Patching the digital in the Italian school

On the eve of the Chinese New Year, on January 25th, 2020 I was back in Turin from BETT in London, the most important European event of Education Technology: among the stands of the companies, many institutional presences from the Arab Emirates, Oman, Morocco, France, who invited to enrol in their schools, presenting the great investments in infrastructure – new schools, transport – to attract teachers in their countries: needless to say that the Italian school was not there, nor were there any startups or Italian companies in the sector.

About two months later, in the midst of an emergency that no one knows when it will end, the school is once again in the foreground for its “lack of presence”. The school that is not there has disrupted the lives of children and families: in Italys a sequence of ordinances and circulars first stopped the educational trips then classes were suspended and schools closed, expected to be re-opend first on March 15, then on April 13 and to date without a certain date for re-opening.

Since then, almost all teachers in Italy – each in his or her own way – have put strategies in place to continue “teaching”. Digital animators and in general, the most technologically prepared teachers have been working day and night to find solutions for videoconferences, manage distance classes and train their colleagues. In chats and socials, teachers ask for advices “better Meet, Classroom, Zoom, Jitsi, Edmodo”, “but we use the electronic register”, “don’t use whatsapp with students”, “for the first time I gave the mobile number to my students”, “no video conferencing lessons are needed, just give homework and then correct it”, “I was in charge of elearning already thirty years ago” while families tell of students invited to connect at eight o’clock in the morning to be interviewed at a distance, and inevitably the thought that goes to fragile children due to conditions of socioeconomic gap or health, learning difficulties or poor knowledge of the language.

I want to emphasize that this is a generalized situation and not Italian only: schools around the world are experiencing digital immersion, with some risk of drowning, inevitable with the method “I’ll throw you overboard, so you learn to swim”.

In the last ten years the Italian Ministry has provided funds to provide digital devices, such as interactive whiteboards, to train teachers, to provide new learning environments and enhance libraries, put in place fablabs and classes of the future and to support personal purchases for teachers and students.

Today the first things are coming together: teachers and students “do things” with digital, but in general they seem to be prisoners of an idea of “school” that is not and will no longer be the same. Papert’s famous anecdote, which compares nineteenth-century operating rooms and classrooms with those of today, finally no longer holds up.

One could not be prepared for this situation, totally unheard of in terms of size and gravity, but it is undeniable that digital technology at school has not yet taken root completely, even though it has been talked about in Italy since the 1990s. Papert used to say, in the 80s, that the computer was seen as a threat, for its revolutionary potential: that’s why maybe PCs are in the labs and smartphones have to be turned off, the teacher explains and pupils listen, then they repeat what they heard. And this is the model that many teachers are re-proposing these days, through digital. Generally, this mode reassures families, which in some cases are one of the barriers to educational innovation, also thanks to what Sonia Livingstone defined as “moral panic”, i.e. social anxiety about the effects of digital on young people.

Now we have an opportunity, a real opportunity, not an exercise to use digital at school in a different way, to do school in a new way, and this requires effort and commitment on the part of the government, schools, teachers, families and students.

NATIONAL GOVERNMENT

The Italian government has provided for new allocations, with art. 120 of the decree Cura Italia provides for an increase of 85 million compared (link in Italian) to what is already provided for by law 107, for remote platforms, training, connectivity, devices: the reference to accessibility is excellent, but it would also have been nice to talk about interoperability and privacy. Of these resources, 70 million are earmarked to make individual digital devices available to less affluent students on loan for the use of the platforms and the need for a network.

In the DESI digitization index in 2019 Italy is at the 24th place out of 28 European countries: the index takes into account various parameters related to bandwidth availability, digitization of public services and businesses, digital skills. One person out of two does not know how to use online services: according to the AGCOM Digital Education (link in italian) reports we are the last in Europe for ability to submit online applications to the Public Administration.

The Italian economic system characterized by micro enterprises is not able to drive social innovation, nor is the public administration, characterized by fragmentation and overlapping skills, which slow down its operations. Just to talk about schools, there are fragmented competences on school buildings (provincial, municipal, district), personnel (state), allocation of resources (state, regional), territorial organization (regional, provincial, municipal).

