“Over the next three years, we are going to ensure that 30,000 European schools are twinned over the Internet.”
- 0 comments
- 128659 Visits
The EU Council has recently approved the 2004-2006 eLearning Programme. Some 44 million euros will be invested in providing incentives for the twinning of schools, the development of virtual campuses and the promotion of digital literacy.
Maruja Gutiérrez Díaz is one of the people directly responsible for the creation and development of the 2004-2006 eLearning Programme. In this interview, the Head of the Multimedia Unit of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Education and Culture presents us with the series of actions that will be carried out and their expected effects.
The eLearning Programme will begin next January and it is hoped that it will act as a catalyst. As Maruja Gutiérrez explains: “the European Commission hopes that the new technologies are able to enter into daily educational life at all levels, and in order to achieve this objective we will have to be very pragmatic. The eLearning Programme will reinvent nothing but instead take advantage of the results of projects that have already been undertaken so as to be able to put them at the reach of everybody.”
What will be the main task of the eLearning Programme?
The twinning of schools. The European Commission is going to dedicate almost half of the programme’s budget to this section, some 7 million euros per year. This is a very ambitious project. The twinning of schools will help us foster a European dimension to education. And it is in this area that we are able to see once more the value of the new technologies as elements of change.
What will the twinning of schools involve?
It will involve using information and communication technologies to establish cooperation relationships between school centres located in different countries. Our aim is that no child leaves school without having participated in some European project of this type. But at the moment, we are proposing that at least 30,000 European schools are twinned over the Internet before the year 2007.
How are you going to handle the language issue?
We have discovered through our experience that when there are a lot of members involved one sole language is normally used, which is almost always English. That is why the school-twinning programme is only going to require the existence of two participating members. In this way, we would like to promote the use of the greatest number of languages, in accordance with the efforts of the European Commission in promoting linguistic and cultural diversity.
What specific measures are going to be applied to provide incentives for twinning?
As it does not seem viable for us to directly finance schools, because the number of educational centres in Europe is very high, our strategy is going to be based on providing a series of resources and tools for teachers. Firstly, we are compiling a list of interesting twinning examples that could motivate teachers. We are also going to draw up a good description of the various school systems in order to help teachers know how to search for a similar school within another educational system. Similarly, we are currently creating a member search tool. All this twinning information and these tools are going to be accessible in a portal that we will develop on the Internet.
In what way is the European Commission thinking of making the initiative known and encouraging schools to participate in the programme?
We will consult with European associations that encourage these sorts of experiences and will appeal to the creativity of teachers, so that they focus on their twinnings by taking into account the different features of each centre. We believe that many pedagogically interesting results can be produced using very few resources.
What is the planned schedule for the development of the twinning programme?
We are going to launch an informational campaign in spring 2004. We hope that by the summer all centres will be aware of this initiative and the first twinnings will commence in September 2004. We are also studying the possibility of creating a network of pioneer teachers who are particularly dynamic and have much experience in these matters so that they can help and encourage others.
The second major area of the eLearning Programme is the development of virtual university campuses.
We will set aside 30% of programme resources to this area, in the aim of promoting virtual mobility using the new technologies. Let’s take a very simple example: why shouldn’t a Danish student studying French philology be able to attend a class in a French or Belgian university over the Internet? In order to do this, we are going to provide support so that a series of universities can reach an understanding and sign student exchange agreements to develop online pilot courses. Our reference model is the Erasmus programme. This approach may even help Erasmus beneficiaries themselves, who may be having problems because they have lost touch with their point of origin during the period of their scholarship. Information and communication technologies (ICT) will easily allow for the maintaining of this contact with their point of origin as much as their relationship with the country visited once they return home, thereby making more profitable the effort and investment required for an extended stay abroad.
Are there many remaining obstacles to overcome in this area?
To put this into practice certain problems have to be resolved, and one of these is that of credits. The European Credit Transfer System does not take into account virtual subjects very much because how to calculate the amount of time a student spends on a subject has yet to be defined. Nor is it clear how to evaluate what knowledge the student has acquired online. Virtual exams are still not admitted. There are many things for us still to resolve. That is why we are going to support the development of pilot experiences to help us identify solutions.
The final major focus of the eLearning Programme is digital literacy.
The concept of digital literacy was raised at the European Summit in Lisbon in 2000, when the lack of qualified personnel needed to occupy work posts related with the new technologies was identified. It is obvious there are failings in this field, but this has sometimes been analysed in a very superficial way, as if it only depended on learning how to use a computer and a few programs. But the problem is much greater than that.
People are now starting to realise that the difficulty of ICT use has social implications that are related to exercising citizenship.
Exactly. Whilst public administration services are offered over the Internet and people vote electronically, there are still many people who do not know how to use e-mail or do not dare do their tax return on the Internet. That is why we want to help the associations working in this field throughout the world of education to develop a critical approach for the understanding and use of these new technologies. It is clear that an age factor exists here, because for children a computer is something normal and they do not have to look at the instruction manual to use one. This is about helping adults, and above all those over the age of 40 or 50.
What specific actions are you proposing to increase digital culture?
We are proposing very simple measures. We are going to support the work of associations and networks working in this field. For example, we would like to distribute the results of investigations into the man-machine interface, which will provide much information about these questions. Similarly, we are going to pay special attention to the education of adults who have not had access to using these technologies because of their age.
There remains one line of action with transversal measures.
It is about making people aware, coordinating, providing information and connecting people. We want information to circulate and the different people involved to know about the resources available. Another specific area we are going to promote is interoperability. It is necessary to have norms and standards available to create a favourable playing field for investment. Companies need to feel secure that a specific product is going to work in all computers or in other countries. These norms must provide small- to medium-sized companies with the security that the applications they are developing will be able to enter into the market. One of the fields in which advances need to be made, for example, is that of metadata, which involves classification “labels” that allow for the searching of material. We can increase progress in this field with very inexpensive measures that have great political relevance.
The diffusion of information is one of the main tasks of this portal.
The Internet is the quintessential communication medium of the information society. That's why we believe that the elearningeuropa.info portal is the best tool that we can make available to the many people interested in modernising and improving education so that they can easily access information and discuss their ideas and experiences.
For further information please view: A Programme for the Effective Integration of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Education and Training Systems in Europe (2004 – 2006).