Enlaces Program, the experience of Informatics Education in Chile
In 1992 the Ministry of Education created a program called Enlaces to introduce digital technologies in the public schools as a means to reduce the digital divide and as new learning and teaching resources. By the year 2008, 87% of the student population had access to information technologies through the school. Each school in the Enlaces network received computers to implement laboratories, local networks, educational and productivity software, teacher training in the basic use of ICT, and technical & pedagogical assistance provided by a network of 24 universities all over the country. About 75% of chilean schools are currently connected to Internet, and have access to specially created educational content, relevant to the Chilean curriculum, through the state educational portal educarchile. Chile currently records a ratio of 11 students per computer and is expected to reach the rate of 10 students per computer in 2010 with the Technology Plan for Quality Education.
We have a range of evidence that all this effort has had an impact in at least four domains:
1. An important reduction of the digital divide. About 75% of students in the public system have access to the new technologies and internet through the school ICT infrastructure. Enlaces is considered the most important chilean program for digital inclusion.
2. A decisive contribution to teacher’s digital literacy. More than 75% of the teachers have been trained in ICT pedagogical use.
3. At the same time, stakeholders have become more aware of the importance of ICT in education. This is a central cultural change that allows Enlaces to install a new conversation about more sophisticated uses of technology.
4. As mentioned above, students have developed new competencies related with the 21st century skills.
So, the starting point of Enlaces’s new strategy was to look at the school’s critical processes, identifying those that had impact on school performance and that could be significantly improved with ICT; we are currently focusing our action in four main processes:
- teaching/learning process:
An important role of ICT inside a school is that of providing a new framework that can foster a revision and an improvement of teaching and learning practices to create more effective learning environments and improve life-long learning skills among students. Teachers will need curricula-related content and clear strategies and examples to effectively use these materials in the classroom. They will find that students can become highly motivated towards learning if technology makes up part of their classroom experience. Teachers can explore new learning strategies in which students can be more actively involved in learning, as opposed to being simply passive information receivers.
Collaborative, project-based and self-paced learning are just a few alternatives largely documented and particularly appropriate to use when ICT are present
- The second big process that can be significantly improved is teacher’s professional training and development:
No progress will be made if teachers aren’t the protagonists of that change. Teachers are needed to organize the learning spaces and to guide toward the achievement of significant learning objectives. ICT can help with that purpose.
For teachers, networks provide a medium to establish fluent links among peers from schools worldwide. Teachers can benefit greatly from sharing their experiences, best practices, problems and queries with colleagues in same situations through virtual communities.
Of similar importance is the growing field of e-learning, with the availability of a large number of training courses for teachers, delivered through the Internet, thus providing new means for professional development regardless of the teacher’s workplace.
The access to a rich set of resources and tools in the network, from lesson planning to assessment software, learning objects, simulators and educational portals contribute also to the purpose of having better teachers.
- The third process we identified deals with leadership and school management. Schools are information and knowledge handling institutions.
Therefore, ICT should provide fundamental management tools on all levels of an educational system, from classrooms to ministries, providing valuable information for knowledge based decision making and sophisticated software for information analysis.
At the classroom level, teachers can more easily track student’s personal and academic records and maintain them permanently up-to-date. Most importantly, teachers can maintain their subject content (lesson plans, exercises, evaluation) in digital format, making it easy to update and to share with other teachers.
At the school level, school principals can take better and more informed decisions, based on appropriate decision support systems.
At the educational system level, policy-makers may consider the introduction of ICT at different levels as a great opportunity to acquire and to distribute information through the system.
- Finally, the processes dealing with community participation can be improved with ICT: enabling better communication, more effective information flow, and access to special resources to reinforce school lessons.