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Best Practice 10 March Mar 2020 0841 10 March 2020

Schools: after Coronavirus, nothing will be the same

Schools are closed all over Italy, 7.5 million students are staying home. The digital world, which so far has divided teachers’ opinions, has quickly become the only way to keep in touch with the children and teach long distance. But what will happen after this emergency?

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7.5 million students are at home Schools all over Italy are closed, or more precisely there is a “suspension of educational activities,” as the decree from March 4th, 2020 for the containment of the Coronavirus. For students all over Italy the stop to lessons will last at least until April 3rd. “This experience will change schools”, Giovanni Biondi, President of Indire, the Institute for teaching innovation and educational research, states.

During these exceptional times, schools have deployed numerous digital teaching experiences with the aim of providing continuity, though at a distance, to educational and training paths and also to the relationship with children. “Today’s priority is to reconnect kids with their teachers, to recreate the link. This is not easy, not simply because there is no medium - technologies allow this - but because not all teachers are capable of doing this and in this game, teachers - there are over 700 thousand in Italy, and there are good and bad sides to this - count more than the schools themselves. This is the premise to teach long-distance” With some degree of DIY and confusion, schools have shown a willingness to be present. Digital technologies have finally proven to be exactly what they are, beyond the factions we have so far witnessed: an extra tool, that can add value to education. Something which, by the way, is available to anyone, although it definitely requires some amount of training and no improvisation to be used effectively, but which the school world as a whole is discovering to be, in fact, substantially more competent than prejudicially hostile.

Today’s priority is to reconnect kids with their teachers. This is the premise to teach long-distance

Giovanni Biondi, President of Indire

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The schools in Vo’ Euganeo (near Padua) were the first in Italy to be closed because of the Coronavirus emergency, on Saturday February 22nd. Despite entry check points and quarantine, already on Sunday afternoon Alfonso D’Ambrosio, the headmaster of the Istituto Comprensivo in Lozzo Atesino that includes the town of Vo’, was connected with thirty or so teachers to organize online lesson. A network was created (even the BBC talked about it) that involved robotics, emotional intelligence and journalism experts, companies and teachers from other schools, students from high schools in Liguria and Apulia who in a sort of partnership, held some lively lesson on English language or chemistry. And obviously their own teachers and professors who talked to their kids from their kitchens or sitting rooms. All on free platforms. A network to give a sense of certainty, of a daily routine that goes on, on top of not making people feeling lonely. “Let’s make an analogy: together with compulsory education we have at the same time guaranteed services like school lunches for the full time primary classes and school busses. Today, the equivalent of school busses is connectivity, the Agenzia per l”Italia Digitale (the agency for Digital Italy) has done a lot, but it is not enough, because a vision is not enough, we need actions. We must understand that the country needs to have well-performing infrastructures, and make sure that everyone has a connection, perhaps with a free municipal WIFI or including the cost of internet connections in monthly bills. Otherwise, it is useless to talk about obligation and equity if access”, the headmaster reflects, aside from the hectic-ness of these days.

Today the equivalent of the school bus is connectivity, we need to make sure everyone has a connection. Otherwise, it is useless to talk about obligation and equity of access

Alfonso D'Ambrosio, headmaster of the IC in Vo' Euganeo

At the ITE Tosi school in Busto Arsizio (Varese), lessons this week are being held at the usual time, the only difference is that everyone is connected from their own home. At the beginning of the hour, teachers roll call and write down who is in attending. All students have the necessary equipment: “if needed, we can supply it as a loan for use at the beginning of the first year, with the chance to buy it at the end of the fifth year,” headmaster Amanda Ferrario says. The Tosi is one of the most innovative schools in Italy: digital technologies in education have already been used for a long time and in times of need, it was possible to regroup. “Schools are made of people, this is the lesson we are learning these days. Everyone got to work, even in the schools that were not as ready, even some “unexpected” teachers. The objective was immediately to create a community. In many ways, schools had already gone beyond the ministerial policies, there was support that was there ready but it was the schools that created the network”, Ferrario explains. In three days, during the first week of emergency, teachers and headmasters of schools in Veneto and Lombardy created the website www.lamiascuoladifferente.it which collects materials, methodologies, experiences, tools for schools. “Something along the lines of ‘I’ll show you what you can do with what you have’”, Ferrario states. Schools have proven to be capable, and they are capable because they have the human capital. In these times we have understood the value of education, that fits with interests. This is why I say that education must be mandatory, not voluntary.”

Schools have proven to be capable because they have the human capital. This is why I say that education must be mandatory

Amanda Ferrario, headmaster of the ITE Tosi in Busto Arsizio

Also the Comprehensive institute in Sarzana (near La Spezia) is part of the Avanguardie Educative network. Together with the Ministry for Education, Indire has launched a solidarity initiative between schools to overcome the Covid19 emergency and try out new solutions for teaching long-distance with innovative methodologies and instruments. It’s called “La scuola per la scuola (Schools for schools) and saw 10 thousand teachers take part in training webinars over three days. The headmaster of the IC in Sarzana, Antonio Fini held one called “Let’s not be isolated. How to involve teachers and students in online education, not only in times of emergencies”. “The debate over which technologies or platforms to use is misleading, as is - but surely my opinion is biased by the fact that I am in charge of a comprehensive school and not a lower secondary schools - the fact that managing to guarantee lessons for one, two or three hours is less important than maintaining continuity in the relationship with the school and that the kids don’t feel abandoned. School means socialization and inclusion, acquiring skills in groups... and in this moment this is lacking, we need to say so honestly, teaching online does not solve all the problems. Nobody is saying that online teaching can substitute face-to-face learning. The point is that we have finally understood that it is possible to teach differently and perhaps we can stop choosing sides for and against technology in teaching”, he states.

We have understood that it is possible to teach differently and perhaps we can stop choosing sides for and against technology in teaching

Antonio Fini, headmaster of the IC in Sarzana.

Let’s get back to the president of Indire, Giovanni Biondi and to his hope that after this Coronavirus emergency schools will no longer be the same. First of all, “the use of digital tools in schools is not a matter of long-distance or face-to-face teaching, as teaching long-distance already happens, with books” , Biondi notes. “If we think about it, kids that can’t come to school for whatever reason, what can they do? They read the book at home, they catch up and prepare. Nobody is shocked. But books, compared to a chats, are not interactive, nobody is there to answer your questions. The digital world allows us to have these functions”. And the crucial issue these days is “at the very least what is better or worse, face-to-face or long-distance teaching. They are different, each with their own peculiarities. I hope that schools, when this emergency is over, will be able to make the most of this experience: many teachers are finding out that alternative education methods can be used with digital help. That the internet opens up many opportunities, that can be used to enhance learning and the learning spaces: as a value added, not as a subrogation of presence”, Biondi explains.

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