Rural Schools Project is a European educational project, aimed at providing a optimized ICT solution for rural and dispersed schools in Europe.
Why is this project needed?
Many European regions, due to their geography, historical, work or other reasons, have many scattered villages with few people in them. Rural or island regions are typical examples of this situation.
In the last decade, member states, regional and local education authorities have placed emphasis on providing access to digital technologies and the Internet as well as bridging the digital literacy gap for schools with special challenges, including many rural schools. In order to ensure the right of all children from these areas to attend school and get the best education services possible, educational administrations provide different solutions.
In some cases, this has meant forcing students to travel every day to bigger towns to go to school. In others, small local schools have been kept alive with few students.
More than 14.4 million children live in rural areas in Europe, who have to receive compulsory education. These communities are given special protection in many areas of Europe, and one of the keys for this lies on the maintenance of basic services, such as education. Keeping children in local schools, at least in early schooling, assures a necessary bond between children and their home communities and help keep the rural communities alive and vibrant. This type of school, however, requires a special budget effort from educational administrations. Due to the small number of children at each school, it is a challenge for educational administrations to provide a quality, rich educational service for rural communities, while keeping costs in budget.
A key issue for this proposal is high-quality training of school education staff to enhance the quality of teaching and learning and to reinforce the European dimension of school education with the help of implementation of information and communication technologies. ICT in education processes is of high priority in the EU. Providing learning opportunities and ICT enhanced training also for teachers in small, isolated schools will impact positively on their skills and motivation to keep working in rural areas.
This project also focuses on providing an active ICT based learning community for rural schoolteachers, which will help to develop teachers’ skills and implement appropriate methodologies. Research specialists in rural education agree that this type of school requires specific training for teachers to be able to cope with grouping of students from different levels, maximizing the possibilities of personalized education that it can bring, using ICT for differentiation in the individual classroom as well as across classrooms – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. ICT is a key to providing support, training and collaboration among these rural education teachers and specialists, so they can develop their careers and improve their daily teaching, focusing on the special values that an increased and collaborative use of ICT can offer.
This consortium includes partners with very relevant experience regarding pedagogical uses of ICT applied to rural schools context: CESGA started a research project in 2010 to analyse and implement cloud computing in rural education. This initiative developed into a wider project, where all rural schools in Galicia were appointed, and another step was taken, creating a “network of school clouds”, where learning and sharing is easy among different schools, opening a door to more possibilities to explore: teacher training, distance learning to isolated students, group learning, language learning with other schools from different countries, etc.
Provincia di Parma coordinates “Scuola@Appennino” project, addressed to all schools located in mountain areas of Emilia-Romagna and it is aimed at encouraging the adoption of innovative teaching methods with the aim to expand, increase and diversify in educational programs of the schools located in region.
In Denmark, VIA studied a project aiming to develop and test parallel teaching in small island schools to help provide children with qualified teachers and provide teachers with possibilities for collaboration. VIA drew up recommendation in terms of the teacher training needed to successfully implement this type of teaching and the collaboration it required.
All partners come from regions with small schools in rural / island / isolated areas, where they try to avoid small children travelling each day to attend school or forcing them to stay for longer periods outside their homes in a bigger town with a school.
In order to make the most of the open, cloud-based, and often Web 2.0 approaches and materials, where students contribute actively at their own pace, collaborating across schools and grade levels, taking on the role of producers and co-producers in order to facilitate learning, teachers need to work towards a different teaching role that is inherent in the open, modern-day approach to materials on the web and in the cloud. Their roles change as they need to design their teaching on new premises, thinking into it how they can facilitate student collaboration and help ensure differentiation while still maintaining a high quality in collaboration with other teachers who can support them and maybe supplement their skills where they may not have the specialist training that would be optimal for students.
Aims and Objectives
This project aims to improve the quality of learning and teaching in small rural / dispersed schools in Europe, by exploring, adapting and improving several innovative European ICT based methodologies, that allow to respond to the different needs that teachers face when designing their classes, as well as in improving their professional competences.
This general goal will imply to:
- Analyse the situation of the participant regions in order to adapt and enhance the original technological and pedagogical approaches, in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning for both pupils, teachers and the educational community)
- Develop a flexible, rich and cost-effective solution based on the shared knowledge from ICT based solutions and initiatives in rural areas (Spain, Italy, Denmark, UK, Greece, Macedonia).
- Experiment with various free online cloud based tools and social resource sites and their possibilities in the educational contexts where different levels and ages of students are found.
- Test meaningful educational possibilities in these new contexts, such as applying the solution to several educational levels (elementary, primary, secondary school), supporting live distance learning with remote teacher support, parallel teaching, co-operative creation of educational resources among students and teachers, etc.
- Boost students creativity by using a common cloud environment with online tools and resources where they can develop advanced ICT skills present in their leisure time (such as video editing, multimedia creation, communication in social networks…) and bring them to school.
- Strengthen the link between families and school through the cloud computing solution, by providing communication among teachers, parents and students, as well as support to parents to open the school activities to them, and supporting parents to share their children learning and collaborate with schools.
- Test and implement the ICT based pedagogical innovation in at least 2 schools in each country.
- Provide specific training to teachers oriented to use ICT to improve creativity and networked collaboration as well as providing guidance to support their students’ acquisition of such skills.
- Promote a connected community of practice at European level regarding learning in rural school context.
- Evaluate the experience thoroughly and extract practical lessons that can be useful for participant regions as well as other European regions that have similar needs.
- Find a common core and disseminate the lessons learned, open source software developed, and provide training materials for other regions to implement the solution.
This project supports the achievement of Key competences for lifelong learning:
The need for smart investment in education, going along with policy reforms improving the quality of outcomes4. Innovative approach to cloud computing technologies and open source developments, which facilitates the access to any disadvantaged school to educational contents, resources and networking, providing flexibility that can result in savings when it comes to ICT infrastructure expenses and easier management.
Comenius priorities are also focused (1.2.1) Towards 21st Ct. schools: openness, innovation and relevance, by supporting an innovative form of teaching and learning, and (1.2.4) bringing an inclusive approach to teaching-learning to cater the needs from students from disadvantaged backgrounds.