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Education

Women entry in NDA will change the face of Armed Forces

Sources: Education Times

Women who have appeared in the exam this year will serve in the army by 2026

Days after the Supreme Court told the Union government that women aspiring to join the armed forces should be allowed to take the National Defense Academy (NDA) entrance examination, the first-ever exam for women in NDA for the permanent position was conducted recently.

“This is a good start as it was long being considered to introduce women to the NDA, to bring in gender equality. Army has largely been male-dominated and women may be able to join anti combat roles once the glass ceiling is broken,” says Retired Col SN Bhardwaj.

“This was the first time when girls were allowed to appear for NDA and prove themselves. It is a great feeling for me to enter the services as I already belong to an army background. My father is an ex-serviceman, who retired from 5 Dogra regiment on the rank of Naib Subedar,” says Liza, from Pathankot, who appeared in the NDA exam this year.

Since a very young age, I have seen my father serving the Indian Army that motivated me to join the Indian Army through NDA. This is the best way to allow women to serve the country,” says Palak from Gangtok, Sikkim who appeared for the NDA exam.

“While this was the first time when women have appeared in the NDA exam, there is a need to create awareness and make youngsters know about the entrance procedure. This year, most candidates who appeared were from urban regions or those from Army families,” says Shishir Dixit, founder and MD, Centurion Defence Academy, Lucknow. Not too many women are driven towards this exam as the UPSC has not highlighted the benefits of NDA services followed by the training, he adds.

The decision to allow women in the NDA was taken to address the shortage of manpower in the defence, he explains. “The security standards are changing in the country. There is a need for technically-qualified professionals. After qualifying for the NDA, women officers will serve the permanent positions, unlike the previous short service position in the army. This will not only give them job security but also open opportunities for higher education. The decision will also help NDA to gain perfection as it will enhance the capability of the defence.”

Women who have appeared in the exam this year will serve in the army after completing their four years of graduation. These candidates will be inducted in the services in 2026. Post their graduation, they will be deployed as a logistic officer, accounting, administrative, education, medical, fighter pilot, traffic control among others.

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Business

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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Education

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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Business

How Gen AI Opens a Whole New World for Dyslexic Individuals

Boris Krumrey, Global VP of Automations at UiPath

Growing up in 1970s West Berlin, I experienced a lack of attention from primary school teachers who were not equipped to address special needs for dyslexic children. While teachers were somewhat aware of conditions like dyslexia, they lacked the necessary training to support students like me. I vividly remember the disheartening moments of reading aloud, as other children would complain about my struggles, with the teachers choosing not to intervene. Writing assignments was even more demoralising, as the teacher looked at me with disappointment, regardless of the pressure I faced, as my spelling and handwriting showed no improvement.

Living with dyslexia can pose significant challenges in reading and writing, making self-expression daunting. However, new tools and technological developments are presenting exciting opportunities for workers who are neurodiverse or are living with learning difficulties.

Any traumatic experiences faced by dyslexic individuals often lead to deep disbelief in one’s abilities. Often simple tests such as identifying a series of numbers or words can frustrate people and even lead to misdiagnosis or failure to receive new opportunities. However, a new horizon of possibilities has emerged with the advent of generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI). Thanks to the content writing capabilities, data analysis and automation, Gen AI is poised to be an ideal tool for dyslexic individuals, empowering them to overcome writing obstacles and unlock their full creative potential.

Understanding the use cases

Gen AI can act as an important catalyst for a business on its automation journey, unlocking the door to a wealth of new opportunities. Technology, such as AI, can seem intimidating at first, but taking the first step to an intelligently automated business truly can improve efficiency and workplace experience dramatically for individuals.

Of course, before implementing AI solutions, it is important to understand the exact use cases and where they can be applied for many tasks. Looking first at enhancing writing efficiency, generative AI provides invaluable assistance in improving writing efficiency for dyslexic individuals. The technology offers real-time suggestions, corrections, and alternative phrasing as a reliable companion during the writing process. Dyslexic writers can focus on their ideas and thoughts while the AI refines the expression, eliminating the frustration caused by dyslexia-related writing challenges.

Predictive capabilities are perhaps one of the remarkable features of Gen AI. The ability to anticipate words and phrases, often aligning perfectly with the writers’ intentions has proven to be a real game changer. It significantly reduces the time and effort required to produce coherent and correctly written content, enhancing both speed and accuracy in the writing process.

Gen AI understands the unique challenges faced by dyslexic individuals, particularly in terms of visual perception. Dyslexia commonly involves difficulties accurately reading letters or words, resulting in visual confusion. The customisable features of AI can address this, for example, tailoring the text presentation to suit individual needs. It can also make the writing experience more accessible and enjoyable.

This all draws back to the essential principles of boosting confidence and self-expression among workers. The stigma surrounding learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, can negatively impact self-confidence, but Gen AI is the equivalent of a supportive partner, encouraging dyslexic writers to express themselves freely without the fear of judgement or misunderstanding. Providing real-time feedback and assistance instils an important sense of assurance, empowering individuals to embrace their unique voices and share their ideas with the world.

Spotlighting the human impact and AI limitations

The ways in which Gen AI can overhaul work should not be conflated with a testament to the decline of human intelligence and value in the workplace. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Workers with learning disabilities often let self-doubt block potential due to mistakes that they do not see among the wider pool of workers. This idea of being ‘other’ can distance workers for the wrong reasons. If AI can free workers of tasks that fuel self-doubt, they can apply their specialist skills and stop feeling as though they are being dragged down by perceived weaknesses. Gen AI is bringing out the human value to work more than some individuals might have ever believed.

However, as with every technology and human relationship, it is essential to analyse and limit possible negative impacts. Starting with language formulation, Gen  AI’s predictive capabilities and real-time suggestions can influence the language formulation process. While this can be beneficial for dyslexic individuals who struggle with word recall or spelling, there is a possibility AI’s suggestions may steer the writing towards a more standardised or conventional form. This may inadvertently dilute the writer’s authentic expression, altering their unique style or creative choices.

To mitigate this, AI usage should be selective and applied only to areas of struggle, such as sentence structure and spelling, letting creative flair do the rest. It’s also recommended that teams and dyslexic individuals retain manual reviewing and editing. This ensures they maintain control over the final product, making deliberate choices that align with their authentic voice and personal style.

Authenticity lies in embracing imperfections and unique qualities. Dyslexic learners can celebrate their distinct perspectives, creative approaches, and personal growth throughout their writing journey. Acknowledging and highlighting their individuality can create a genuine connection with their readers which is the core goal of any copy. Once the concerns about authenticity have been addressed, it is key to strike a balance that allows the AI to support and amplify their writing while maintaining the authenticity and genuine expression that make their work truly remarkable.

A powerful AI and human partnership

I once met a friend who struggled with dyslexia but had a talent for working with computers. He helped run his father’s real estate business, but when I asked him why he didn’t study computer science, he explained that his dyslexia made him worry about the amount of time he would have to spend debugging his code due to syntax errors.

As someone who studied computer science, I never fully appreciated the challenge dyslexic individuals face when it comes to coding. Computers are patient and tireless, always correcting mistakes as long as the user persists. However, with Gen AI, coding challenges for people with dyslexia can be immediately filtered out before compilation.

In the future, automation platforms like UiPath will integrate Gen AI into all tools that support intelligent automation for daily knowledge work. Dyslexia will no longer be a barrier to unleashing creativity.

Gen AI emerges as a transformative tool for dyslexic individuals, revolutionising the writing and coding experience. It empowers writers and developers to overcome the barriers imposed by dyslexia and unlock their full creative potential. By providing tailored support, boosting confidence, and facilitating effective communication, Gen AI ensures the written word becomes a playground for self-expression rather than a source of frustration. We should celebrate the union of technology and humanity as dyslexic individuals triumph over their writing challenges and share their remarkable stories with the world.

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