering ongoing learning opportunities, including the ability to acquire badges.

Looking ahead  

In 2024, successful AI deployments will require more than just investment in cutting-edge solutions. Business leaders should also invest in developing a culture of continuous learning, one that equips employees with the skills and mindset needed to leverage generative AI technologies effectively. 

Comprehensive, more flexible learning opportunities that are accompanied by thorough workplace policies will be essential for innovative enterprise use cases to flourish. At the same time, this will go a long way in enhancing recruitment and retention strategies in the face of a widening technical skills gap. Only with a highly skilled workforce will the UK truly live up to its aspirations of becoming a global leader in AI. 

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Using AI to support positive outcomes in alternative provision

By Fleur Sexton

Fleur Sexton, Deputy Lieutenant West Midlands and CEO of dynamic training provider, PET-Xi, with a reputation for success with the hardest to reach,

discusses using AI to support excluded pupils in alternative provision (AP)

Exclusion from school is often life-changing for the majority of vulnerable and disadvantaged young people who enter alternative provision (AP). Many face a bleak future, with just 4% of excluded pupils achieving a pass in English and maths GCSEs, and 50% becoming ‘not in  education, employment or training’ (NEET) post-16.

Often labelled ‘the pipeline to prison’, statistics gathered from prison inmates are undeniably convincing: 42% of prisoners were expelled or permanently excluded from school; 59% truanted; 47% of those entering prison have no school qualifications. With a prison service already in crisis, providing children with the ‘right support, right place, right time’, is not just an ethical response, it makes sound financial sense. Let’s invest in education, rather than incarceration.

‘Persistent disruptive behaviour’ – the most commonly cited reason for temporary or permanent exclusion from mainstream education – often results from unmet or undiagnosed special educational needs (SEN) or social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs. These pupils find themselves unable to cope in a mainstream environment, which impacts their mental health and personal wellbeing, and their abilities to engage in a positive way with the curriculum and the challenges of school routine. A multitude of factors all adding to their feelings of frustration and failure.

Between 2021/22 and 2022/23, councils across the country recorded a 61% rise in school exclusions, with overall exclusion figures rising by 50% compared to 2018/19. The latest statistics from the Department for  Education (DfE), show pupils with autism in England are nearly three times as likely to be suspended than their neurotypical peers. With 82% of young people in state-funded alternative provision (AP) with identified special educational needs (SEN) and social emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs, for many it is their last chance of gaining an education that is every child’s right.

The Department for Education’s (DfE) SEND and AP Improvement Plan (March 2023).reported, ‘82% of children and young people in state-place funded alternative provision have identified special educational needs (SEN) 2, and it (AP) is increasingly being used to supplement local SEND systems…’

Some pupils on waiting lists for AP placements have access to online lessons or tutors, others are simply at home, and not receiving an education. In oversubscribed AP settings, class sizes have had to be increased to accommodate demand, raising the pupil:teacher ratio, and decreasing the levels of support individuals receive. Other unregulated settings provide questionable educational advantage to attendees.

AI can help redress the balance and help provide effective AP. The first challenge for teachers in AP is to engage these young people back into learning. If the content of the curriculum used holds no relevance for a child already struggling to learn, the task becomes even more difficult. As adults we rarely engage with subjects that do not hold our interest – but often expect children to do so.

Using context that pupils recognise and relate to – making learning integral to the real world and more specifically, to their reality, provides a way in. A persuasive essay about school uniforms, may fire the debate for a successful learner, but it is probably not going to be a hot topic for a child struggling with a chaotic or dysfunctional home life. If that child is dealing with high levels of adversity – being a carer for a relative, keeping the household going, dealing with pressure to join local gangs, being coerced into couriering drugs and weapons around the neighbourhood – school uniform does not hold sway. It has little connection to their life.  

Asking the group about the subjects they feel strongly about, or responding to local news stories from their neighbourhoods, and using these to create tasks, will provide a more enticing hook to pique their interest. After all, in many situations, the subject of a task is  just the ‘hanger’ for the skills they need to learn – in this case, the elements of creating a persuasive piece, communicating perspectives and points of view.

