CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) has a mission to help North American education leaders understand the power of educational technology to improve teaching and learning in first and second level schools in the United States and Canada. CoSN sent a delegation to visit Portugal last October (18 to 26 October 2013) to learn at first hand how Portugal has transformed its education system in an unique and innovative programme that aimed to stimulate economic development. They had been aware that over the last few years that Portugal’s progress in PISA assessments in Mathematics, Reading and Science whereby Portuguese students had moved from well below average to close to the OECD average. In addition, Portugal’s students were at the top of all countries in computer literacy and in their ability to use spreadsheets and presentation tools. The final report, has been published recently – Reinventing Learning in Portugal: An Ecosystem Approach. They list what they refer to as four take aways in this report on their visit to Portugal which will be of relevance to policy makers in other countries also:
Policies and strategies promoting ICT use in schools and at home are integrated into a larger economic and social vision for change in Portugal.
Portugal adopted a comprehensive approach to transforming education by using ICT as a catalyst. This approach included hardware, software, teacher training, curriculum development and digital content in a holistic approach.
The Portuguese thought in terms of an ecosystem.
Public private partnerships are foundational to this strategy and key to the success of the Portugal program, particularly in terms of long term sustainability.
(Reinventing Learning in Portugal: An Ecosystem Approach – Page 3)
The report outlines the details of all the meetings the delegation had with experts, educators, policymakers, business executives and visits to schools where they saw use of technology in action by teachers and students. Delegates were awed by the scale and energy that was involved in putting such a huge programme in place in a public private partnership that involved government departments, local companies and multinational companies such as Microsoft, Intel Cisco, Vodafone and Ericson.
Portugal’s population is 10.5 million, so a little over double the population of Ireland. It too has suffered like Ireland in the recent economic crash. In our last Digital Strategy (Investing Effectively in Information and Communications Technology in Schools, 2008 – 2013), €92 million was provided by the Department of Education and Skills in grant aid to primary and post primary schools primarily
for the purchase of teaching computers and digital projectors for each classroom. Contrast that expenditure here at home, with the €1,045 million spent in Portugal between 2008 – 20012 under their Plano Technológico 2007.
The Plano Technológico focussed on three areas – technology, educational content and training. It began with the Magellan Initiative (Magalhaes) that provided 500,000 Magellan PC’s manufactured in Portugal to primary school pupils (age 6 – 11). These Intel Classmate based laptops were bundled with internet connectivity and free educational software as part of the package. Specification of these Magellan Laptops was similar to the Fizzbook Spin (Intel Atom CPU, 1 Gb ram, 160 Gb hard disc, 10.1″ screen with a resolution of 1024 by 600 available on the Irish market at the same time. The eEscola programme for second level students in grades 7 – 12 provided more powerful customised educational laptops to students. Teachers at both levels received a similar specification computer as their pupils and interactive whiteboard technologies for using digital content in classrooms. Students owned the computers and brought them back and forth to school which allowed technology access for learning at home also. Parents contributed to the purchase of the equipment based on their income levels. Poorer families received the technology free of charge.
Teacher training in incorporating technology into the curriculum was a prominent feature of this programme. 850 master teachers were identified, these teachers in turn have helped to provide training to 30,00o teachers throughout Portugal. The reports suggests that public/private partnerships for teacher training such as Microsoft’s Partners in Learning programme offers affordable 21st Century teacher pedagogy professional development.
Provision of digital content, to support the curriculum and learning was another key element of the system put in place in Portugal to optimise the benefits of the technology provided for the pupils at first and second level. Portugal Telecom and some other companies developed digital content and learning platforms. Pupils in Grades 1-4 were provided with interactive educational content on sko0ol.pt and older pupils had content provided on Escola.pt.