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Bridging the Global Digital Education Divide with Teacher Support

LocknCharge-Europe_Map-TeacherSupoort

While most children today have grown up in a world where digital education tools and technology is everywhere, that doesn't necessarily mean that engagement with tech in their classrooms is ubiquitous. A recent global education survey by Cambridge Assessment International Education shows that in many countries, new technologies have become a feature of school life. However, they are still a supplement to traditional tools such as pens, paper and blackboards.

Technology and Curriculum Integration:

The 2019 Eurydice report, Digital Education at School in Europe, asserts that the development of digital competence in school curricula and strategic approaches to digital education are critical to bridging the digital education divide. The development of teachers' digital competence is also an essential component if investments in digital technologies are to be maximized. Also, teachers have to be open to classroom technology resources and innovative teaching methods as well as understand the advantages and benefits these technologies can bring to their work.[i]

In an analysis of the global 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), McKinsey & Company echoes this sentiment. "The use of tech must start with learning goals, and software selection must be based on and integrated with the curriculum. Teachers need support to adapt lesson plans to optimize the use of technology, and teachers should be using the technology themselves or in partnership with students, rather than leaving students alone with devices. These lessons hold true regardless of geography."[ii]

Teachers everywhere must be supported to overcome obstacles and challenges when introducing new digital education tools as part of a student's curriculum. As McKinsey & Company states, "It is not enough to add devices to the classroom, check the box, and hope for the best." This article explores the different stages of development in digital education in France, Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom as well as what support teachers receive in these four unique regions.

France: Supporting and Strengthening Teachers' Professional Development

French children spend approximately 900 hours a year in school, which is more than any other EU nation.[iii] Formal schooling can start as young as age two. The French education system includes traditional teaching methods and nationally standardized curricula for primary and secondary schools.[iv] With a literacy rate of 99% and 21% of the national budget set aside for funding, France's emphasis on education is evident.[v]

Fun Fact

School lunches in France last two hours and feature multiple-course meals, including fresh bread, gourmet cheeses, meat and seasonal fruit. No vending machines, junk food, "kids food" or lunch from home allowed. Bon appétit!

The French Educational Philosophy

According to the news website Expatica, the French educational philosophy is one of high academic expectation that emphasizes:

  • the authority of the teacher
  • individual competition including an absolute grading system
  • stress on analytical thought and rote learning as opposed to creativity[vi]
Developing a National Digital Education Plan

For the start of the 2016 school year, French President Hollande launched a profound change to the French education system. The "plan pour le numérique à l’école" or "digital plan at school" devoted one billion Euros over three years for a range of innovative tools. Specifically, the plan included mobile devices for fifth-grade students and digital tools for 100% of college students and training for teachers and staff. The five priorities of the program are:

  • To put school data at the centre of the digital strategy
  • To teach for the 21st century using digital technologies
  • To support and strengthen teachers' professional development
  • To develop students' digital competences
  • To create new links with other stakeholders and school partners[vii]
Resources for Teachers

In 2015, an online network called Viaéduc was created to meet teacher development needs in the use of digital technologies in schools. "It brings together 72,000 teachers, 8,200 working groups and thousands of resources. Viaéduc allows teachers to build their network(s), share their practices, work and produce resources together in complete freedom and in complete safety," states the Eurydice Report.[viii]

While the introduction of technology in French schools has been a slow process, by making it more accessible, schools and teachers are becoming more willing to adopt and use it. Read how the Open Mixed Syndicate Seine-et-Yvelines Numérique has taken careful, calculated action to make sure their colleges and municipalities maximize the use of their digital technology with proper teacher support and training.

Germany: Improving Attitudes Towards Digital Education

German children can attend kindergarten for years until they start compulsory school at age six. Elementary age pupils all attend the same type of school where they study the same basic subjects. For secondary schools, students are assigned to schools based on academic ability, teacher recommendation or possibly parental choice of vocational tracked or university-preparatory schools.[ix] German law requires school attendance and with the conviction that "public education is a vital element that contributes to a well-educated citizenry and a sense of common purpose."[x]

Fun Fact

On the first day of school, children are given a giant colourful Schultüte or "kindercone" filled with school supplies, treats and toys. This cone-shaped cornucopia is said to "sweeten" the first day of school and has signified a rite of passage since the 1800s.

Objectives of a German Education

Primary schools in Germany focus on the development of essential understanding, skills, abilities and key competencies. Secondary education (grades 5-13) objectives have been identified by Studying in Germany as:

  • Engaging children intellectually, emotionally and physically
  • Teaching them independence, decision making, as well as personal, social and political responsibility
  • Assisting them in attaining their educational goals
  • Supporting them in advancing their specialist knowledge[xi]
A Digitalization Pact

Germany is a federal republic consisting of sixteen federal states (Länder) with each state having administrative power over schools and curricula. However, the 2016 "Education in the digital world" strategy which outlined general information and communication technology (ICT) competencies was developed as a national curriculum. In 2016, the Federation and the Länder launched a digitalization pact (DigitalPakt Schule) under which the Federation will provide five billion euros for digital equipment in schools. The Länder are responsible for the training of teachers, the revision of curricula, the acquisition of learning software as well as maintenance of digital infrastructure.[xii]

Key findings from the IEA's International Computer and Information Literacy Study found that digital education in Germany has become moved into the spotlight only recently. 23% of teachers use digital media in class every day, compared to just 9% five years ago. However, student digital competencies have not improved in that same timeframe. One theory, "digital media use in German classrooms is very much teacher-focused—for instance, it is used to present information to the entire class, rather than for individualized learning, as is much more common in Denmark."[xiii] Another reason is likely the lack of wifi in schools. Only 26% of students attend a school with access to a wifi network, way below the 65% international average.[xiv] 

