Technology to learn: from emergency to category
“I feel that in these months we have advanced several years in digital competence,” says David Santos, director of CEBIP Antonio Machado, from his half of the computer screen, which he shares with Ruth Rodríguez Berlanas, president of the AMPA of this public bilingual school located in the center of Majadahonda, in Madrid. Both reflect, via Google Meet, on the lessons learned since the pandemic began and face-to-face education exploded. “Not all our boys and girls had the necessary devices to connect from home, nor did all the families, students and teachers have enough digital competence,” Santos recalls the first stumbling blocks. A year later, the educational community has the feeling of having passed the exam, but is aware that “fringes remain.”
The Ministry of Education and Vocational Training defines digital competence as “that which implies the creative, critical and safe use of information and communication technologies to achieve the objectives related to work, employability, learning, the use of time free, inclusion and participation in society “. It is a key competence in the Spanish educational system along with linguistics, mathematics, social and civics, the entrepreneurial spirit and learning to learn. We have been debating it for years. But when distance education was implemented on March 14, 2020, “we did not even know what infrastructure we had, nor who had them at home and who did not,” laments Fernando Trujillo, professor at the University of Granada and founding partner of Conecta13. consultant on education, professional development and ICT. “Perhaps the main advance has been to become aware that digital is there”, third.
Critical use of the network is missing
He agrees with the Greek Pan Kampylis, coordinator of the development of SELFIE (a free tool of the European Commission to help schools to assess their situation in relation to learning in the digital age). He affirms that teachers, parents and students are improving, little by little, in digital competence. “We take it for granted that the students’ is good, but only 2% of 13 or 14-year-olds know how to make critical use of the information they get from the Internet,” he warns. Kampylis dialogues, in good Spanish, with the digital education expert María Zabala within the webinar Rethinking Education: Training families and teachers in Internet digital skills, organized by Educación Conectada (a project of the Foundation for Drug Addiction Assistance (FAD), and BBVA). Between the two they draw a hybrid future.
The Ministry of Education and Vocational Training and the Joint Research Center (JRC) of Seville of the European Commission presented the study in February The digital capacity of Spanish educational centers, prepared using the SELFIE tool. “The data reflect a very high assessment by the participating groups (teachers, management team and students) in the areas of infrastructure-equipment and support-resources. The area of evaluation practices and that of collaboration-networks are those that present a greater margin for improvement “, sums up INTEF (National Institute of Educational Technologies and Teacher Training) in a press release. The lack of time for the teaching staff is the main barrier, followed by the lack of funding and the adequacy of the equipment in the center (but not the internet connection), he adds.
Antonio Machado had taken several courses on the digital path, had carts with iPads and Chromebooks, used Google’s educational tools from 4th year of Primary and did internal training on ICT. In the wake of the pandemic, he bought more devices. “We are still waiting for all the resources that the Administration was going to send,” Santos complains, although, to be fair, he points out that a week before this video call they received 18 tablets, three computers and an email announcing a laptop for the director . Currently all levels, from Infant three years to 6th of Primary, have Classroom as a complement to face-to-face education. “It is very useful as a support, since we work in projects and corners, without textbooks. But presence is essential,” he underlines. “ICTs are a tool, not a purpose,” he defends, and insists that pedagogy is first and then technology.
Between its own resources, donations from foundations and a collaboration agreement with the public entity Red.es, the Madrid Ministry of Education and Youth advances that it will distribute more than 112,000 computers and tablets in schools and institutes in the Community. “To them must be added those who have bought the centers with charge of the extraordinary funds that the Madrid Executive distributed in September, for the start of the 2020/21 school year,” clarifies the information provided by his press office. Before the end of the course, about 900 public educational centers will have “ultra-fast broadband”, as he continues; There will be 1,300 centers in the region by the end of 2021. It also reports that “an important boost” has been given to the EducaMadrid educational platform. And that the teacher training plan for the 2020/2021 academic year emphasizes technological tools and the digital transformation of schools.
Quantitatively, the leap towards the integration of digital in the educational environment is taking place, better or worse. In 2019 there were 4,094 virtual classrooms according to the data managed by Educación de Madrid; a year later they are 62,763. “Currently an average of 24,486 teachers and 207,934 students access, that is, 29.4% of teachers and 15.6% of students in Primary and 54.7% of teachers and 60.4% of students in Secondary” , they limit from the press, which represents an increase of 239% in terms of teachers and 132% with respect to students compared to February 2020. Of course, then a report appears in EL PAÍS Educación entitled Disconnected Schools, which denounces that more than 3,000 public educational centers do not have high-speed Internet in Spain, and that the communities with the highest incidence are Catalonia (43%), Madrid (42%) and Aragon (22%). And the landscape darkens. “The earthworks, the foundations have been made, and the structure has been erected,” says Rodríguez Berlanas, using a professional simile (she is an architect).
The fine work remains, of converting this initial emergency education into a quality virtual teaching-learning process. “We must be able to create safe spaces for children, and accompany them,” he reasons. Preserve your privacy, train your critical spirit in the face of the tidal wave of the Internet, not fall into the error of thinking that a mere transfer to virtual terrain of what is done in person is digital education … put on the table, or rather reactivated, many issues for debate, such as the need to lighten the curricula, lower the ratios, rethink the evaluation or remove the corset of the schedules and subjects.
“I want to think that the minimum knowledge is guaranteed, but I am concerned that a digital education may be being taken with the tweezers, for not having planned enough, and that in some cases an emergency education is being continued, such as the one we lived during confinement “, highlights Trujillo. Which leads to a new cascade of questions: is virtual education gaining in quality? Is the digital divide closing? “We do not know. We would have to look at it, but is there anyone looking? Is there any action by the educational inspection to find out what is happening? If what we are doing is quality?”, Trujillo answers with more questions. “I don’t have the information. I know that putting practically all the students to work on learning platforms leads to something different, I don’t know if better or worse. Times and modes are different; if in a classroom the body is the most important, on the Net, the materials are “.
Last year several large studies were published that attempted to assess the situation: that of the COTEC Foundation; the We go back to class from the SM Foundation, coordinated by Álvaro Marchesi; that of the Atlántida Project; two from Conecta13, one with Santillana Lab and the other with Connected Education; that of the OECD. But there are hardly any reports that take the pulse of what is happening now, notes Trujillo, who investigates for the JRC on the changes and advances detected by the educational community; It will be published in the summer. “As lessons for the future, I would point out the transversality of digital, take what this implies seriously and consider infrastructure as a challenge for the country,” he lists. “Digitizing the school, yes, but with quality and investment. If done properly, it can be a tool that democratizes access to education; if not, it will deepen the digital divide”, conclude Santos and Rodríguez Berlanas.