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Media and Education in the Digital Age

Concepts, Assessments, Subversions

Edited By Matteo Stocchetti

This book is an invitation to informed and critical participation in the current debate on the role of digital technology in education and a comprehensive introduction to the most relevant issues in this debate. After an early wave of enthusiasm about the emancipative opportunities of the digital «revolution» in education, recent contributions invite caution, if not scepticism. This collection rejects extreme interpretations and establishes a conceptual framework for the critical questioning of this role in terms of concepts, assessments and subversions. This book offers conceptual tools, ideas and insights for further research. It also provides motivation and information to foster active participation in debates and politics and encourages teachers, parents and learners to take part in the making of the future of our societies.
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Teachers and the Challenges of Digital Technologies in Education: The Portuguese ‘e-escolinha’ Programme

Teachers and the Challenges of Digital Technologies in Education: The Portuguese ‘e.escolinha’ Programme

Sara Pereira

Abstract

The media, old and new, are today a significant presence in the lives of children and youth, playing an important role in the way they learn and understand the world. Several studies show how the media are influential agents of socialization for the new generations, often more than family or school. Despite the recognized importance of the media in children’s lives, educational institutions are frequently closed to the media culture of the students, who leave their experiences and media practices outside the school walls. Based on the results of a survey of a group of primary school teachers, this paper aims to present and discuss the teachers’ perspectives on the place of digital media in education and its impact on educational practices. The questionnaires were distributed to 80 teachers from the third and fourth grades of basic education (8–10 years old), teaching in 30 primary public schools in the municipality of Braga, a city in the northern Portugal. Based on the Portuguese programme ‘e.escolinha’ whose aim is for every child in the 1st cycle of basic education to have access to a laptop named ‘Magalhães’, this paper aims to understand the uses of digital media, and in particular the uses of this computer, in school. The study highlights the motivations and the issues that underlie teachers’ acceptance or rejection in engaging with digital technologies in the classroom setting. In so doing, this chapter shows that teachers recognize the importance of the media and communication technologies in education, but their integration into teaching activities is not yet a usual and rooted practice. The chapter concludes by considering the difficulties and the constraints indicated by teachers in using digital media, namely the ‘Magalhães’ computer, and some ways to overcome them.

Introduction

In 2000, the European Council (EC) of Lisbon defined a strategy for the European Union (EU)1 that aims “to make Europe the most competitive and dynamic economy of knowledge, capable of generating sustainable economic growth with ← 215 | 216 → more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” (http://www.dges.mctes.pt). To achieve these goals, in 2005 it was agreed that each Member State would prepare a National Reform Plan and present a National Strategy in line with the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy. Following this agreement, several countries designed and implemented programmes to equip schools with digital technologies and to promote the use of these technologies by students at various levels of education. In the case of Portugal, in 2007, the XVII Portuguese Government launched the Technological Plan for Education, which intends “to place Portugal among the five most advanced European countries in technological modernization of education” (www.pte.gov.pt). This Plan was presented as “the largest programme of technological modernization of Portuguese schools” representing “a unique effort to equip schools with technological infra-structures, provide online content and services and strengthen students’ and teachers’ ICT skills ” in order “to prepare the new generations for the challenges of the knowledge society” (www.pte.gov.pt).

A year later, in 2008, the ‘e.escolinha’ (e.little school) programme was launched within the Technological Plan for Education. The main target of ‘e.escolinha’ was children aged between 6 and 10 years old attending the first cycle of basic education (primary school). The most visible side of this programme was the distribution of a laptop (named ‘Magalhães’, a tribute to Fernão de Magalhães, a Portuguese navigator from the XVI century) to all primary school pupils, free of charge or at an extremely low price.

Although this measure has allowed many children to have access to a personal computer (and also access to the Internet for those who bought it), it received some criticism from teachers, parents, opposition parties and the society in general. The excessive concern with delivering technology, overlooking media literacy or digital literacy goals, as well as the disregard for pedagogical practices and the need for teacher-training were some of the main criticisms raised and also the main reasons for the limited success of the initiative. This means that the programme was a lot more centred on the equipment than on the child, the teacher or the teaching-learning process. The purpose of distributing computers to schoolchildren was not accompanied by a training plan for the use of technology aiming to empower children to use it in a critical, responsible and secure way, which would also require the training of teachers.

However, computers were distributed to approximately 500,000 children (for three school years), which means they were introduced into schools as a part of children’s daily lives. As a result, what happened, and what did not happen, at school? How were those computers used? Were they incorporated in the pedagogical practices of teachers and in the teaching-learning process? What are the gains and the main difficulties faced by teachers when digital technologies enter ← 216 | 217 → the classroom setting? What are the main problems in using digital technologies at school? Are teachers resistant to or enthusiastic about the use of digital technology? These are some of the main questions that this paper intends to discuss based on a critical media education approach.

Making sense of digital media in education

Since the programmes set up in the 1980s and 1990s aimed at getting computers into schools did not produce the expected revolution in the educational system, other kinds of initiatives have since been launched and implemented during this decade all over the world. In Portugal, these initiatives respond to a public policy that intends to modernize schools and give the opportunity to all students to have a personal computer and a broadband connection.

This kind of technological plan for education, reflecting a tendency that seems to be present in contemporary society, assigns technology the power to change and boost education as well as other areas in society. This enthusiastic view of the great potential of technology is based on a “techno-romantic” or “techno-utopian” (Selwyn, 2011) perspective. Policy-makers believe that technology, more specifically the computer, will revolutionize schooling and will transform the way students learn. This was also the point of view that was behind the launch of the ‘e.escolinha’ programme.

