The first school year implementing the National plan for digital education (Piano Nazionale Scuola Digitale, PNSD) has reached an end. The plan is the steering document from the education ministry to launch a comprehensive strategy for promoting innovation in Italian schools; the purpose is repositioning the education system in the digital era. The plan consists of 35 actions which will be implemented up to 2020 and is in line with the Italian digital agenda strategy.
The PNSD is part of the broader programme initiated by the recent law reforming the education system, La Buona Scuola, and is based on the following assumption: technologies should serve active learning for students and innovative practices for teachers, not vice versa. The final goal is to give teachers and students a competitive advantage, such as classrooms and schools ‘boosted’ by the internet and technological devices.
After the first year of plan implementation, opinions and comments expressed by stakeholders involved, mainly teachers, are already available. The following three aspects/characteristics of the plan stood out as the most important features:
- the introduction of dedicated professional roles responsible for implementing the PNSD in each school. Since December 2015, each Italian school has (should have) a ‘digital catalyst’ and an innovation team of teachers exclusively devoted to promoting digital innovation, from a methodological, educational and technological point of view. A digital catalyst is a teacher, appointed by the headmaster in each school, who is responsible for the PNSD implementation and, together with a team of three or four teachers aiding her/him, form the innovation team. The scope of the digital catalyst and her/his team, focuses on three areas: (i) methodological and technological training of colleagues; (ii) involving and motivating the whole school community in digital innovation; (iii) planning and spreading, in the school and among colleagues, sustainable methodological and technological solutions
- the second key aspect of the plan was the structural investments designed to create new physical places (labs, educational environments and libraries) for technological and methodological innovation. Since 2015, different notices have been published with the aim of improving the digital infrastructure in schools and the related financial resources have been allocated. Notices regarding the following issues have been released: broadband connection and Wi-Fi, local lab for the high school, creative atelier for the primary school, and digital libraries. Thanks to all these measures, and to the allocation of several million euros, the following goals will be reached in the short/medium term: broadband and Wi-Fi coverage available in every school building; creation of labs and rooms for innovative and lab-oriented education (flipped classroom); creation of libraries technologically ‘boosted’ in almost every Italian school of all types and at all levels;
- the third strategic element was the training plan targeting the entire school staff. By the end of the school year 2016/17 the school staff will be trained (first round of training) to acquire the skills needed to manage the schools’ digital transformation. According to assessments and feedback from schools, this goal is considered most important, since it targets the basic skills of those who will have to implement the plan: managers, teachers, administrative and general school staff. These people will bear responsibility for practical execution of the plan and will determine its effectiveness. More than EUR 235 million has been allocated for staff training.
Potential problems have been noted: the complexity of the implementation programme and the many professional and managerial responsibilities assigned to schools; the ‘parallel’ launching of the different action plans; and, most important, the lack of a comprehensive and systematic plan for the continuous training of teachers and school managers who implement digitalisation projects. Most of the school staff suggest that investments in the training of teachers and administrative managers should be made before implementation of notices and that national plan governance is strengthened to ensure greater general coordination and better connection between the central structure and each school.