ngad /

Innovations in Education

Cell phone use on the increase in schools, but limited connectivity hampers possibilities

ICT Education 2016 survey shows a downward trend in the use of computer labs and reveals the spread of mobile devices in teaching activities

by Marina Lopes and Vinicius de Oliveira 08/03/2017

In the year that ProInfo (the National Information Technology in Schools Program) celebrates its 20th anniversary, while access to at least one type of computer is guaranteed in almost every school in urban areas of Brazil, a lack of bandwidth capacity continues to limit the use of new pedagogical practices that could improve learning. According to data from the seventh edition of the TIC Educação (ICT Education) survey, released in August by (the Brazilian Internet Development Committee), while the cell phone has become the most commonly used device for accessing the internet among students, only 31% use their connected phones inside the school.

Carried out between August and December 2016, the survey provides data on the use and appropriation of information and communication technologies in 1,106 Brazilian elementary and high schools located in urban areas. After talking to 935 principals, 922 pedagogical coordinators, 1,854 teachers and 11,069 students, ICT Education 2016 shows that the use of mobile devices is on the increase. Among educators who use the internet, 49% described using mobile phones in activities with students, representing a growth of 10% over the previous year.

“The use of mobile devices is a reality in our lives. Regardless of social class, students come to school with these devices and a certain digital culture,” says director Alexandre Barbosa. The use of the mobile phone in the classroom is still hampered by low bandwidth capacity, as 45% of public schools still have a velocity of less than 4 MB. “Opening up the Wi-Fi is a real challenge due to the capacity. Making a 2 Mbps capacity available to 500 or 600 students is impractical because we don’t have the infrastructure to support this demand. On the other hand, there is also the question of school culture,” he notes.

Mobility in technology use
At the Instituto Monsenhor Hipólito school in Picos in the state of Piaui, the use of mobile phones has brought greater mobility to teaching and learning practices. With two connection links, one of 50 Mbps and another of 5 Mbps, teachers have started working with mobile devices within the curriculum in an integrated manner. In a Portuguese activity, for example, teacher Andréia Vitorino Marcos has distributed QR Codes around the school for the students to analyze textual genres with the help of their cell phones. “When you apply limits and create an interesting activity, they’ll use their phones in a responsible manner. For me, the cell phone is the best educational resource we have today.”

In spite of their high-speed connection, at least in comparison with most Brazilian schools, the teacher says that the development of activities of this type requires sound planning that goes beyond the pedagogical strategy. “We have to think about the technological resources available. If the activity is for one classroom, we open up the connection for that room only,” he says, taking into account the amount of simultaneously connected devices that the school can allow.

With lower bandwidth in most public schools, the restriction of access to the wireless network makes it difficult to carry out pedagogical activities in a number of locations. While 91% of public schools and 94% of private schools have wi-fi, only 10% allow students to access their network. “When we look at bandwidth and the internet connection, we understand a little why the use of technology in schools still faces obstacles and needs to improve. Connectivity affects the availability of spaces for the development of teaching and learning activities in the school,” says Daniela Costa, coordinator of ICT Education.

The principal’s or pedagogical coordinator’s room is still the most common internet access point with guaranteed connectivity in Brazilian public schools (92%). Then there are options such as the teachers’ room or meeting room (78%), the computer lab (73%), the classroom (55%) and the library or student study room (47%). In private schools, internet access tends to be lower in computer labs (45%) and higher in classrooms (82%) or in the library and study room (69%).

Changes in computer lab use
The tendency to spread internet access to a variety of spaces, observed mainly in private schools, also reflects a change in the use of computer labs. Only 47% of private institutions said they had an IT lab and only 46% used such spaces. These numbers contrast with a significant mismatch between the existence (81%) and use of computer rooms (59%) in public schools. “While the computer labs are very common but rarely used in public schools, in private schools internet use is moving from such locations to places of teaching and learning that are more appropriate to day to day reality, such as the classroom, the library or other pedagogical spaces,” says the director.