Alongside these arguments, negative discourses emerge that condemn technology in education. We agree with Buckingham (2007) when he states that this debate “has often been conducted in quite absolutist terms” (p. 48). The author is also right to consider that this polarization does not imply that “we should seek to arrive at a ‘happy medium’ between them [both positions]” (p. 49). Nevertheless, more nuanced perspectives could be possible to reach if we assume that advantages and disadvantages of using technology cannot be separated.

The polarization of this debate focuses much attention on one side or on the other, but ignores some key issues. As Buckingham (2007) argues “fundamental questions about what teachers and students might want to use technology for, and about what we might need to know about technology, tend to be marginalized” (p. 49). In addition, the competences children need to acquire in order to deal effectively with digital technologies are an issue that is not usually addressed.

Between these dichotomous arguments, it is important to listen to the main players, i.e., teachers, students and parents. Often the arguments about the use of technology in education do not echo the perspectives of the main actors of the whole process, and it is fundamental that they are not left out, particularly ← 217 | 218 → because, as Buckingham stated “there is frequently a significant gap between the imagination of policy-makers and of more academic accounts of educational technology – and the realities of teaching and learning” (Buckingham, 2007: 30).

In our opinion the main question is not the use of digital media in school or its importance for the educational process. Our lives are surrounded by media and it is essential that students develop critical approaches to using these means. The main points have to do with the principal focus of these policies, the way they are translated into practice and how the everyday realities of schools and classrooms are considered.

Linda Phipps (2000), from the St William’s Foundation, United Kingdom, analysed over 40 projects carried out by public authorities, private agencies and community groups. These projects were considered positive examples of applications of new technologies to reduce the disadvantage experienced by the more excluded groups in our society (Phipps, 2000: 39). Phipps concluded that such projects have centred on access and hardware. According to the author, these projects are based on a belief in equality of access and on a belief in the potential of ICT to solve the inclusion of disadvantaged people in the information society. Phipps recognises that the lack of information access may lead to cumulative disadvantage and, therefore, access could create opportunities in several areas. But she questions if this “is effective enough for ICTs to have a real and significant impact on the lives and opportunities of disadvantaged groups” (p. 47). In this sense, she emphasizes “relational more than distributional measures” (id.) which means more a focus on people and community than on distribution of technology because “new levels of empowerment will not come about without strategies for community involvement and basic capacity-building among community groups” (p. 45). In the case of the Portuguese programme we are focusing on, the community would be the school community, namely, students, teachers and parents. Previous analyses of this programme (Pereira & Melro, 2012) confirm, however, that the community was not its centre or a concern. The community was not involved; they were seen more as recipients than active agents. Herein lies one of the critical points of the programme and that may have contributed to it not having achieved the expected success.

In the same line of thought as Phipps, Mark Warschauer (2003) states that the technology programmes around the world “too often focus on providing hardware and software and pay insufficient attention to the human and social systems” adding that “meaningful access to ICT comprises far more than merely providing computers and Internet connections” (p. 6). This seems to be one of the problematic aspects of the programmes within the Portuguese Technological Plan for Education. In the case of ‘e.escolinha’ the access dimension was taken into account but other factors pointed out by Warschauer as significant, such as physical, digital, ← 218 | 219 → human and social resources, relationships and also content and language, literacy and education, community and institutional structures (p. 6), were undervalued dimensions or even ignored.

Another significant issue, referred to by Buckingham (2007), is “that the use of technology is often mandated from the top down: it is a decision made by administrators or other outsiders that is then imposed upon the teaching profession” (p. 51). Indeed, in the case of ‘e.escolinha’, the programme was imposed by central authorities and the teachers were not enlisted as collaborators. There was not even an organized training programme for the teaching staff. Training is clearly crucial for enhancing technology in schools and it has been fundamental for the implementation of this governmental initiative. Therefore, some teachers appeared to be reluctant in using the laptop. As a result, there was a significant gap between the euphoric discourses of the policy-makers about the potential of the ‘Magalhães’ laptop and the realities of classroom practices, as can be seen in the following sections.

Methods

This study is part of a broader research project which seeks to examine the policies that comprise the Portuguese governmental programme ‘e.escolinha’ (little school) and get to know how children use the ‘Magalhães’ computer at home and at school. The first objective was achieved by collecting and examining documentation produced within the framework of the Technological Plan for Education (TPE) and, more specifically, within the ‘e.escolinha’ programme. In addition, interviews were conducted with policy-makers and with companies connected with the setting up and implementation of the TPE. In order to fulfil the second objective, questionnaires were distributed to children attending schools of the 1st cycle of basic education in the Braga municipality (a city in northern Portugal) as well as to their teacher and parents.

This paper is based on the analysis of the teachers’ questionnaires. Between May and June 2012, 80 teachers from 30 schools of the 1st cycle of basic education answered the questionnaire, which had the following objectives:

  1. Get to know the teachers’ perceptions about the importance and the place of the media in school.
  2. Ascertain whether the teachers use the media and the new technologies, particularly the ‘Magalhães’ computer in the teaching-learning process.
  3. Establish whether years of teaching service and ICT training are factors that influence teachers’ perceptions and their use of ICT in school. ← 219 | 220 →
  4. Determine how the ‘Magalhães’ computer was used in school and how the teachers integrated it in their pedagogical practices.
  5. Register the teachers’ opinions on the ‘Magalhães’ computer and on the public policy which set out its distribution.
  6. Identify the challenges, problems, advantages and difficulties in implementing the ‘e.escolinha’ programme in the classroom.
  7. Ascertain whether the teachers require specialized training in the use of digital technologies in education.

