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< Suzan Thalheimer, z”l
07 Jul 2011 00:00 Age: 3 yrs
Category: News Update

Groundbreaking project shakes up society

The spectacular success of a groundbreaking ORT project which trains teachers in the use of technology may be nudging Argentina to the threshold of far-reaching social change.   A team of teachers at ORT Argentina's Teaching and Learning Resource Centre (CREA) has in its hands the future direction of how the country's teachers teach and how its students learn.   Through a mix of personal visits and distance learning using ORT Argentina's Virtual Campus, the CREA team is training teachers to use software which fosters interaction and collaboration between them and their students and to extend the boundaries of the classroom through use of the Internet.


The Minister of Education of Santa Fe, Elida Rasin, ORT Argentina Academic Director Viviana Jasid, and Director of Studies Alejandro Ferrari, open the training sessions for the province’s principals and teachers.

The pilot project was launched less than two years ago in the province of Santa Fe. It started by training 70 teachers in seven secondary schools. Now, more than 2,500 teachers in some 450 secondary schools and teacher training colleges in three provinces are reaping the benefits of ORT Argentina's expertise. And another four of Argentina's 23 provinces have expressed interest.

"The President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, launched the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) programme through which the government is providing three million netbooks to all the country's secondary schools. Now the schools realize that having the hardware is just the beginning – you have to know how to use it. They need teachers to be trained," said Alejandro Ferrari, Studies Director at the ORT Technical School, Belgrano campus, and leader of the project.

And ORT Argentina, which has been developing and implementing technological tools for several years, found itself perfectly positioned to take the leading role in providing teachers with the necessary skills.

"We show teachers how to become major players in the process of selecting content and designing teaching strategies, exploring and developing virtual resources, testing them in the classroom and making adjustments based on the results," Mr Ferrari said.

He and his colleagues provide on-going support for the teachers, making periodic visits so that they can understand the local context in which the teachers operate and the resources available to them.

The result is the creation of – so far – some 1,400 open-source websites, each one designed by trainees to enhance the teaching of a particular topic in their curriculum, whatever the subject.

According to a survey of the programme's progress, 87 per cent of students feel these websites have helped them to learn and 86 per cent have expressed their preference for this use of technology over traditional class teaching.

And more than three-quarters of teachers reported that the new methods had improved their students' learning and comprehension.

"The students' response has been excellent," one teacher responded. "You can see that they are more interested by their participation in class, the questions they ask and the opinions they express. They take the initiative to find out more and none of them hurry to leave the room when the bell rings. It's been an unforgettable experience."

ORT Argentina Academic Director Viviana Jasid said that ORT students were also benefiting.

"Out of ORT's encouragement of innovation, experimentation and creativity has come the skills to raise the quality of education," Ms Jasid said. "We have employed this expertise to develop a training programme for the provinces but which is also implemented in our own schools. By giving we also receive."

But more far-reaching changes are coming.

"Now we're also aiming for students to produce, publish and share in order to shift the pedagogical model to become more collaborative, where students are listened to and engage in more peer work," she added.

The long term ramifications of the mass introduction of technology and, importantly, the training of teachers in its effective use, are expected to be immense.

"In the hands of the thousands of students who have not had one before, the computer becomes a device for social inclusion as well as education. The role of universities is set to change dramatically because most of the information will be distributed through the Web. So if we can teach students to learn in this way then they will be able to continue studying where once they would have had to have concluded their education at high school."

Mr Ferrari added: "Change is so rapid now that young people need to be able to continue learning. They have to learn how to learn. It's a very exciting time to be a teacher. We're very passionate about this and we're glad that we can be part of this change."

World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer paid tribute to the President of ORT Argentina, Dr Guillermo Feldberg, ORT Argentina Executive Director Dr Adrian Moscovich and to Ms Jasid.

“ORT Argentina has accomplished so much you could be forgiven for thinking that there was little left for it to do,” Mr Singer said. But the professionalism of Dr Feldberg, Dr Moscovich and Ms Jasid ensure that the passion and skills of lay leaders and staff are harnessed to take the organization forward once again to transform challenges into opportunities. Truly inspiring.”