On Our Way to Digital School

”The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed”, said the famous science fiction author William Gibson. Typically this quote refers to unfair geographical or societal distribution of new innovations.

I might use the very same sentence to describe Finnish K-12 education regarding how digital content and devices are used. Note that this time I am not referring to differences between schools or municipalities, although they also exist. This is more about the existing possibilities and how they are on average used in learning and teaching: in some respects we are quite far already. In other areas we are only taking very first baby steps.

My employer Sanoma Pro conducted an extensive study in the spring 2014 among Finnish K-12 teachers and headmasters. Around 2000 professionals filled in an online survey about the state of ICT in schools, utilization of online materials, and the capabilities to face the changes in the years to come: a new K-12 curriculum will be introduced from 2016 onwards, and the matriculation examination in upper secondary education should be fully digital by 2019.

In what follows, I will highlight four core findings of the study:

1.     The foundation for the future is here…

99 percent of schools already use computers and 97 percent online learning materials. These amazing numbers reveal that there are virtually no schools in Finland operating only on printed books.

2.     … but we want more!

Even though computers are found in all schools, the situation is not optimal. Majority of computers intended for pupil usage are shared, on average ten pupils per one device. Furthermore, there is plenty to do regarding mobile devices. 52 percent of schols use tablet devices and the ratio is even worse: one tablet per 15 pupils. Smartphones, typically owned by the pupils, are utilized in 33 percent of the schools.

It is crucial to note, however, the positive attitude the teachers have: 82 percent would like to use tablets in their teaching, more than 90 percent believe that digital materials make teaching more diverce and modern, 83 percent feel digital materials activate & motivate pupils, and 71 percent see that they make differentiation easier.

3.     Challenges in the present state

Differentiation. Now there’s a prime example of the challenges teachers face in their work. 71 percent experience being too busy and one of the root causes for this is the time spent on differentiation: 57 percent would like to use more time to cater different learners and learning styles.

Almost half of the teachers are dissatisfied with how digital materials are currently utilized. In the age group of teachers under 35 years, it is even more than half. This also supports the observation that there is will to use new materials and methods.

4.     Way forward

Digital materials also raise doubts and fears. As much as 67 percent fear that they end up increasing the amoung of work to be done. This is easy to believe and understand. Teachers—like any professionals—need support when adopting new technologies and methods.

The Finnish K-12 curriculum is going to be renewed from 2016 onwards. Matriculation examination is going to be fully online by 2019. Both of these reforms create pressure of learning new skills and adopting digital devices and content in schools.

Less than half of the teachers feel that they are well prepared for the curriculum reform or the online matriculation examination. The clock is ticking and we have to give our dear teachers all the support we can so that these numbers are as close to a hundred percent as possible well in time.

 

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