The Computer programme IBM-SPSS Statistics v21 was used to conduct the statistical analysis of the data collected from the “Teacher Questionnaire – Navigating with ‘Magalhães’, focusing on the first four objectives mentioned above.

The descriptive analysis of the data was carried out taking into account the nature of the variables being studied. The following measures were calculated: absolute frequencies; relative frequencies (percentage of valid cases %); central tendency (mean); dispersion (standard deviation); and the maximum and minimum values. In the multiple choice questions, the percentages of answers presented are in relation to the total number of valid cases.

For the inferential analysis, we resorted to the application of non-parametric tests since, on the whole, the conditions of applicability of parametric tests were not met. To compare independent or unconnected groups the Mann-Whitney and Kruskal-Wallis tests were used. When there were two groups to be compared, the former was used, and if there were more, the latter was employed. Whenever significant differences were detected, these were identified by a pair-by-pair comparison using the Mann-Whitney test. To check the independence between two categorical variables, Chi-square tests were used (Marôco, 2011).

All the tests were applied with a confidence level of 95% unless otherwise stated.

Brief description of the Portuguese education system and characterization of the respondent group of teachers.

Compulsory schooling in Portugal lasts 12 years and covers two levels: basic education and secondary education. Basic education is divided into three cycles: the first cycle is four years long and is attended by children aged between 6 and 10; the second cycle takes two years and is attended by 10 to 12-year-olds; the third cycle lasts three years, and is attended by children between the ages of 12 and 15. Secondary Education takes three years and is for students aged between 15 and 18. Before compulsory schooling, children may attend pre-school from the age of 3 to 6. ← 220 | 221 →

This study focuses on the 1st cycle of basic education, which corresponds to primary school. It is the only level of education where the students have only one teacher who teaches all the subjects. There are four main subjects: Portuguese, Mathematics, Social and Physical Environment Studies, and Artistic and Physical Expression. The curriculum matrix for this level of education also includes three areas that do not have the status of subjects: project work, guided study and citizenship education. Since 2008, 1st cycle schools have also offered Curricular Enrichment Activities, which include a foreign language (English) and, depending on the schools, Music, Physical Education and Information and Communication Technologies. These activities are held outside class time, are not compulsory and are taught by teachers hired by the local city councils.

In order to conduct this study, 80 teachers from 30 schools of the 1st cycle of education in the Braga municipality answered the questionnaire, which equates to 42% of the total number of schools of this level of education in the municipality. Only teachers who had 3rd and 4th year classes were requested to complete the questionnaire since they were the ones who would have the most experience using the ‘Magalhães’ computer. The overwhelming majority (94%) of the teachers are female, which seems to reflect the overall scenario of the teaching profession in Portugal as far as gender is concerned. In terms of age, 80% of the teachers are 40 years of age or older, while only 20% are younger than 40 with the mean being 47 (standard deviation= 7.9 years).

Regarding academic qualifications, the overwhelming majority has a degree in the field of education while only 5% have a post-graduate qualification or master’s degree.

In terms of years of teaching service, the vast majority (75%) has been teaching for more than 20 years, underscoring the experience of this group of teachers. Only 25% have been in the profession for less than 20 years, with the mean being 25.6 (standard deviation = 8.4 years) years of service.

Most of these teachers (N=63) stated that they underwent training in the use of information and communication technologies in schools. Only 15 mentioned they did not get any training. It should be noted that 88% of the teachers (N=76) stated that they have access to the Internet at school, while 12% do not. Of those who do, 54% have access in the classroom and 46% do not.

Listening to teachers: how they face the challenges of digital media in education

In this section we present the results from three topics taken from the teachers’ questionnaires: (1) perceptions of the importance of digital media in children’s ← 221 | 222 → lives and in education and the use of these means in teachers’ daily and professional lives; (2) using the ‘Magalhães’ computer, and (3) views on the main contributions and constraints that ‘Magalhães’ has for education practice and the teaching–learning process.

Perceptions and uses of the media in school

The vast majority of the respondents (N=78) thinks that media and digital technologies have an important or very important role in children’s lives (99%) besides considering them also as important or very important for curricular activities (98%).

However, as can be seen in the graph in Fig. 1, most of the means are rarely or never used by the teachers in their pedagogic activity. The computer and the Internet are the means they state as using most often in their pedagogic practice, although, as other data collected from the questionnaire confirm, they may not use them when interacting directly with the children but rather when planning classes or preparing materials for them.

fig15.jpg

Fig. 1:   Uses of the media in teachers’ pedagogical practice

In fact, of the 77 respondents to the question on the day-to-day use of the computer at school and/or at home, only one stated she did not use a computer. Sending emails, searching on the Internet, preparing classes and making PowerPoint slides are the activities the teachers mention they do most often on their computer.

As far as the use of the computer for pedagogic activities is concerned, only four teachers stated they do not use it. Those who do, use it to prepare classes (73); to carry out activities in the classroom (67); communicate with other teachers (60); ← 222 | 223 → communicate with students (26); make materials available to students (24) and to communicate with parents (22). As mentioned before, the computer appears to be more of a resource that is used to plan and manage school activities than a means to enhance the teaching-learning process.

