Sweet High-Tech Dreams by Arjana Blazic

Part of the series: Investigating International Edtech Issues (Croatia)

OUT OF THIS WORLD

All elementary and secondary schools in Croatia have free broadband Internet access via ADSL and are equipped with at least one computer lab. There is usually also one computer in all the schools’ staffrooms, libraries and administrators’ offices. In 2005, the Ministry of Education introduced computer literacy training as an integral part of teacher education programs in the form of ECDL courses. Approximately 5,000 elementary and secondary school teachers obtain the European Computer Driving License every year.

In cooperation with the Croatian Academic and Research Network (CARNet) the Ministry also launched the project of providing free e-mail addresses for all the students and teachers in elementary and secondary schools as well as the creation of school websites.  All the teachers and students have been given a digital identity, which enables them to use various CARNet services, such as online courses that teachers can use in class, E-courses for teachers, the E-learning academy, the E-library, online quizzes and the distant learning  portal (LMS) among others.

THE LAY OF THE LAND

In reality, of course, things work in a different way. Let me show you how we pursue new technologies at my school. I teach languages at a secondary school (gimnazija) comprising around 500 students, aged between 15-19. I dare say that 90% of them own a computer with Internet access as well as a Facebook profile, updated daily. Out of 47 teachers at my school, about 30 hold an ECDL diploma. Furthermore, the majority of those who don’t, own a computer and know enough to use it as a word processor at the very least. Twelve of my colleagues have their own Facebook profile, but only four of them have used Web 2.0 technologies in class. Out of all the staff members, I’m the only one who writes a blog and owns a twitter account and with 108 followers I’m ranked 32nd (!) in Croatia.

The number of computers provided at my school is rather small compared to the number of our students. We have two computer labs, one with 10 computers and the other with 16 computers. Add to this the number of computer literate teachers and what you get is a mad scramble for the two labs. Hence, we have a reservation list in the staffroom, run by the IT teacher on a first come first serve basis. I don’t have to tell you how frequently she is buttonholed by ‘tech savvy’ teachers who want to book a lab before anyone else does.

While I can boast a collegial atmosphere at my staffroom, when it comes to computer matters, the situation changes drastically. Sometimes, there is so much animosity between the parties involved, that it seems unlikely they’ll ever be reconciled. Luckily, there’s always the next week’s list and the thrill of computer assisted teaching that is not likely to disappear.

FAIR SHARE

However, if we don’t need Internet access and can do with only one computer in class, we can avail ourselves of one of the three laptops and projectors.  This is often done by teachers, but rather reluctantly because we have to carry this entire load from classroom to classroom as the teachers are those who move, while students remain stationary in their classrooms. We can’t have our own labs as we share the premises with a vocational school. Because the school building is too small to hold 1000 students at the same time, we work in shifts.

A two-shift system means that one week we are at school in the morning from 8 am till 2pm and the other school attends an afternoon shift from 2 pm till 8 pm. The next week it’s the other way around. At 2 pm, we have to leave the school premises to let the other students in, so we don’t have as many extracurricular activities as we would like, because we can use only the classrooms we don’t share, i.e. the two computer labs, the library and the language lab. We also have separate staffrooms and administrators’ offices.

This is not an exception here in Croatia; it’s rather a rule, unfortunately. Hopefully, all schools will have moved to one shift system by 2020.
During a five-day week, students have 33 periods of 16-18 core subjects and only one elective. However, this is rather a misleading term, as they are usually offered two subjects to choose from, mostly psychology, since the psychology teacher’s weekly load is often too low; or a foreign language, as part of the preparation for the recently introduced unified state school-leaving exams.
Here’s an example of a sophomore’s morning timetable, which is mirrored for the afternoon session, so that the last morning lesson becomes the first in the afternoon.

  Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri
1 Math Croatian Music Math Religion/Ethics
2 Biology Physics Croatian Chemistry History
3 Chemistry English Croatian English PE
4 English History Psychology Physics German/Italian
5 German/Italian Math Math Psychology Latin
6 PE Geography Biology Geography Biology
7 Latin     Arts Advisory

 

INTO THIN AIR

There’s no ICT in the above timetable, as it is not a mandatory subject for sophomores, and neither is it for juniors, nor for seniors.  It is hard to believe that in today’s world of information and communication technologies, only the first-year students have ICT as a core subject. Despite repeated attempts to introduce ICT as a compulsory subject in both elementary and secondary schools, students still learn it only in the first year of secondary school. To compensate for this ‘oversight’, most elementary schools offer ICT as an elective, whereas in secondary schools, it is the most popular extracurricular activity. An exception to this is secondary schools that specialize in mathematics and ICT, where ICT is taught 3 or even more hours a week every year and is a mandatory subject for all the students.

DOWN TO EARTH

As I have already mentioned, the majority of my students own a computer with Internet access and are well-versed in at least one form of the new web-based technologies. They usually spend two hours or even more at their computers every day, but sadly, computers come only as a distraction from learning. They use computers for playing computer games and chatting with friends, which considerably reduces the time they spend on learning and doing homework.
Only rarely do they make full use of the immense possibilities offered to them on the Internet. They’re simply not being taught effectively how to benefit from e-learning. Two lessons per week in their first year, and occasional visits to the computer lab with different teachers won’t teach them how to take advantage of all the possibilities that technology-enhanced learning can offer.

Although most of the teachers at my school are computer literate, they don’t go beyond the basics, mostly because teacher education programs are not harmonized with the latest changes in technology-enhanced teaching.
Teachers should be taught how to enable students to use web-based content on the Internet. They should be given opportunities to learn how to select the right tools and how to implement them in their teaching. They should keep abreast with the latest developments in educational technology. They should be willing to make changes and they should take up the challenges of lifelong learning. Otherwise, our high-tech education dream will remain just a dream.

====================================

Arjana BlazicArjana Blazic is a high school English and German teacher. During her 23 years of teaching, she has created webpages, organized school exchanges, participated in the Europe@School contest (and even won some money). She is a keen user of new technologies and a lifelong learner.  She has a travel bug and a travel blog, http://traveloteacher.blogspot.com.


5 comments

  1. Excellent article – extremely well-written and very illuminating!

    Your post demonstrates very concisely the challenge of not only implementing ICT into school-based programs (at policy and general access levels), but also the reality of making things work according to the situations and attitudes (and appropriate training) of real teachers and real students.

    I think there are a lot of countries experiencing the same sort of issues with English and ICT. It will be great to see these teachers network more through things like blogs and Twitter to find positive ways forward, through, over or around the key challenges involved.

    Thanks for a great post!

    ~ Jason

  2. Thanks for your comment, Jason, I really appreciate it.

    When I discovered twitter four months ago, a whole new world of teaching in general and English teaching in particular opened up for me. There I found a stunning array of links to excellent educational blogs posted by great educators (you being one of them) who are all willing to share. I have been avidly reading these blog posts and they have significantly contributed to my professional development not only as an English teacher, but also as a teacher who wants to use new technologies in the classroom.

    That’s why I firmly believe that Twitter and blogs can help us pursue our dreams. It’s good to know that somewhere in the Cyberspace there are people who are just like us, who were brought up differently, who were taught differently, who live in different worlds, but underneath, they’re all teachers, the friendliest and the liveliest bunch of people.

    arjana

  3. Thank you for this series, I love it. It is so interesting to see what other countries are doing. I feel the same as you do Arjana, a lonely web 2.0 enthusiast in a world of non web 2.0 teachers! It is good to know I am not the only one 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *