The Decree on Inclusive Higher Education (in French) defines a student with special educational needs (SEN) as "a person with disabilities whose interaction with various barriers may hinder full and effective participation in higher education on an equal basis with others" (Article 1, §3).
The disabilities are multiple: disabling illnesses (diabetes, allergies, migraines, etc.), psychological disabilities (chronic depression, phobias, bipolar disorders, etc.) or sensory disabilities (hearing or visual disorders), motor disorders (lumbago, osteoarthritis, hemiplegia, etc.). And cognitive disorders such as Dyslexia (dyslexia for example) or attention disorders (attention deficit disorder with or without or hyperactivity - ADHD).
The University of Namur Medical and Psychological Unit
The Medical-Psychological Unit (CMP) is in charge of the support of SENs. What is the aim? To achieve equity, i.e., to ensure that each student benefits from the assistance and adaptations that his or her specific needs require so that the assessment reflects his or her potential and knowledge.
It informs students about the steps to take to obtain the status of student with special needs. It analyses the needs and accompanies them in their choices, taking into account expectations as well as the reality of the context and requirements of the programme of study. It specifies the reasonable accommodations necessary to overcome the obstacles encountered, in collaboration with each Faculty and the internal or external services concerned. This consultation will lead to the development of an individualised support plan (PAI). For this, a file can be submitted twice a year. Once the file has been validated, the SEN status is valid for the duration of the studies.
However, some students are reluctant to submit a request for accommodation. Because they want to try without accommodation, like the others. Or because it is difficult, on entering the new world of university, to anticipate the possible difficulties that will be en
For this reason, the CMP is also developing awareness-raising and training activities for teachers and students, as well as a brochure entitled "Inclusive education: instructions for use" (in French).
Dyslexia - A written language disorder
Here we focus on dyslexia, a disorder that affects between 8 and 10% of the world's population. Dyslexic people have long been thought of as lazy or incapable, but in fact they suffer from a neurodevelopmental dysfunction in an area of the brain that disrupts the cognitive mechanisms necessary for reading. These people have an atypical way of processing information.
Dyslexic people are intelligent but have difficulty learning in one area (the written and reading area) but not in others. They find it difficult to associate a sign with a sound, especially when it comes to abstract terms. The dysfunction of dyslexics disrupts the visual perceptual processing system which allows visual stimulation (written word) to be transformed into a mental and orthographic representation. According to a study of dyslexic people in higher education, the two greatest difficulties are in writing skills and learning English.
Not surprisingly, even in their mother tongue, and despite the linguistic bath from birth, difficulties remain. So memorising visually and phonologically two names for one object and the grammar of another language, irregular and complex as English... English is the language that dyslexics are most advised against. However, English is an important and almost necessary language in higher education.
Planet LogiKDys - An innovative method for learning English
On 7 December 2022, at the initiative of François-Xavier Fievez, Vice-Rector for Social and Student Affairs and Language Master, and in collaboration with Sandrine Vieillevoye, psychologist at the CMP, the Ecole des Langues Vivantes (ELV) welcomed Christine Ouvrard, author of Planet LogiKDys, an English learning method adapted to dyslexics. Aimed at teaching professionals at all levels, the method is based on the strengths of dyslexics, who are creative and intuitive, with great imaginative capacities and spatial perception in 3D and increased visual memory. It stimulates learning skills, comprehension, and memorization through the concretization of abstract grammatical terms, mental imagery, and kinesthetic involvement, but also the concentration of the student, who needs to be active and manipulate to learn.
A logical and concrete story, easy to memorize, with an airy writing style, colours to identify important words and spaces between paragraphs. Easily identifiable characters, representing the different terms, simplified and coloured tables that the pupil will photograph visually and therefore memorise. Cards to manipulate to reinforce memorization. Grammar becomes a game!
If you tell me, I forget. If you teach me, I remember. If you imply me, I learn.
At the end of her presentation, Christine Ouvrard quotes Benjamin Franklin: "You tell me, I forget. You teach me, I remember. You imply, I learn" and adds: "This original method gives meaning to grammar and avoids confusion for the dyslexic learner by making abstract grammatical terms concrete. The method is also transferable to other languages.
Esteban Barracho, a student in Block 2 Computer Science at UNamur is dyslexic and hyperactive. He says: "In English, I don't make mistakes when speaking, only when writing. I took the same exam in two ways: written and oral. The result? Written: 2/20 and oral: 18/20. On the advice of my teacher, François-Xavier Fievez, I tried the Planet LogiKDys method. At the beginning, I found the story a bit childish but, in the end, it helped me to remember and visualise the characters better. The colours and the general layout of the texts allowed me to read more easily and quickly. I had more trouble with the exercises because it's difficult to check your answer without seeing the following answers, so I got help. And I already use a similar method with the associated cards as I use classic playing cards to study other courses. I associate a card with something to learn. And it works very well!"
Another step towards a more inclusive education
Curriculum accommodations for SENs are still sometimes seen as privileges by others. And it is still too often said that a dyslexic person does not belong at university because "they will never make it". Attitudes still need to change.
According to the decree, evaluation methods must be fair, but fairness is not equality. And most teachers say that it would be ideal to know the EBS of one's group as soon as possible and not, as is often the case, on the eve of an evaluation. And everyone agrees that if this innovative method works for the EBS, it works for everyone. This is certainly a good way to turn inclusion around!