One of the aims of this study is to determine the connection between the teachers’ years of practice and how they use the computer. On the whole, the results indicate that the teachers who have been teaching longer use the computer less often in their pedagogic activity (mean= 26; SD= 8.4 years of teaching service)

Besides this, the use of the computer to prepare and carry out class activities is more significant among the teachers who have been teaching for fewer years. This may suggest that teachers who have begun their educational activity more recently are more open to integrating ICT in the classroom; they may be younger as well, they could have acquired ICT teaching skills through their initial training and, therefore, be more used to and aware of technologies. Teachers who have been teaching for longer appear to use the computer mostly as a communication tool, i.e., what stands out is the use of email to communicate professionally. This result leads us to question whether newer teachers from ‘digital native generations’ are a little more aware and sensitized to integrate technology into the classroom curriculum because of their own engagement with ICT or because they were taught how to use technology in initial teacher training2.

The study also sought to determine the relation between ICT training and the teachers’ use of the computer. On the whole, no difference can be seen between teachers who underwent training and those who did not, as far as the frequency of computer use is concerned. The only case where there appears to be statistical evidence to establish a dependency connection between computer use and ICT training is “editing images and photographs” (p<0.05), since this feature is clearly more often used by teachers who have ICT training. With regard to the relation between ICT training and computer use in pedagogic activities, it was found there is practically no difference between teachers with ICT training and those without when it comes to using the computer for pedagogic purposes. The main activities undertaken are: “Preparing classes” (94%); “Carrying out classroom activities” (86%) and “Communicating with other teachers” (77%). ← 223 | 224 →

Although most of the other means play an important role in children’s daily lives, when it comes to their use in pedagogical practice they are rarely explored and analyzed by teachers. The mobile phone, for instance, which is today a convergent technology allowing children access to a variety of resources through an internet connection, is not explored by more than half of the teachers. Even newspapers and magazines, which could be more readily used in the classroom due to the ease with which this sort of material can be collected, are seldom objects of analysis. This study shows how the media seem to be far from being a common feature of school practices, despite playing a significant part in the younger generation’s daily activities. Various authors have drawn attention to the fact that there is a mismatch between how children and young people use media and ICT at home and in their daily lives, and how they use them in the school context (Selwyn, Potter and Cranmer, 2010). The results of this study, based on the teachers’ questionnaire as well as on the children’s and parents’ questionnaires administered within the same project, show this gap as well, demonstrating that informal or formal learning takes place outside school and does not get much attention in this context. A reading of the results of the study undertaken by Selwyn, Potter and Cranmer (2010) in primary schools in the London area may suggest that the contradiction between the value teachers assign to the media and the actual work they carry out with them in class could be connected with the fact that they feel neither competent nor confident enough to bridge the gap between the uses and the practices children have at home and the experience they have with ICT at school and explore the children’s interests and capacities in the classroom. This interaction would require, however, teachers to be familiar with the experiences children have with these technologies at home, which, according to the abovementioned study, is something teachers are in fact aware of but not so familiar as to be able to make full use of them in the classroom.

Uses and non-uses of the ‘Magalhães’ computer

As mentioned previously, the ‘e.escolinha’ programme sought to distribute a laptop to every child in the 1st cycle of basic education. The computer cost no more than €50, but in the case of children who benefitted from the School Social Services, it could be purchased for €20 or even obtained free of charge. At first the programme did not make provision for the laptops to be handed out to teachers, which for many meant a constraint on their using it.

Only 12 of the respondents received the ‘Magalhães’, although 58 mentioned having had the chance to explore the computer and its content. Teachers who had not stated it was precisely due to the fact that they did not have one, but there were ← 224 | 225 → others who said they had not done so because the computer was for the students and not for the teachers, which is rather surprising considering the laptop was meant to be used within educational practice.

When asked about specific training on the ‘Magalhães’ computer, of the total number teacher respondents (77), more than half (53) report they had not done any. The reasons given were lack of training sessions (66%), lack of information and funding (both with 23%) and lack of time (11%).

When it comes to the use of the ‘Magalhães’ computer, what the results show is that it is mostly infrequently (43%) or not at all used (36%). Only 21% mentioned using it frequently. The reasons given by the 36% of the teachers who stated never having used or not currently using ‘Magalhães’ are damaged computers, the fact that not all students have them, the lack of electrical outlets in the classroom and students forgetting to bring the computer to class are mentioned by more than 50% of the teachers. Technical and logistical reasons seem, therefore, to be the main reasons hindering the use of the computer in the classroom. Less frequently, the respondents also reported difficulties that arise from work organisation and management and from training.

Turning now to the 64 % of the teachers (N= 39) who stated that they use the computer, be it sporadically or frequently, they were asked about the way they use the laptop and what their objectives were.

Of the teachers who use the computer in the classroom, only one said it was on a daily basis. Nineteen teachers stated they used it once or more a week while 19 others mentioned they used it only on a monthly basis. In other words, the use of the computer in educational activities is still sporadic, being a resource to carry out specific tasks. It is an auxiliary tool used occasionally and not one which is integrated in the teaching-learning process. The activities teachers say students carry out most often on the ‘Magalhães’ computer in the classroom, shown in Table 1, are indicative of this sporadic practice. Among the activities pointed out as most frequent, two pertain to tasks which are usually carried out with a pen or pencil: “do exercises” and “read and write texts”. Although they are mentioned as being carried out most frequently, they are not yet a regular and daily activity in pedagogical practice. Power Point presentations are also frequent but just as sporadic, being used mainly for the presentation of assignments or school projects. As far as games are concerned, these are educational in nature. Some of them were originally installed on the computer and are mostly used when students have finished the planned work or when they have completed their individual tasks and are waiting for their colleagues to finish theirs. Although conducting a search on the Internet is among the five most frequent activities, it is still an underused practice in the classroom. The use of the computer at home to carry out activities connected ← 225 | 226 → with education, namely to do school assignments, is also low, in line with what is reported in the “Key Data on Learning and Innovation through ICT at School in Europe” (EACEA, 2011).