Using AI, teachers have the capacity to provide this individualised content and personalised instruction and feedback, supporting learners by addressing their needs and ‘scaffolding’ their learning through adaptive teaching.

If the learner is having difficulty grasping a concept – especially an abstract one – AI can quickly produce several relevant analogies to help illustrate and explain. It can also be used to develop interactive learning modules, so the learner has more control and ownership over their learning. When engaged with their learning, pupils begin to build skills, increasing their confidence and commitment.

Identifying and discussing these skills and attitudes towards learning, with the pupil reflecting on how they learn and the ways they learn best, also gives them more agency and autonomy, thinking metacognitively.

Gaps in learning are often the cause of confusion, misunderstandings and misconceptions. If a child has been absent from school they may miss crucial concepts that form the building blocks to more complex ideas later in their school career. Without providing the foundations by filling in these gaps and unravelling the misconceptions, new learning may literally be impossible for them to understand, increasing frustration and feelings of failure. AI can help identify those gaps, scaffold learning and build understanding.

AI is by no means a replacement for teachers or teaching assistants, it is purely additional support. Coupled with approaches that promote engagement with learning, AI can enable these disadvantaged young people to access an education previously denied them.

According to the DfE, ‘All children are entitled to receive a world-class education that allows them to reach their potential and live a fulfilled life, regardless of their background.’ AI can help support the most disadvantaged young people towards gaining the education they deserve, and creating a pathway towards educational and social equity.

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Four Top Tips to Create an Inclusive SEND-Friendly Space

With over 1.5 million children in the UK recognised as having special educational needs (SEN), the demand for spaces that cater to those who require extra support is growing.

The number of children requiring SEN support has increased by 87,000 since 2022 alone, but less than 10% of these children attend schools that can meet their particular needs. The majority of children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) requirements are typically expected to thrive within the same home and play spaces as those who don’t require additional support.

National decorating contractor Bagnalls works with colour specialist partner AkzoNobel, famous for its Dulux branded paints, to develop an understanding of how colour can help prioritise wellbeing for those with SEND needs. Bagnalls and AkzoNobel recommend the following four tips to create a positive and soothing SEND-friendly space using colour and light.

Key findings

  • Select your shade carefully. Bright yellows, oranges and reds can be overwhelming, especially for those who experience hypersensitivity. Choose neutral tones or colours from the cooler side of the colour wheel like blues, greens and purples instead.
  • Consider age range. Fresher, brighter colours are better for younger children and muted tones are better for older teens.
  • Lean into the light. The amount and direction of light affect the appearance of colour. Always take the light in the room into account when thinking about colour placement.
  • Invest in colourful furniture. This can engage children and isn’t as overwhelming as four brightly painted walls. This is especially relevant for those who experience hypersensitivity. However, bright white furniture should be avoided as that can cause glare and affect hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity.

Select your shade carefully

Colour helps young children to navigate a space and gain an understanding of their surroundings. Colours such as bright red and yellow are often used in primary classrooms to attract attention and engage. Using bright, warm-toned colours can stimulate creativity and increase energy during play.

However, these bright shades can be unsettling for those who experience hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity. Dawn Scott, a colour expert at AkzoNobel, agrees, explaining “It’s best to avoid yellows, reds and oranges as these tones can trigger hypersensitivity and create an overwhelming atmosphere. The best colours to craft a calming space are harmonious, muted colours.” Cooler tones, such as blue and green, encourage more peaceful sensory play.

Cooler tones are calming and studies have shown that colours such as lavender and aqua can help to reduce stress. Neutral tones, such as pale grey and tan, can also lower stress levels. Therefore, these colours are great choices for bedrooms, particularly for children who get frustrated around bedtime.

Orange can help to stimulate feelings of hunger, so is the perfect choice for the kitchen of a fussy eater, while purple works to diminish appetite but can produce a sense of calm and stability.

Finding a balance between warmer and cooler shades is important in all spaces. Understanding the specific requirements of those using the room is essential. As Dawn says, “Always consider the end user group and the intended use of the space when selecting your colours.”

