How an innovative project from Croatia is developing ‘digitally mature schools’

 “e-Schools: Establishing a system for developing digitally mature schools” coordinated by the Croatian Academic and Research Network (CARNET) reached the final round of the selection for the UNESCO ICT in Education Prize and was presented at the exhibition organized during the 2017 award ceremony.

A large-scale project

The e-Schools addresses the fact that in increasingly connected societies, digital skills are required by the vast majority of jobs and offer wider access to socio-economic opportunities.

151 schools, more than 7,000 teachers and over 23,000 students of elementary and secondary schools across Croatia were involved in the project. Teachers, principals and administration staff were provided with tablets or laptop computers, together with digital content, as well as tools and services for teaching and business processes in schools. CARNET provided extensive education and support to all schools on site, online, through helpdesk and by establishing five regional training centers. One of the project activities was establishing an online community of practice, where school employees could communicate and share examples of good practice in the use of ICT in education, with the aim of eencouraging e-learning culture. CARNET spoke to UNESCO about their project.

Could you tell us briefly, what were the main challenges and lessons learnt during the implementation of such a large-scale project? 

CARNET: Project "e-Schools: Establishing a System for Developing Digitally Mature Schools (Pilot Project)" is the biggest project in the Croatian education system in the past several years. The pilot was conducted from 2015 to end August 2018, but CARNET started planning it in 2012. Both the planning and the implementation timeframe were dynamic and provided enough possibilities for possible changes.

Human resources were one of the internal challenges during the pilot project implementation phase. It engaged majority of the institution staff and required additional employment of experts who worked on the project. Wide expertise of CARNET experts enabled different perspectives during the project planning phase, which contributed to innovation, quality of planning and risk identification and management. Extent of the project required reorganization within certain departments and employing experts with knowledge and skills which the organization was missing.

Public procurement was another challenge, primarily in the segment of foreseeing the duration of certain public procurements. Internal and external factors, which could not have been foreseen by project teams, nor influenced by CARNET, contributed to prolongation of certain public procurement procedures. In some cases, prolongation of the process impacted other activities on the project.

The model of including all relevant stakeholders, especially relevant institutions, will be implemented in the development of the Feasibility study for the major project. Significant efforts were invested in raising of the level of awareness among school founders and schools about benefits of the e-Schools project and the need of providing adequate support in maintaining the ICT infrastructure in schools in order to ensure project sustainability. Second phase of the project will also put strong focus on this segment. Additionally, communication with schools, especially principals and teachers, will be intensified in the planning phase of the major project to ensure implementation of the best possible project solutions.

Sharing good practices

As an example of good practice shared within the online community, we can mention this secondary school where a Chemistry lecture was organized in collaboration with Department of Chemistry at the University through a video conference. Students from the University performed an experiment and took the students on a virtual tour through their laboratory. Students could also discuss about the experiment thus developing their communication and collaboration skills, because it is crucial that digital skills are associated with complementary soft skills such as the ability to communicate online or offline.

Do you have other examples of how the project impacted involved schools?

CARNET: There are a number of examples of good practices from schools which participated in the pilot project e-Schools. For instance, in one of the primary schools, students learned Biology with the help of interactive measuring devices procured through the project. They learned more about the water ecosystem measuring the temperature of the snow, ice and water under the ice in a frozen river and collected data for further scientific experiments. Unlike traditional lessons, this kind of teaching made learning process more engaging and has improved students’ motivation as they connected the content of the subject to everyday life situations.

In another primary school students made a digital poster in which they integrated Chemistry and Mathematics content in the 8th grade Biology lesson. When developing a poster on the human anatomy, students used different tools, applications and knowledge from Chemistry and Mathematics, such as solving various tasks, calculating calorie value of the food and biochemical processes in the human body. Through this kind of interdisciplinary learning students developed collaboration skills as well as problem solving skills.

Could you share with us what do you think about the role of technologies in the education environment?

CARNET: We are living in the age of the 4th Industrial Revolution, which profoundly changed many aspects of our lives, including the way we interact, learn and work. Therefore, purpuseful use of technology in education is in line with current and future changes in our society. It encourages students to actively participate in the learning process unlike traditional teaching, it facilitates critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and enables better accessibility of information, better content visualization, easier adaptation to students’ individual needs, etc.

Digitally mature schools and the appropriate use of ICT will enable 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.

As a public institution that operates in the field of ICT use in education, CARNET’s main goal is to develop a digitally mature society in Croatia. CARNET has been actively contributing to that with numerous projects, such as e-Islands, e-Class Register, Schools 2.0 and, in particular, with the project "e-Schools: Establishing a System for Developing Digitally Mature Schools (Pilot Project)". 

The first phase of the project was implemented from March 2015 to August 2018 in cooperation with the Agency for Vocational Education and Training and Adult Education (AVETAE), the Education and Teacher Training Agency (ETTA) and the Faculty of Organization and Informatics (FOI). After the pilot project, CARNET plans to carry out the second phase from 2019 to 2022, which will include all public schools in Croatia.