Teacher Support for Using ICT

The IEA study found that there was no mandatory requirement for teachers capacity in using ICT, using ICT in pedagogy or for student assessment. Support for ICT-based professional development, such as developing digital teaching and learning resources was offered by providing resources for teachers to access.[xv]

Finland: Trusting Teachers to Do Whatever It Takes to Turn Young Lives Around

Kids in Finland don't start school until age seven, which is one of the oldest ages around the world to begin formal academic learning. School is only compulsory until the ninth grade or age 16 and homework is minimal. Besides an exam at the end of high school, there are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, or rankings between students or schools. Every school is publicly funded with the same national goals.

Fun Fact

One elementary school in Helsinki Finland has a unique approach for kids with reservations about reading in front of the class. They can choose to read to the school reading dog instead. "The dog won't judge you and will always listen," says the school vice principal.[xvi]

Whatever it Takes

The Finn's education system was transformed 40 years ago as part of the country's economic recovery plan. In the past decade, Finland has vastly improved in reading, math and science literacy. This is believed to be attributed in large part to trusting teachers to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around. This attitude drives Finland's educators, reports Smithsonian Magazine in feature article regarding the success of Finland's schools. "If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else. They seem to relish the challenges."[xvii]

In 2014 the Finish National Core Curriculum was implemented into use as municipalities reformed their own curricula. Some key goals of the reform include:

  • Enhancing pupil participation
  • Children and youths are guided in assuming more responsibility for their schoolwork, but, in accordance with this, also given more support in their studies
  • The pupils set goals, solve problems and assess their learning based on set targets
  • The pupils' experiences, feelings, areas of interest and interaction with others lay the foundation for learning
  • The teacher's task is to instruct and guide the pupils into becoming lifelong learners, by taking the individual learning approaches of each pupil into consideration[xviii]
Leading in ICT

According to the Council for Creative Education (CCE) Finland, "enjoys one of the most advanced and expansive applications of digital technology in education, starting from the first grade of primary school throughout the education system, and consisting of formal as well as extracurricular learning through technology. We in Finland understand the true value and promise of digitalization."[xix] 

While Finland doesn't have a specific digital education strategy, it addresses this type of learning as part of its broader education and lifelong learning strategy. In Finland, the National Agency for Education "manages online platforms that support the adoption of digital technologies in the classroom, by providing, for example, digital learning resources as well as implementing dedicated professional development programmes."[xx]

Investing in Tutor Teachers

In Finland, from 2016 to March 2019, around EUR 23.8 million has been spent on tutor teachers. The action plan aims to provide each comprehensive school with competent tutor teachers. The primary role of a tutor teacher is to support teachers in using digital technologies in teaching and promoting new pedagogical approaches.[xxi]

United Kingdom: Building a Britain Fit for the Future

The history of education in the United Kingdom goes back nearly 1500 years when the oldest operating school in the world opened in Canterbury, England. Schools in the UK have been reforming with the changing times ever since the origination of The King's School in 597 AD. While school education is not identical throughout the UK, there are fundamental similarities. School is compulsory from age five until age 16, although most pupils stay in school to 18. In England and Wales, there is a National Curriculum for all schools. Northern Ireland follows the Northern Ireland Curriculum, which is based on the National Curriculum, Scotland follows the Curriculum for Excellence.[xxii]

Fun Fact

Sports day is one of the ways schools in the UK celebrate the end of the academic year.  Since 1894, one highlight of this day has been the egg and spoon race. Kids balance a hard-boiled, plastic or wooden egg on a spoon and run to the finish line as fast as possible!

Empowering Young People

England's education system transformed in 2010 with an evidence-based, common-sense approach. Schools Minister Nick Gibb identifies three purposes which have consistently guided this most recent UK programme of reform:

  • empowering young people to succeed in the economy
  • empowering young people to participate in culture
  • empowering young people to and leave school prepared for adult life[xxiii]
Prioritizing a High-Quality Technical Education System

Innovative technology is becoming an increasingly important part of classrooms in the UK. England addresses digital education as part of its 2017 "Building a Britain Fit for the Future" industrial strategy. According to the 2019 Eurydice report, "The strategy includes priorities to establish a high-quality technical education system and invest additional financial resources in maths, digital and technical education (to help tackle the shortage of STEM skills). It includes measures to tackle regional disparities in education and skills levels; to reskill and up-skill adults (with a focus on digital training); and to introduce new technical qualifications for 16- to 19-year-olds including in digital skills."

Upskilling Computer Science Teachers

The Industrial Strategy sets the target of up-skilling one computer science teacher in every secondary school. This up-skilling offers online and face-to-face continuing professional development. In addition, England and Wales have set up teacher-specific networks dedicated explicitly to digital education. Digital communities of teachers usually operate online, often through portals that provide access to various types of support such as digital learning resources, including open education resources, and informal online professional development opportunities.[xxiv]

Supporting Teachers with LocknCharge Solutions

If teachers feel unsupported as new technology is introduced, their attitudes can quickly go from excitement to frustration. Support teachers by deploying an efficient mobile device workflow in the classroom to mitigate that frustration and improve teacher satisfaction. Innovative features in charging and storage solutions can simplify daily device distribution — giving teachers more control over how they use their class time.

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