Consider age range

Colour sophistication develops as we grow. Dawn stipulates that “fresher, brighter colours are more appropriate for a younger audience. Greyed-off, muted and richer tones are more trend-led and therefore aimed at older children.”

Colour is still important for the older age ranges, but allowing older children to choose a tone that makes them feel positive will help with independence as well as overall wellbeing.

Although primary brights appeal to developing senses, whether used within the classroom, at home or in a space reserved for play, these tones can be overwhelming, making the area inaccessible to those with SEND needs.

Selecting a calmer, sky blue for your child’s bedroom over a bright, neon blue will create a restful atmosphere that is still engaging for your little one. Yellow is associated with learning, making it a great choice for a classroom setting. Instead of opting for a harsh, overly bright yellow, try a softer, pastel tone.

Lean into the light

Light is crucial. The amount and direction of light within a room can affect the levels of calm, concentration and imagination possible within a space. Always consider light reflectance values (LRVs) – the measure used to quantify how light or bright a colour is.

Dawn recommends using “cooler tones in southerly sunny rooms and warmer shades in northerly shady rooms to help balance the reflection of light and make the space feel comfortable.”

If your room is particularly small, you’ll want to capitalise on the light available to you to make the space seem bigger and brighter. However, you don’t need to stick to lighter colours to achieve a sense of a larger space. Darker, richer tones, such as royal blue and forest green, can trick your mind and give the illusion of endless space and colour.

Whilst this trick is beneficial for those who are not easily overstimulated, those with extra SEND needs may find a space decorated in deeper colours overwhelming. If glare is becoming an issue, causing eye strain and fatigue, Dawn suggests “putting a stronger accent colour opposite your window to absorb some of the glare and bounce less light around the room.”

Almost all children who live with blindness or vision impairment also have additional SEND needs. For those who are visually impaired, LRVs are extremely important. 96% of those registered blind in the UK are able to detect some level of light. Contrast plays an important role in ensuring accessibility within a space. Always consider tonal contrast and make sure the saturation of two contrasting colours is significant, as those with low vision may find it difficult to differentiate between two similar tones.

Complementary colour combinations are also difficult for those with vision impairment to differentiate, such as red and green or orange and blue. These combinations can be jarring and overwhelming for many. Try sticking to a single colour palette, either red or green, instead of combining the two.

By being aware of the light within your space and understanding the role contrast plays in wayfinding, you can ensure your space is accessible to everyone.

Using brighter, primary colours in a selective way can enable further accessibility, especially when it comes to play and imagination. Bagnalls recently completed some important painting within a playground that makes it easier for visually impaired students to identify landmarks and potential hazards.

Invest in colourful furniture

Overly bright primary colours can be intimidating and overwhelming for many with SEND needs. By adding pops of engaging colour via furniture instead, you can create a space that is accessible for everybody.

Dawn recommends a “neutral colour scheme to create a calming atmosphere that the addition of colourful furniture can enhance.” The beauty of having colourful furniture is that you can move it around to play with light and engagement within the space.

By keeping your walls, ceiling and floor neutral, you can ensure your space is multi-functional. Investing in colourful furniture and toys for your child that you can remove from the space, you can furnish the same room to prioritise concentration, sleep and play.

By day, allow your child to scatter their primary-coloured toys around their room. Try adding a colourful chair or toy box to aid their creativity. If necessary, these items can be easily removed, leaving a calming, neutral space.

At night, ready the room for calm and sleep by adding a number of cosy throws and plush toys in deeper, jewel tones, such as emerald green and sapphire blue. These deeper shades will signal to your child that it’s time to feel calm and sleepy, in contrast to the stimulating bright colours of earlier in the day.

In a classroom setting, you can swap the chairs and tables to cater to different groups of children, dependent on age, SEND requirements and concentration levels. By maintaining a neutral base, one space can offer both a soothing and playful atmosphere with a few simple furniture changes.

By utilising these tips, you can work towards an inclusive and accessible space that doesn’t exclude those with SEND needs.

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