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International ed tech: Portugal’s success story

Education stakeholders highlight an international perspective on ed-tech integration

ed-tech-integrationAs the U.S. struggles with stagnant performance on international assessments, it could learn from other countries’ successful ed-tech initiatives.

During the Consortium for School Networking’s (CoSN) 2013 senior-level delegation visit to Portugal, ed-tech advocates explored the country’s successful technology initiative and identified key takeaways for U.S. education leaders policymakers.

Portugal’s initiative grew out of economic decline, poor student performance on international tests, and sparse home internet access. In response, the government launched the National Technology Plan for Education, with an overall goal of creating a “knowledge-based society” and using technology and internet access to make the country’s education system not just current, but top-notch.

(Next page: The ed-tech program’s impact)

The ed-tech plan’s three-year implementation first equipped elementary and secondary school students with computers and internet access. The Magellan Initiative put 500,000 Magellan PCs, outfitted with educational content and software, in the hands of students ages 6-11. The eEscola program gave notebook computers to students in grades 7-12.

Students own their devices and their at-home use promotes digital literacy in families, particularly low-income families that previously did not have device access. Device purchase prices were based on family income, and approximately 25 percent of families received a student device for free. Between 2008-2012, 1.7 million elementary and secondary school students, adults in training programs, and teachers received laptops and broadband internet access.

Portuguese companies create digital content and learning platforms for students, including for grades 1-4, and for older students. This effort has resulted in job growth and opportunities.

Teachers participate in an ed-tech training network to ensure proper and consistent use of the devices and digital content. A network of master teachers–850 in all–trains before being qualified to offer training to the country’s 30,000 teachers.

Portuguese students showed an increase of about 20 points on each of the PISA math, reading, and science assessments–making Portugal the only country to improve in all three areas in a certain testing span. Students also topped those in other countries when it came to computer literacy.

“While it is always difficult to make causal connections, the timing of the increased educational attainment does correspond to the start of major new investments in ICT in Portugal,” according to the report.

In 2006, 52 percent of Portuguese individuals used the internet. By 2012, that number jumped to 91 percent.

Some of the country’s ed-tech successes are due in part to the following:

  • Policies and strategies that promote ICT use in schools and homes are integrated into broader economic and social visions
  • The country adopted a comprehensive approach to transforming education through its use of ICT as a catalyst to effect change. The approach included hardware, software, teaching training, curriculum development, and digital content.
  • Public-private partnerships have been instrumental to the program’s success and sustainability

The total investment is about $1.5 billion U.S. dollars. Initial funding came from a spectrum auction, and the country then developed a financial model involving responsibility from the state, beneficiaries, and telecom operators.

CoSN delegation members noted that strategic planning is key in bringing initiatives such as this one to scale.

“In the U.S. we often see a multitude of pilot programs, short-term grant funded initiatives, uncoordinated improvement of efforts, priorities associated with individuals, and public policy driven by political winds that can shift on Election Day,” according to the delegation’s report. “By contrast Portugal has incorporated extensive planning and ongoing collaboration into its project.”

Formation of solid partnerships between government agencies and the private sector also contribute to the ed-tech initiative’s continued success.

No two programs will be alike and there is no one-size-fits-all, but Portugal’s ed-tech initiative does provide an opportunity for U.S. policy makers and educators to evaluate what might work for ed-tech initiatives in the U.S. The report includes the following design pillars: vision and purpose, technology–mobile devices and connectivity, financing, and training and content.

For more details about the program’s policies, as well as specific school visits and highlights, download the CoSN delegation’s report.

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Laura Ascione

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