We don’t have large national cloud infrastructures, and maybe without the big American servers, would the school year have blown up? We do not have a public network connectivity infrastructure: the GARR that manages the Research network, has had a peak of use in recent days, increasing traffic by 60% and claims to provide connectivity to about 1000 schools, a number still insufficient since the secondary schools are more than 8800 and that all schools, including preschools are more than 57 thousand…

It is therefore a question of designing a distributed system that respects national indications and guarantees equity of access, adapting what is good in other systems such as the Chinese one, where the 230 million students have access to nationalized platforms for distance education that offer 24000 online courses on 22 platforms, but that have some drawbacks, for example each shared document must be pre-approved.

Connectivity for schools is a critical point: 23% of secondary schools have a connection at least 30 Mbps, 11.2% of secondary schools and 9 of primary schools have a connection at least 30 Mbps, and it should be stressed that this breadth of the call is still insufficient to have a rapid response time. The AGCOM report stresses that three factors are necessary to have a digital school: ” i) the existence of an ultra-wideband internet connection, ii) the creation of an efficient telematic network and iii) a maintenance and updating activity in order to govern the effect of technical obsolescence of the infrastructure” which means having budgetary resources to pay providers and skills to manage the network (Infrastrutture come fattori abilitanti per l’apprendimento a scuola, 2014 – paper in Italian). Simply the management of the network infrastructure for education cannot be left to individual schools: the only Italian region where schools have adequate connectivity is Emilia Romagna, which through LEPIDA, has systematically managed, through municipalities, the supply of broadband to schools.

The Compagnia di San Paolo School Foundation’s Riconnessioni project is another example of systematic infrastructural intervention of all schools at a city level that also requires schools to make a commitment to join the project by participating in the digital skills training provided free of charge. A virtuous model that must provide a sustainable way for schools to continue to benefit from connectivity services once the project is completed.

MUNICIPALITIES

As already mentioned, the overlapping of competences in schools does not facilitate public intervention: municipalities have competence in the planning of the offer and the pedagogical coordination of the zero six system, but for all school orders digital education is necessary for families, children and teachers. In preschools digital is used to develop logical thinking and also creativity.

In times of health emergency, making children in kindergarten understand why they no longer go to school and don’t see their teacher, explaining what is happening, is a challenge that many teachers have taken up: in many municipalities teachers record videos with stories, nursery rhymes, describe games, send audio messages to children to let them know that even if they don’t see each other, the relationship continues… in Turin we called it “Didattica della vicinanza” (Pedagogy of closeness instead of remarking the distance) and we share on facebook #unagocciadibellezzalgiorno. In the next days will be organized, with the support of sensitive companies like Rekordata, online webinars to give also to kindergarten teachers a support on how to use digital tools at best.

In these days, the efforts of the municipalities are oriented to not burden families with costs for services not used, but surely such a long period of lack of service will have repercussions on the providers of canteens and transport and on the many operators that revolve around the school: educators, health workers, psychologists, cultural animators. Municipalities often operate with support projects for the most fragile categories: in Turin, the Provaci Ancora Sam project has been fighting school drop-out for thirty years, with a “system” approach involving the local administration, the Ministry of Education, schools and associations that follow and support students at risk. With new methods, the operators and schools are able to ensure their presence and maintain the relationship with the children and among themselves, to share doubts and anxieties also through regular meetings that take place online.

Cities can play the role of facilitating the meeting between those who offer services and those who need them: Torino City Love is the initiative of #solidarietàdigitale e innovazione aperta (digital solidarity and open innovation) to offer free resources, actions and skills to support citizens, businesses and schools during the COVID-19 emergency to which large operators such as TIM, CISCO and small companies such as MAIEUTICAL LABS have responded, offering free licenses for 30 days of adaptive platforms for digital teaching of Italian and Latin grammar and literature.