Taking into account these results, it can be said that, in their educational practice with their students, teachers still do not take much advantage of the potential of digital media. They are not very innovative as far as their use is concerned and do not use them much to provide active and collaborative learning. This is why it is important for teachers to receive technology skill training.

Table 1: The five activities teachers say students either never do or frequently do on the ‘Magalhães’ computer in class.

NeverFrequently
Go to social networks (96%)Do exercises (57%)
Send emails (83%)Play games (50%)
Produce videos and films (79%)Make Power Points (43%)
Watch the news on the Internet (72%)Search on the Internet (23%)
Produce videos and films (44%)Read and write texts (16%)

It is important to point out that there appears to be a dependency connection (at a confidence level of 95%) between the use of the ‘Magalhães’ with students and whether or not the teachers had specific training for that computer. This information suggests that training teachers may step-up the use of digital media in education and be the way to prepare and enable teachers to integrate media into educational practice. However, as was discussed above, the relation between ICT training and the use of computers by the teachers, whether for personal purposes or for pedagogical activities, was not considered to be significant. How can this difference be accounted for? One explanation may reside in the fact that teachers respond better to a more specific training plan with the purpose of addressing a particular situation they are going through at the time and for which they would like to find action strategies.

In general, it can be said that the number of years of teaching service does not influence how students use their ‘Magalhães’ computers in the classroom. In fact, the most and the least frequent activities match the ones presented in Table 1.

Using the ‘Magalhães’ computer at school: contributions and constraints

In this last section we sought to determine what the teachers’ opinions were on the main contributions made by the ‘Magalhães’ as well the main factors which constrain its use, regardless of whether it is used or not. ← 226 | 227 →

On the whole, there was significant agreement among the teachers as to the contributions brought by the ‘Magalhães’ to school (Fig. 2). An exception was the item “Increase in indiscipline in the classroom” since 74.5% of the respondents disagreed with it, while 25.5 % agreed. The items “Facilitate communication within the school community” and “Improve the relationship between school and family” also stood out, as the percentages were evenly split between the two opinions.

It should be pointed out that there is a number of items on which over 90% of the teachers agreed. These are connected with the promotion of skills, access to knowledge, student motivation, co-operation and participation, as well as with the diversification of activities. Thus, it seems clear that, according to the teachers, the ‘Magalhães’ computer brought significant benefits to school, students and teachers.

fig16.jpg

Fig. 2:    Main contributions of the ‘Magalhães’ computer

In terms of the main factors which constrain the use of the computer (indicated by at least 2/3 of the teachers), these pertain to “practical” and technical aspects connected with computer malfunctions, lack of computers or infrastructures (power outlets or Internet connections) (Fig 3). ← 227 | 228 →

It is interesting to note that the teachers’ lack of pedagogical knowledge is the constraint they assigned the least importance to, as only 12% stated they agree it was in fact one. Concerning their shortcomings in terms of technical knowledge, opinions were almost equally divided: 39% agreed and 33 % disagreed.

Although it was found previously in this study that specific training appeared to have a positive impact on the use of ‘Magalhães’, teachers reported external issues, i.e., technical and infrastructure issues as constraining factors rather than their training or pedagogical knowledge.

fig17.jpg

Fig. 3:   Factors which constrain the use of ‘Magalhães’

The teachers were also asked to say what they would change in the distribution of the ‘Magalhães’ computer if it were still operational. It was our intention to determine those features the teachers regarded as critical in this initiative which would require changing in order to ensure its success. The teachers’ answers reveal some of the main problems that have already been pointed out, both by this group of teachers and by public speeches on this governmental measure, some of which were covered in the media (Pereira, 2010). ← 228 | 229 →

It is, therefore, clear that among the suggestions made by the teachers are the main constraints to the implementation of the measure in schools and in classrooms: constant computer malfunctions and a lack of a technical support centre to help solve this problem; the fact that the computer was not distributed to the teachers (its retail price was six times the maximum price paid by a child, which made it difficult for teachers to purchase ); the lack of training sessions to prepare teachers to integrate the technology in the classroom; the limited availability of contents/software to teach and learn specific issues; the fact that the computers were taken home instead of staying at school which is connected with the fact that they could be reused the following year. These are some of the suggestions put forward by the teachers if they could change the programme, which are simultaneously some of the critical factors underlying its implementation.

The ‘e.escolinha’ programme was discontinued in June 2011 when the XIX Constitutional Government took office, which meant that the huge political and economic investment in this initiative and all the promises of change in the teaching–learning process were put on hold.

However, these teachers’ voices show how important it would have been for the government to have taken the teachers on board as partners in this programme, instead of creating this top-down initiative and imposing it on the teachers and the whole of the education community without paying much attention to the idiosyncrasies of the school environment.

