​CARNET: Croatian e-schools project to develop digitally mature schools


Introduction

The Croatian pilot project “e-Schools: Establishing a System for Developing Digitally Mature Schools” had a very successful presentation during GÉANT’s SIG-MSP meeting in Dublin, held on 20-21 September. The project was presented by the project’s manager and CARNet deputy CEO, Ms Andrijana Prskalo Maček who pointed out that the pilot is part of a broader e-Schools program with​ the ambitious goal to help strengthen the elementary and secondary school education system in Croatia through more significant and appropriate use of information​ and communications technologies (ICT).


The e-Schools program consists of the pilot project, which is implemented in the 2015-2018 period and the major project, which will be implemented in the 2019-2022 period, based on the results of the pilot project. 10% of all schools in Croatia are part of the pilot project, and hopefully the overall program will encompass at least 60% of schools by 2022.


CARNet, as the project coordinating body, firmly believes that digitally mature schools and the appropriate use of ICT will aid in more efficient and transparent management of the schools but more importantly, develop digital competencies and prepare teachers for more innovative approaches in their work with students. Also, digitally competent students will be better equipped for further education and more competitive on the labour market.

Similar initiatives and projects do exist in other European countries, but Croatia is the first in the South-East part of Europe to carry out such an extensive project. The importance of e-Schools in Croatia was also recognized by the European Union which finances 85% of the project (total project value is over 40 million €) through its Structural Funds (European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund). The value for the major project is estimated at 140 million €.


So how does it look in practice?

At the beginning of the pilot project, an initial evaluation of digital maturity level for 151 schools in Croatia was conducted, and the results were not great. The vast majority of schools (82%) were marked as digital beginners (level 2 of digital maturity on a scale of 5), while others fell into the category of digitally equipped schools (level 3). It was clear there’s plenty of room for improvement, so on the infrastructural level, each of the 151 schools got two fully equipped classrooms for STEM courses. One of these classrooms is equipped with interactive equipment (PC computer, touchscreen monitor, camera and 30 tablets), while the other has presentation equipment (PC computer, touch screen monitor, camera). Also, STEM teachers got hybrid computers, other teachers got tablets or laptops while administrative staff received new desktop computers. Also the schools got better and faster wired and wireless local networks. At the moment, over 23.000 students are encompassed by the pilot project implementation.


Digital educational content (DEC) which accompanies the curricula is also being developed and promoted; the pilot project focuses on STEM courses for the 7th and 8th grade of primary and 1st and 2nd grade of secondary school. Created DECs will stimulate active and research learning, and will enable teachers to apply different strategies, approaches and methods. In addition, learning scenarios are another segment developed for teachers to help them integrate digital educational materials, digital tools and contemporary teaching and learning methods into their educational practices; at the moment a total of 240 of these scenarios have been created.


Through the project, already existing features such as e-Laboratory (the central place for the research, testing and selection of digital tools) and e-Lektire (a website for digital compulsory literary material) will also undergo major improvement, expansion and redesign.


Obviously, without motivated and competent teachers, infrastructure and all the equipment would fall on dead ground and would be rather pointless. However, the 7.000 teachers in this project are very motivated; even the most experienced and most competent ones among them know there is always room for the improvement of their teaching quality through the use of ICT. Through the project implementation, a strong community of practitioners was brought up, a group of teachers who are involved in its everyday implementation. And because of their enthusiastic involvement they become more than project beneficiaries, they are partners whose feedback is needed and appreciated.


Through the implementation of the project, over 900 workshops and other education forms were organized for these practitioners, and each participated on average in three different workshops.


The road ahead

There is still a lot to be done before the end of the pilot; finalisation of a centralised system for schools’ business operations (“ERP for schools”) which will enable integration with the other systems and services for schools as well as speedy, simple communication and data exchange between the schools, the founders, the competent ministries and other project stakeholders. Also, the Digital Content Repository will soon become active and will enable teachers, students and schools to browse and access educational materials published on various websites. The Repository will also provide teachers and publishers with a space for their digital teaching materials and will be searchable by many different criteria.


The Classroom Management System (CMS) will enable teachers to simultaneously supervise the activities of each student, interact with the students or assess their knowledge through the communication and collaboration elements of the system. Complementary to CMS is the Learning and Organisational Analytics system which will include the measuring, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learning and its contexts.


Schools included in the pilot project will also be encouraged to install sensors and smart management systems in order to monitor and optimize temperature, humidity and CO2 levels in their classrooms, thus preventing possible adverse impacts of air quality on students and teachers, such as tiredness, lack of concentration and lack of motivation.


Successful informatisation should be understood as a long-term strategic vision of the educational system. It includes ICT-supported development of curricula and of teaching and learning modes, as well as the professional training of teachers and school management personnel. This pilot is the first, but very important, step in that direction. CARNet is looking forward to sharing more information and experiences with its GÉANT partners in the time to come.