SCHOOLS

Schools are complex public bodies: on organizational aspects the State issues rules that for better or worse are followed by all institutions. This explains the coverage of the electronic register in 84% of schools, the presence of a digital coordinator in 70% of schools. Approximately 63% of schools have automated economic and financial management, while only 21.5% manage household payments.(data from Educare Digitale)

It is worth pointing out that the entry into service of many new School Managers in the year 2019-20 has improved the management situation in many institutions suffering from the lack of a proprietor. The new School Managers are generally very motivated and willing to introduce new organizational and teaching methods. As did Maria Stella Perrone, new director of the V.Alfieri Institute in Asti, expert and for years committed to educational innovation also with the use of technology. In her article (in Italian), the story of how the emergency response was organized in her institute – 1200 students, 140 teachers and 3 seats – starting from the first videoconference at the end of February, to the sharing of a map of resources up to the drafting of real guidelines that read “Didattica a distanza non significa replicare la didattica in presenza e mai la didattica a distanza potrà sostituire quella in presenza. The path of a teacher to implement a sensible use of new technologies is long, complex and gradual and requires a desire for renewal, adaptability, aptitude for continuous discovery, training and self-training”. The school has set up an internal task force to which everyone – students, families and teachers – can turn to to ask for technological support, educational design and more, by filling in an online form.

TEACHERS

According to the AGCOM “Digital Education” report, 47% of teachers use technology in their training activities, which means less than half, but if we go into detail the situation is even more dramatic, read in the light of today’s facts: 1 in 5 use collaborative work at school and 8.6% – less than 1 in 10 manage project activities at a distance.

This data is another of the truly critical points of the Italian digital school. OECD data from the 2019 report “Thriving in a digital world” underline a lag in digital skills for Italy, which, together with Greece, Lithuania, Slovak Republic and Turkey, is part of the tail group. And there is a call to strengthen the formal and informal lifelong learning system. Italy has never had a policy for lifelong learning and open education. A big hole that became even more evident with the advent of MOOCs – the Massive Open Online Courses: while in the US the offer of these online courses is entrusted to universities and private companies, in other European countries such as Great Britain, the Netherlands and Portugal, Catalonia is precisely the large “open universities” that are the promoters of lifelong learning. In Italy, despite the great success of the first MOOC on Coding, with more than 30 thousand teachers involved in 2016, promoted by Prof. Bogliolo on the EMMA platform, no measures in this sense have ever been launched: a great plan, in concert with the large employers’ and trade unions’ organizations, for digital skills is increasingly urgent every day.

This is a good time to do courses online, for those who know English, the offer is very wide, you can take a ride on Class Central you have to find the list of the best MOOCs including for example Learning to Learn, one not to be missed or MOOC-LIST or those offered by the Politecnico di Milano, designed for teachers in English and Italian.

What advice should you give to teachers who are trying their hand at distance learning? Ask and ask colleagues, on facebook there are many groups managed by experienced colleagues such as Teachers, Teacherduepuntozero, Online Teachers, Distance Learning. Read the operational lines issued by MIUR on distance learning and ask for help to the territorial training teams. The main advice is not to exaggerate.

Rightly there are those who complain about the overload of tasks that should give the students stimuli to express themselves and explore: do you know the challenges? This is an example. #RoundTheWorld_ChainReaction … , film it and conduct it and to liven up Kahoot you can also use it remotely.

FAMILIES

It has already been said that there is a lack of infrastructure and digital skills: in many families these days there is the problem of parents having to work from home, while students have to attend classes and then compete for the PC. We hope that the support measures announced for the purchase of devices will be made operational as quickly as possible and measures to free up available bandwidth have already been announced by NetFlix and Youtube. In these days we have the opportunity to be more together: let’s take advantage to play together, get to know better the video games that fascinate them, let’s now worry about building a digital education for our children, from three years old and older they are not young, for example starting from the resources of Parole O-stili. Let’s use the online resources together: there are whole online museums to visit and many free books online that you can find collected for example on the page #ioleggoinerete or subscribe to services such as the Digital Civic Library and let’s remember that in families where you read, also read more children.