Discussion of the results

The evidence from the Portuguese Ministry of Education statistics clearly shows that there has been a significant improvement in the ratio of students per computer. Before the implementation of the ‘e.escolinha’ programme (2005–2006), the ratio of students per computer in the 1st cycle of basic education was 15:9 in public schools and 9:5 in private schools. This number decreased substantially in the school year 2008–2009, in which the ‘Magalhães’ computer was distributed, having fallen to 1:1 and 1:2 in public schools and in private schools, respectively. Only one year after the implementation of the initiative, the ratio of students per computer reached the maximum rate of 1:1 in both schools systems. The same scenario is present in the number of students per computer with Internet connection, but with a major difference: from 26:5 in public schools and 13:8 in private schools in 2005–2006, to a ratio of 1:1 and 1:2, in 2008–2009, respectively (Gabinete de Estatística e Planeamento da Educação & Direcção de Serviços de Estatística, 2011). Thanks to this programme and to the Technological Plan in ← 229 | 230 → general, Portugal took the lead in Europe as far as children’s access to computers and the Internet was concerned, exceeding the European average of three to seven students per computer (European Schoolnet & University of Liege Psychology and Education, 2013). In a country with low schooling rates among the adult population, this governmental programme democratized laptop ownership by making it possible for families, especially those with low incomes, to possess one. This feature is also made clear by the number of families who joined the ‘Magalhães’ initiative: 98% of the 1,517 students surveyed had acquired this computer.

However, despite this enthusiastic response, the results suggest that the use of this computer in school has generally been sporadic and piecemeal, since it is not embedded in classroom practice. Although teachers assign importance to digital media in children’s lives and teaching practice, they report they do not use these means much for enhancing and enriching learning.

According to a study conducted for the European Commission on ICT use in Education (European Schoolnet & University of Liege Psychology and Education, 2013), “school heads and teachers consider that insufficient ICT equipment (especially interactive whiteboards and laptops) is the major obstacle to ICT use” (p. 9). However, in the case of this group of teachers, the fact that each student had a laptop did not mean ICTs were more widely used in school and in the classroom, which may explain another of the conclusions of the abovementioned study that states “no overall relationship was found between high levels of infrastructure provision and student and teacher use, confidence and attitudes” (id.).

As far as computer use by the teachers is concerned, it was established that although they use it more frequently outside the classroom, its use is connected with pedagogical practice. In a study that sought to characterize ICT uses in educational contexts, Ponte, Oliveira e Varandas (2003), from the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon, Portugal, mention three categories of use: (i) an additional educational aid to assist students in their learning, (ii) a personal productivity tool to prepare materials for classes, to carry out administrative tasks and to search for information and materials, and (iii) an interactive medium to interact and collaborate with other teachers and educational partners (p. 3). When applying this typology to the present study, the results point mainly to the uses mentioned in the second and third categories, while the first is the least frequent, especially concerning the use of the computer to develop activities with students in the classroom. In fact, many teachers used the computer for administrative tasks, preparing materials for classes and communicating with other teachers, students and parents. Some other studies have also indicated that teachers equipped with computers use them first and foremost for administrative functions (Mundy, Kupczynski & Kee, 2012) and to prepare their teaching (European Schoolnet & University of Liege ← 230 | 231 → Psychology and Education, 2013), which is in agreement with the conclusions of our study.

As regards the frequency of use, only a small proportion (N=9) was using ‘Magalhães’ in the classroom more than once a week, and 27 were not using it at all. Thus, the use of the computer was very limited, and even for those who use it frequently it was not a central aspect of their pedagogical practice and their students’ learning process. There was some use of the computer for word processing, making power points, Internet searches and playing (educational) games, but its use was very limited for creating and producing content, such as producing videos or writing on blogs.

Therefore, we can conclude that ‘Magalhães’ was not effectively integrated in the classroom and has not changed teachers’ practices, as the policy-makers and the companies had enthusiastically announced and expected. However, these findings are not exactly a novelty. Similar conclusions are echoed by other studies. Buckingham (2007), after having presented some studies on the uses of ICT in classroom states that, in general “it seems fair to conclude that classroom teaching and learning have been far from transformed through the advent of technology” (p. 59). Based on those studies, the author puts forward another conclusion which is common to the results of this survey: “most teachers are quite ready to use computers at home and in other areas of their professional lives: they tend to ‘resist’ only when it comes to using them in the classroom” (p. 59).

The most common reasons cited by teachers for the computer underuse were structural or logistical. The fact that students left the computer at home, the computer hardware and software, constraints pertaining to school premises and infrastructure were, to some extent, the teachers’ most apparent difficulties in using the computer. It was interesting to note that teachers considered these obstacles more relevant than their skills and knowledge to handle the equipment and to use its resources to support learning in the classroom, and then the training provided for teaching staff. It is true that the relationship between computer use and training in ICT was not statistically significant; however, there was a positive relationship between the ‘Magalhães’ use and specific training on the use of this computer.

Moreover, in the open questions in the questionnaire about the teachers’ perspectives on the ‘e.escolinha’ programme and the distribution of the ‘Magalhães’ computer, they expressed other reasons for not using the computer, or for not using it frequently, and emphasized precisely the lack of training and the fact that the programme focused mainly on access and neglected educational purposes. They also advanced some proposals to ensure a greater success of this initiative.

