Interview: improving the quality of education through digital technologies

The Omar Dengo Foundation’s National Programme of Educational Informatics in Costa Rica was awarded the 2015 UNESCO-King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize for the Use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Education.

Created in 1988 by the Ministry of Education of Costa Rica and the Omar Dengo Foundation, the National Programme for Educational Informatics (PRONIE MEP-FOD in Spanish) promotes the improvement of the quality of education through digital technologies.

Leda Muñoz, Executive Director of the Omar Dengo Foundation, spoke to UNESCO about how the programme has evolved since it was awarded the Prize.

Almost four years after winning the Prize, how has it impacted you and your work?

The Prize was a very important incentive to complete and accelerate a rigorous process of renewing and upgrading our pedagogical model for educational informatics. Educational Informatics is part of the official curriculum of the Ministry of Education of Costa Rica, reaching over 3,200 schools and over 87% of students nationwide. Its objectives are to promote the development of cognitive and social competences in students from K 12 (kindergarten) to 9th grade, through strategies based on the digital technologies, such as programming (coding) and project-based learning.

Could you tell us more about the beneficiaries of the programme?

The new program is allowing all students, regardless of their geographical location or socioeconomic status, to learn and experience critical topics for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, such as robotics, big data, and the fundamental concepts of computational thinking. 

This large-scale programme is closing educational gaps between the rural and urban schools, and between high and low socioeconomic families, in a country with large disparities.

What are the recent developments and the next steps in your activities?

We have already started to implement the new pedagogical proposal, in a gradual process of scaling it up. Four hundred schools are already engaged with the new proposal, and our goal is to reach 100% of all schools and students by 2021.

How do you think innovative technologies can be used to enhance learning and education?

The main idea is to identify attractive and meaningful uses of technologies, as powerful tools to think, to create and to collaborate. As explained by Nicholas Carr (writer on technology, economics, and culture), the scope of the tool is defined by the use given to it by the user. To use the tool simply to replace or upgrade the previous tool --say a book or a blackboard-- will hardly change the learning outcomes. But if ICTs are used as part of a better and coherent pedagogical proposal, the learning outcomes should be improving. It is really about getting tools to do what we need or want, and not vice versa. Digital technologies and related services have given to the educational system the extraordinary opportunity to move from a standardized, synchronized and localized educational offer, focused on the passive transfer of information from the teacher to the student, to a more personal, ubiquitous and synchronic offer, designed to promote thinking, self-learning, creativity and collaboration.  This will strengthen knowledge use and integration, moving from “more content” to “more concepts” and deep thinking, a critical shift to the educational system.