STUDENTS

Teachers and teachers tell about girls and boys need normality even more than adults: having an appointment at a given time, getting ready to meet with their classmates and teachers from one rhythm to the day. Then they are the ones who explain to the parents how to do it, they respect the shifts in speaking autonomously. Even the older ones are generally correct and positive. However, not all teachers are inclined to do videolessons in synchronous mode and not all children give up the possibility of disturbing and therefore the platforms are adapting according to the requests they receive.

It is important to underline once again that distance learning does not mean replicating the school of before: the frontal lesson does not work and as it has always been, technology is not saving itself, it is necessary to establish a connection between the online and offline world it is important to talk about what we are living, with attention to the relationship but also giving a value to what we do. And precisely the aspect of evaluation is still one of the open points under discussion in these days, so that this aspect is also brought back to the context we are living and therefore we are oriented to formative evaluation and self-evaluation.

Distance schooling is a global issue, according to UNESCO on April 4th there were more than 1,5 billions of student at home in the world, 91,3% of the student population: we hope that all the governments of the world, in addition to managing this emergency in solidarity, will unite in a reflection to design the school afterwards.

Multinclude Webinar “Coding for all”

During the Webinar, DSchola’s Director Eleonora Panto together with Alberto Parola and Alberto Barbero (both from University of Turin), Maria Teresa Lingua (from Technological Institute “G. Vallauri” in Fossano) and Christian (student from G.Vallauri) will present the implementation and some results of Scratch for Disability (S4D), project that uses coding to engage and support students with disabilities. S4D was designed by DSchola, with the support of the Pedagogy Department of the University of Turin.

Join our Learning Community on www.multinclude.eu

A Game for Ocean Literacy

I’m very happy as my article was accepted in the International Information & Library Review  – in the Digital Heritage column. The article is related to applied game we developed for the H2020 Responseable Project – The article describe the process adopted to develop communications tools for increasing awareness about our responsibility towards the Ocean.

You can download the article here

You can download the game here

I’m very interested in your comments.

Multinclude: more than 70 ideas for inclusion

The Multinclude team met in late June to take stock of current activities and future planning. For the second time, we were guests of the Vienna Children’s University, on the university campus.

They were two days of intense work that made us reflect on what we learned from the collection of cases. In the analysis phase the NGO partners ECHO, will apply the Theory of Change to analyze the impact of the collected practices and how it can scale. From a first analysis some common characteristics emerged: small organizations have the greatest impact, only one partner fails to create impact and a network of actors is needed, many of the collected practices have the purpose of counteracting early dispersion and have characteristics of intersectionality .

In the coming months, the analysis work will be published, which will be the basis for the creation of the tool that the project will develop for the self-assessment of a school’s inclusive capacity.

On the site multinclude.eu there are 71 ideas for inclusion available through the search engine that form the foundation of the project.

These cases will be the basis of the Learning Community to which we invite you to register where you can ask questions to the authors of the cases and possibly suggest others cases.

In the meantime, if you have lost them you can take advantage of this quiet period to review the three webinars we have already realized that tell cases real inclusion.

You can read the first stories of inclusion: one speaks of the school in hospital in Hungary and one speaks of the beautiful project “The Grammar of Fantastic” and in particular of a case of selective mutism one of the good practices highlighted by the DSchola association.

When the school starts again we will present the webinar on Technology and Inclusion, organized by Dschola together with all the other communication and dissemination actions foreseen by the project.

Stay tuned!

Education in Diversity

School is structurally a place of inequality: while European classrooms are increasingly diverse, the teacher population remains largely homogeneous and often lacking awareness about their own stereotypes and the multidimensional diversity of their students

One of Europe‘s characteristics is the concept of diversity: there are 7000 languages ​​spoken in the world, of which 225 in Europe, and of these 60 are minority languages, but this diversification is further increasing. Currently, 4% of the total EU population is made up of third-country nationals and population projections predict that by 2050 it will be around 20-40%: as early as 2020, 25% of students will have a migrant background.

Migration and globalization are causing social changes that create new opportunities and challenges for educational institutions. The growing number of refugees, asylum seekers and migrant children lead schools and teachers to reinvent daily practices and strategies to respond to new learning needs.

According to OECD PISA data, students who have a history of first and second generation migration have worse school outcomes than their peers, a disadvantage also shared by historical ethnic and linguistic minorities from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds: language problems and monocultural programs, can bring these students to drop out from school.  The kids who cannot acquire knowledge and skills today, will be marginalized workers that will probably feed the so-called gig-economy tomorrow.

According to the “Preparing Teachers for Diversity” study, the school is structurally a place of inequality: while European classrooms are increasingly diverse, the teacher population remains largely homogeneous and often lacking awareness about their own stereotypes and the multidimensional diversity of their students: stereotypes that create negative attitudes towards students with a different linguistic, cultural and religious background, as well as nurturing lower expectations, up to adopting discriminatory methods towards them.

To meet these challenges it is necessary that education systems across Europe provide teachers with intercultural skills, to value and adapt to diversity and to be culturally self-aware, and communication skills to increase the ability to reflect on their beliefs and differences. In addition, to overcome the language barriers of their students, teachers should be prepared for the language learning process and generally adopt inclusive instead of compensatory teaching approaches.

A contribution for teacher education to diversity comes from the Erasmus + Teaching in Diversity project. The partners, experts in minority rights, diversity, linguistic minorities, teaching strategy planning and media education, first identified the contents and then, designed the training, provided in pilot courses in the various countries of origin.  Starting from this field test, the online version of the course, freely accessible on the project website, was created.

The online course consists of six modules:

  1. diversity management at school,
  2. minority rights,
  3. non-discrimination and equality,
  4. linguistic diversity,
  5. religious diversity,
  6. hate speech.

These topics are defined and set out. The regulatory framework, as well as some good practices and verification quizzes are indicated. The course has been integrated with a guide available in multiple languages – including Italian – and other materials.

The recent European Recommendation on Education of May 22, 2018 recalls common values ​​and respect for human and minority rights to contrast populism, xenophobia, discrimination and radicalization and before listing the “key competences”, recalls the need “to guarantee real equality of access to inclusive and quality education for all learners, including those from migrant backgrounds, or from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, those with special needs and those with disabilities [..] as an essential element to attain a more cohesive society”.  

School is the hope of society, that hope which, as St. Augustine says, “has two beautiful children: indignation and courage. Indignation for the reality of things; the courage to change them”

{:}

Slow Tech and ICT – A Responsible, Sustainable and Ethical Approach (book review)

“Dear Readers, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is disrupting people’s lives.” This is the way the authors introduce the book: no space for any misinterpretation, the message is strong and clear. But they are not luddites or techno-sceptics: they propose a deep reflection on the design and the use of human centred ICT. The authors propose an approach to ICT that is responsible, sustainable and ethical or in other words, good, clean and fair. They recognise inspirational thinkers, such as Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement that counters the rise of fast food and fast life and focuses on the relationship between food and environment, Alexander Langer with his reflection on a new concept of well-being, based on a lifestyle that is slower, deeper and sweeter and the need for ecological change that can take place only if it becomes socially desirable and René von Schomberg who as an EU policy maker, works for responsible innovation that is socially desirable, inclusive and environmentally sustainable. ICT is good if it puts human beings in the centre starting from their needs and using an interdisciplinary approach whereby humanist and technologist work together. It is clean if the impact on the environment is taken into account, namely the scarcity of rare-earth metal, the energy consumptions of cloud mega centres and the recycling of e-waste. Finally, it is fairif human rights and the health and the safety of workers are respected throughout the value chain. Also for education, good ICT is important: the web provides huge opportunities to improve access to knowledge, but it’s important that teachers help students to cultivate a deeper way of writing and speaking and to become able to interact with complex structures, in terms of language and thinking. Human beings need time to think, meditate and argue: to be in an ‘always-on input mode’ can lead to them becoming passive targets of messages and easily manipulated. This book is published by Palgrave Macmillan with ISBN: 978-3-319-68943-

When the elevator is not there

Does school have as its goal the preservation of existing social relationships or inclusion and access to knowledge to “work out” full citizenship?

