A digital toolbox to support students with ADHD and their teachers, tailored to the needs of VET education

Attention Deficit, with or without Hyperactivity Disorder, challenges students in their education. Not only do students with ADHD tend to put more effort into their studies, but teachers also feel ill-equipped and ill-trained to support their learning efficiently. In addition, while the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) states that 5% of children and 2.5% of adults have been diagnosed with a form of attention disorder, this proportion rises among students in Vocational Education. To support these students and their teachers, the partners of this project decided to team up to bring you the project “Empower Me With Sufficient Attention and Tempered Hyperactivity”.

According to the 2013 expert white paper ‘ADHD: making the invisible visible’, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders affect one in 20 children and adolescents in Europe. In other words, there is at least one student with one form of these disorders in every classroom. In some schools, such as VET centres and vocational schools, the percentage of students with ADHD increases exponentially. A survey carried out among the “Empower Me” project partners highlighted the fact that in the schools involved, nearly 40 % of the students show signs of attention disorders with or without hyperactivity, while among VET schools the percentage reached about 60%. Professor Susan Young from Imperial College London, highlights that when left undiagnosed and untreated, attention disorders with or without hyperactivity can put individuals at higher risks of school exclusion, dropping out of school, academic underachievement, or unemployment, and that it represents a high societal cost – not only in terms of inappropriate support to individuals with these disorders, but also because they do not live up to their full potential.

Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash

School assignments require students to make their thoughts clear: it requires a lot of efforts from students who feel that their mind is constantly buzzing with new thoughts and ideas.

The is why the “Empower me” project partners want to tackle the issues related to training students with ADHD. Now, tackling big challenges can feel like too big a task. Often, the key is to set goals and to work towards them one by one. Here are the tasks this partnership will tackle:

  • First, there seems to be a lack of knowledge about what ADHD is among teachers and trainers. It is not surprising considering that this is a topic that is often left out of their training or tackled very quickly. What makes this problem worse is that there are a lot of myths about what ADHD is and what it is not, and it can be difficult for teachers to make sure that they are looking at the most reliable source of information on such a topic. This is why the partners are reviewing scientific literature in order to be able to provide reliable and practical guidance.
  • Second, there is a lot of literature on children with ADHD, but limited sources, especially in some languages, on VET-aged students. And it would seem difficult to recommend to act the same way with a child, with a teenager or with a young adult. Therefore, all partners decided to go to directly to the source of information and are interviewing students and teachers to be able to tailor the outputs of this project to the challenges and opportunities specific to VET education.
  • To make sure all the information and guidance we produced is available to teachers in all the partners’ countries – and in Europe as a whole, a virtual resource center will be created. It will allow teachers to find practical information and share testimonies on working with students with ADHD on a day-to-day basis. This resource center will provide the base for a blended learning program, with a free MOOC and a training for teachers in February 2020.
  • Of course, informing teachers is essential, but it is only half of the story. How about coaching students to help them focus and calm down? Could there be an app for that? We think there could be. We aim at developing an app or ICT tool that would support students’ attention skills and academic success. Creating an app might seem counter-intuitive to support sustained attention, but all the trick lies in its design: while most commercial apps aim at grabbing and capturing the attention of the user, this one will be designed to be a non-intrusive little helper, always available when the student needs it most.

This project is co-funded by the Erasmus + programme of the European Commission. It started in September 2018 and will last until February 2020.

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