72% of the teachers (N= 74) consider the ‘e.escolinha’ important or very important, highlighting, for instance, the fact that this programme gave equal ← 231 | 232 → opportunities to all primary school children to have a computer, thereby reducing social disadvantages among them. Despite this positive opinion, they point out some weaknesses too. Limitations of the training provision and the lack of an educational project were identified as significant factors affecting teachers’ capacity in using the computer. The maintenance of the computers was another aspect that teachers found particularly hard to control given the frequent breakdowns of computers. A further problem relates to the way children use the equipment. In the opinion of a large number of teachers, the computer was used by children mainly as a toy and to play games; it was not seen as a resource for schooling. Teachers also believe that the computer should have stayed in school and not been taken home. Constraints related to the number of students per class (25 on average) are another factor indicated by some teachers. The quotations below could illustrate some of these arguments:

I think this programme was important but with few benefits for children because they should have invested in the initial training of teachers in this area to develop good pedagogical practices with children (Female, 32 years old, teaching the 4th year, 8 years of service).

The teachers were not properly informed and had no initial training. For children, in general, the ‘Magalhães’ computer was a toy (Female, 46 years old, teaching the 3rd year, 19 years of service).

Some students just spoiled the computers. They took them to play games at home (Female, 54 years old teaching the 4th year, 32 years of service).

I think they did not create conditions in schools for their use. Adequate training was not given to teachers either. (Female, 45 years old, teaching the 3rd year, 23 years of service).

The initiative was interesting but the computer in the hands of the children lasted a very short time. My understanding is that schools should be equipped with computers (Female, 51 years old, teaching the 4th year, 29 years of service).

It’s not always easy to use the ‘Magalhães’ in a pedagogical context because some students have damaged them. As there is no Internet in the rooms, it’s impossible to carry out some tasks (Female, 50 years old, teaching the 4th year, 28 years of service).

Computers should not be given to children because most children use ‘Magalhães’ as a toy and when I ask students to bring their computer to school I see that most of them are already broken. Schools should have a room with computers (desktop or portable), where students would move to have specific computer classes with specialized teachers. The teacher of the 1st cycle has already a very extensive curriculum to work throughout the school year (Female, 42 years old, teaching the 3rd year, 18 years of service). ← 232 | 233 →

Based on the results of the research, we can conclude that, despite the many advantages of the programme also recognized by teachers, there are many reasons why this initiative has failed to transform learning in the manner that many of its advocates have envisaged. The centralized and top-down nature of this initiative could perhaps explain the gap between the government policy and the local schools’ constraints and the teachers’ professional skills and needs as well. In fact, the idea of distributing the ‘Magalhães’ computer comes from the government and from the industry rather than from teachers or from the school community. This policy focused mainly on access and hardware, which turned out not to be as effective as to have a significant impact on the lives of children and their families and on school life in general. In line with Phipps (2000), it could be argued that what is fundamental is a “movement from a technical, technology-centred perspective to an application- and user-oriented perspective, to support demand and the needs of users” (p. 48). The provision of a digital literacy programme would have been essential because, by extending to the “e.escolinha” programme the conclusion that the above mentioned author reached on the ICT application projects she examined, the promise this programme made to increase levels of digital empowerment “will not come about without strategies for community involvement and basic capacity-building among community groups”.

On the whole, it can be said that this programme, aimed specifically at primary school children as well as the other programmes comprising the Portuguese Technological Plan for Education, allowed for the social inclusion of families, particularly underprivileged ones, insofar as the lack of access to means of communication increasingly used in society may accelerate exclusion. However, if we consider that the concepts of inclusion and exclusion are multidimensional (Phipps, 2000), and are connected with each individual’s situation and life opportunities, it may be said that this governmental programme provided a positive response to the social inclusion dimension (access to digital media), but inclusion is not only about providing equal opportunities in terms of access. In other words, the programme was important as far as access was concerned, but it was not very significant in terms of use practices or in boosting interaction with and participation in the community, which are other dimensions of social inclusion. Using Phipps’ terminology, the programme addressed ‘distributional’ issues (resources at the disposal of an individual or household) more than ‘relational’ issues (for instance, social participation, realization of social rights)3. ← 233 | 234 →

Final remarks

David Buckingham (2007) argues that “the idea that digital technology will fundamentally transform education is obviously part of a bigger story” (p. 31). And it is, indeed. Contrary to the politicians in charge of the ‘e.escolinha’ programme, and even the former prime minister, who advocated it, the ‘Magalhães’ computer has not transformed learning nor has it revolutionized the institution of the school. This is not to deny the importance of this programme and its success in terms of students’ access to a personal computer, nor is it to deny that some teachers are using it and are taking educational advantage of it. But, the schools’ reality is much more diverse and complex than was pictured by the programme’s policy-makers. Democratizing access to the computer, especially for low-income families, was, indeed, the most positive impact of this policy. It should, however, be noted that the strong enthusiasm generated by this governmental programme was also due to the expectations families have with regard to the educational value of the new technologies.

An aspect that seems evident is the gap that is being created between how technology is used in school and what children are doing with it outside school. As Buckingham (2007) states,

If most schools have remained relatively unaffected by the advent of modern media technology, the same cannot be said of children’s lives outside school. On the contrary, childhood is now permeated, even in some respects defined, by the modern media – by television, video, computer games, the internet, mobile phones and popular music, and by the enormous range of media-related commodities that make up contemporary consumer culture (p. 75).

Similar results were revealed by other studies, namely the research project carried out by Selwyn, Potter & Cranmer (2010) and the study prepared for the European Commission about benchmarking access, use and attitudes to technology in European schools (European Schoolnet & University of Liege Psychology and Education, 2013). Not only are students’ ICT-based activities at home more frequent compared to ICT activities at school, but there is also a divide between children’s media home experiences and their school experiences. In our study, there is also a mismatch between teachers’ opinions about the importance of the media in children’s lives and their use in pedagogical activities. As commented before, this could be due to the difficulty in working with children’s home experiences and to a lack of confidence in how to explore these means in a critical away. In some cases, this could also be explained by the scepticism of some teachers regarding the educational value of some media (for instance, mobile phones and videogames).