School, with all its flaws, is one of the last occasions for social aggregation: the obligation to attend until the age of 16 does not allow families to exercise the choice not to have their children study.  Sending a child to school has a cost for families, but is an investment that is made, sometimes with great sacrifice, to give children more opportunities than those that the parents have had: having a qualification is necessary to access quality and well-paid jobs, and consequently a better social position. Unfortunately, in most cases this does not happen and school is put on trial, an apparatus modeled to meet the needs of the agricultural and industrial society that no longer exists, Norberto Bottani wrote in 2013.

But has this social elevator ever really worked? Or rather, does school have as its goal the preservation of existing social relationships, limiting itself to being a tool for assimilation of norms for the purposes of controlling the population?

In his book “La Maestra e la Camorrista” (The teacher and the Camorrist), Federico Fubini tells us another version of the story: starting from a research study conducted by the Bank of Italy that shows how in six centuries, the distribution of income in Florence has not changed, and they come to the conclusion that “when the social elevator freezes in a semi-permanent ice age – eople stop believing in it.”  And people stop believing in others, they lose trust, because the game ialways adds to zero: every advancement is always at the expense of another. Fubini tells us that he interviewed dozens of teenagers from the south and north of Italy, asking how much they were willing to “trust others” and came to the conclusion that “success nourishes trust and the ability to trust nourishes success” and that “The lack of trust in what surrounds us turns into a subtle poison that helps paralyze the social elevator in Italy. ” He then continues his account on how he tried to undermine this distrust by making students of the Mondragone in Caserta school meet people who, having started from diffivult situations, have had excellent results.

“I learned about school being the last barrier to degradation at the conference organized by the European Parents Association whose theme was inclusion: I had the opportunity to meet Eugenia Carfora, the Principal of the Morano School at Caivano, a town located 10 km from Naples. She told of her failures and her successes in being able to give a clean and equipped school to her students, and how every day is like living in the trenches, struggling even with mothers who come to physical threats: her story is told in this video. There was also Sara Ferraioli of Maestri di Strada (Street Teachers), who explained how their work lies in creating relationships, with the kids, with the teachers and with the “social parents”, volunteers who play the role of parents without being such.

Inclusion also entails access to digital technologies, provided that they are not used superficially, but stimulate critical thinking and passion for discovery and learning. GIn the discussion on the digital divide with parents across Europe it seems that the issues are common: little infrastructure and little use in the classroom, and if someone believes that the Government should not promote the use of smartphones in the classroom, others consider it now the equivalent of the pen and the notebook.

Inclusive growth requires the advancement of science and technology to be directed by a purpose, to avoid the risk of widening injustice, social fragmentation and depletion of resources: this aim is individual and collective well-being. The OECD agenda  indicates, as the goal of education, providing knowledge, skills, attitudes and values ​​to make people able to contribute and to enjoy an inclusive and sustainable future. To achieve this goal, three new “transformative skills” have been identified, defined as the creation of new value, reconciliation of tensions and dilemmas, and assumption of responsibility.   Translating the “transformative skills” into the curriculum requires the participation of the entire educational ecosystem: students, teachers, principals, parents, decision makers, researchers, trade unions, social and commercial actors are involved in a co-creation process to define the guidelines of new educational systems.

New educational systems that allow us to face the uncertainty and unpredictability of the future, but where hope and trust in others seem even more indispensable.

Using Social Media in The Classroom

This book is addressed to teachers that are looking for a well-structured guide to the introduction of social media tools in their day-by-day activity. It is not a manual as such because the author, Megan Poore, who is an Australian researcher with a background in training pre-service teachers, means to provide general principles on how to use these tools with clear objectives in mind, focused on the students’ skills and needs. Beginners are guided in their discovery of the virtues of social media through four chapters namely Getting Started: The Essentials, The “Big Four”, Enriching Your Practice, and Social Contexts. Practitioners as well as beginners are likely to find this book useful. This second edition published in 2016, uses much of the same content as the 2012 edition and also includes two new chapters about educational games and mobile learning. This guide is accompanied by a very helpful companion website which provides many useful links. This book was published by Sage in 2016 (ISBN: 9781473912786