Education and skills using today’s technologies

When it comes to information technology in schools, the valuable experience and views of Nele Leosk, Program Director on ICT in Education, eGovernance Academy, Estonia, are encouraging to hear. She met with Lynda Hawe, Communications Officer for the Directorate for Education and Skills answered a few question about her observations on the use of technology in schools, the benefits for learning, achievement and skills, during a coffee break at the OECD Forum in Paris.

Share with us an example of a successful ICT in Education program that you implemented?
Over the past 15 years Estonia prioritised the development of information society and e-governance and initiated a tiger-leap program. The program focused on teacher training and infrastructure.  In addition, teacher administrators received advanced training on new technologies, so a shift in their mind-set got underway. Technology was not taught separately. Students were taught how to develop and progress in their related subjects by using technology as a complementary support to their learning. Overall, this had a wide impact on Estonian society. The knock on effect of using ICT filtered into homes and attitudes. The program continues – even if currently it has grown from its initial focus.

New technologies can offer many opportunities for education, skills and learning. But do you feel that there is some resistance to the changes technologies bring? 
There is always a natural resistance to what is new, as usually people want to keep the status-quo. Nevertheless, when there are benefits and opportunities linked to change then it will happen. In Estonia, policy makers were strongly behind the strategy to develop and invest in information technology. Now citizens demand it as a prerequisite. But it is a misconception to think that technology alone can enable an improvement in the quality of education received. Overall, it is more a question of teachers’ influence and reactions to the use of technology that is needed to implement change.  Technology is a way to make the teaching process more interactive and fun for students, so that they become more skilled at using it.

Some steps before implementing new technologies: First, have a strategic approach to the teaching necessities of the students, reflecting upon the required teaching frameworks. Secondly, built, buy and install the technologies around the teaching strategy. Lastly, evaluate the results: how have students’ skills been enhanced, what achievements have been made in their learning?

What types of ICT skills do you consider that we should be now teaching in schools, in order to prepare students with the skills they will need for future work environments?
Our main aim, when we started in Estonia, was that students should be able to use technology for their benefit and for their future careers.  Now since 2012, we have re-introduced teaching programme-coding skills.  The skill of information knowledge management is essential: learning how to search the web accurately, evaluating the quality of web-research findings, knowing which sources are relevant and irrelevant. This skill ought to be taught systematically – as it offers vast benefits to all students.

Ethics on the internets should also be taught. Students do not always realise the threats and dangers of the internet, so teaching the skills of how to protect themselves and their privacy online deems necessary. While the students today consider that sharing intimate details online as not being a problem, however, they should realise that in certain situations it can have negative fall-back effects. The dangers of cyber-bullying should also be cautioned.  Consequently, teaching them that the basic principles of good behaviour should follow what is acceptable both offline and online.

In 2012 the Paris Open Educational Resources (OER) Declaration was signed by many countries. Do you think that it will have an impact on the future of ICT Education?
The sharing of teaching materials online is an upright initiate. The OER declaration is a positive step in the right direction. Technological advances facilitate the production, distribution and use of OER and novel and more flexible licensing schemes, such as Creative Commons, give authors and institutions opportunities. Ideally all students should have free access to both the print and e-books on their learning curriculum. Policy makers have an important role to play in promoting progress in this area.  Previously in Estonia, some teachers had difficulties finding appropriate materials so the online attitude of sharing teaching materials is a praiseworthy approach. Teacher generated materials is also a good way for teachers to improve their own skills.

Kids these days use social media constantly, how to you think it affects their learning skills and educational outcomes?
Social media sometimes has a negative effect on students’ concentration. So the banning of mobile devises in certain classroom situations seems reasonable. Online video games can be creative, entertaining and help develop good ICT skills, yet the risks and dangers of playing violent games should be voiced, as they can have destructive influences on young minds. For that reason, preventive and awareness knowledge about social, ethical and healthy online usage should be shared with both students, teachers and parents, as well as establishing solid best practices.


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