In our perspective, teachers’ training is clearly crucial for promoting the use of (digital) media in schools and for implementing media literacy. We consider media ← 234 | 235 → literacy a fundamental means to approach technology at school and a way to respond to the increasing role of media in children’s lives. Media literacy challenges teachers to go beyond access and promote creative opportunities and critical media uses. Through in-service training, teachers could become more confident in using media and ICT, participate more in professional development, and be more enthusiastic about ICT use in the teaching and learning (T&L) process. After all, “teachers’ confidence and opinions about ICT use for T&L affect the frequency of students’ ICT use for learning: boosting teacher professional development makes a difference, and appears to be a condition for an effective and efficient use of the available infrastructure” (European Schoolnet & University of Liege Psychology and Education, 2013: 14).

But this training, as well these kinds of technological policies for education, need to be realistic about the primary school realities and their diversity, the nature of this education level and its organizational constraints. They must also take into account that primary school teachers, as indeed teachers from other grades, have external pressures and must follow some priorities. The transforming technology practices inside the school cannot be done in a flash, since these kinds of changes are progressive, not radical. It is true that the technological policies and programmes, such as ‘e.escolinha’, are already having an effect on teachers’ thinking about ICT, but they can be better suited to the realities of schools and the experience of teachers and pupils. There are also at least two aspects that were overlooked by the ‘e.escolinha’ programme and which deserve to be considered: one concerns the development of children’s media literacy, helping them to think critically about their uses and engagement with media and ICT, promoting critical and creative practices and understanding of these means to make the best use of them in their everyday lives. The second concerns the importance of involving teachers in the definition of these policies. As was seen earlier, teachers were able to give suggestions on what they thought worked in the ‘e.escolinha’ programme, what did not work and could have worked better. Therefore, why not listen to teachers and take their perspectives on these issues into account? This could be the contribution of this research project for policy-makers, teachers staff, and society in general, in other words, giving voice to teachers (and children and their parents as well) showing the importance of involving them in this kind of decision-making.

Acknowledgements

This study is an integral part of a three-year project titled “Navigating with ‘Magalhães’: Study on the Impact of Digital Media in Schoolchildren” directed by the author of this paper. The research project is being carried out at the Communication and Society Research Centre, University of Minho, funded by the Portuguese ← 235 | 236 → Foundation for Science and Technology [PTDC/CCI-COM/101381/2008] and co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund [COMPETE: FCOMP-01-0124-FEDER-009056].

References

Buckingham, D. (2007). Beyond Technology. Children’s Learning in the age of digital culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.

EACEA (2011). Key Data on Learning and Innovation through ICT at School in Europe. Brussels: Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) P9 Eurydice. Retrieved from http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice).

Estratégia de Lisboa [Lisbon Strategy]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.dges.mctes.pt/DGES/pt/Reconhecimento/Uni%C3%A3o+Europeia/Estrat%C3%A9gia+Europa+2020/Estrategia+Lisboa.htm.

European Schoolnet & University of Liege Psychology and Education (2013). Survey of Schools: ICT in Education. Benchmarking Access, Use and Attitudes to Technology in Europe’s Schools. Final Study Report prepared for the European Commission DG Communications Networks, Content & Technology. Belgium: European Commission.

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Pereira, S. & Melro, A. (2012). As políticas tecnológicas para a educação e a literacia digital: o caso do programa governamental ‘e.escolinha’. Estudos em Comunicação, nº 12, 287–317.

Phipps, L. (2000). New Communications Technologies. A conduit for social inclusion. Information, Communication & Society, 3:1, p. 39–68.

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Ponte, J. P., Oliveira, H., & Varandas, J. M. (2003). O contributo das tecnologias de informação e comunicação para o desenvolvimento do conhecimento e da identidade profissional. In D. Fiorentini (Ed.), Formação de professores de Matemática: Explorando novos caminhos com outros olhares (pp. 159–192). Campinas: Mercado de Letras.

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Warschauer, M. (2003). Technology and Social Inclusion. Rethinking the Digital Divide. Cambridge: The MIT Press. ← 236 | 237 →

                                                    

  1.    This strategy was known as “Lisbon Strategy” or “Lisbon Agenda” and was launched in 2000 following a meeting of the European Council, in the Portuguese capital, as a response to the challenges of globalization and ageing. This Strategy was re-launched in 2005 and this renewal helped clarify its scope and aims. It was in the scope of this revision that the Technological Plan was born in 2005, giving rise to the Technological Plan for Education in 2007. This included four programs: “e.escola” (e.school), “e.professor” (e.teacher), “e.portunidades” (e.opportunities), e “e.escolina” (e.little school). The latter was launched in 2008 and is the main focus of analysis in this chapter.

  2.    In Portugal, initial teacher training is the responsibility of Higher Education Institutions. As mentioned in the Portugal Report on ICT in Education (European Schoolnet, 2013), “In Portugal, institutions have autonomy in this area [ICT in initial teacher training] and are therefore free to decide whether or not to include ICT in initial teacher education. Nonetheless, most institutions that are responsible for initial teacher training provide ICT as a basic study” (p. 9). ICT in-service training is not compulsory.

  3.    Phipps argues that poverty is primarily focused upon distributional issues and the notion of social exclusion focuses primarily on relational issues (Phipps, 2000: 43).