Two years ago, Colégio Elvira Brandão in São Paulo decided to turn the computer lab into a maker space and distribute the computers throughout the school. “Equipment stuck in a single room no longer meets the school’s needs. Moving the students to a wi-fi location does not match the dynamics of a school that works with active methodologies, a maker culture, and projects. With these three pillars of learning, we need access to be spread throughout the whole school, and the lab no longer makes sense,” says principal Andrezza Amorelli.

To meet these pedagogical objectives, the school had to invest in more capacity. Today, they have two internet connections, one of 35 Mbps and one 10 Mbps. “Our biggest investment was building a maker space and expanding our bandwidth. Buying a computer, notebook and tablet is no longer a requirement for the school as the students use their own devices,” she explains.

In the opinion of researcher and expert in new technologies in education Leila Iannone, of, the change in the use of computer labs represents an advance in curricular issues. “Diversified practices and the use of other environments and devices are impacting and influencing a new vision of the curriculum. It is a new way of learning and teaching. An important new approach to accessing, producing and appropriating knowledge, bringing the authorship process to day-to-day life.”

Progress in public schools
Considering this new logic of knowledge appropriation, the Department of Technology for Learning of the São Paulo Municipal Department of Education has begun to work with computer labs from a new educational perspective of digital inclusion and the maker approach. Since 2015, these spaces have been designed and used to work on robotics, programming and multiple languages.

“The student stops being a consumer of content and becomes a producer,” says Tania Tadeu, pedagogical coordinator at the department. She says that the use of the lab from an authorship perspective brings many learning benefits for adolescents. “Students become protagonists and authors. Protagonism is intrinsic in every part of our curriculum.”

In Paraná, a project that will start this year and combines professional training and the possibility of individualized purchases by schools also shows that the policy of restricting access to a computer lab is on the way out. With a budget of R$15 million per year, the program will offer resources to 500 of the 2,100 schools in the state network (which includes the final years of elementary and high school) in exchange for the creation of a pedagogical plan that includes the use of technology and the achievement of goals.

The list offered to schools contains equipment that can be purchased in a “combo” format, rather like internet and TV services for the domestic consumer. Eziquiel Menta, director of educational policies and technologies at the department, provides examples such as wi-fi infrastructure throughout the school, the installation of a multimedia projector, a mobile lab with laptops for classroom use, a router with offline access, or a production studio with camera, microphone and 3D printer. If the school requests equipment that does not fit the assessments of its abilities, the department’s IT staff will ask its pedagogical and management team to take courses to update their skills.

“The scheme changes a few ideas about acquiring internet access in education. The department has stopped delivering a single solution for all schools, which in return have to establish a collective plan for the use of technology,” says Menta.

The views of teachers
In addition to investigating the appropriation and use of technologies in schools, the new edition of ICT Education also provided data on the perceptions of teachers. Among educators who contributed, 94% agreed with the statement that the use of technology brings access to more diversified or better quality materials. They also said that they have started adopting new teaching methods (85%) and have begun to perform their administrative tasks more efficiently (82%).

The survey also found that in terms of learning and updating computer and internet skills, 91% of educators sought training alone and 83% relied on the help of other people. “The formal courses are very technical. When you learn from the perspective of a colleague or teacher working in this area, your relationship with technology changes,” says teacher Fernanda Tardin, of the Instituto de Educação Eber Teixeira de Figueiredo, in Bom Jesus do Itabapoana, Rio de Janeiro.

To share experiences about the use of technology with other educators, in 2009 she created the blog “Using Medias in Education”, which publishes texts, videos, recommendations for sites and blogs, interviews and educational games that can help to diversify the process of teaching and learning. “The students are increasingly technological and immersed in the digital world. Teachers who don’t seek out new knowledge will end up left behind and won’t be able to interact with students.”

*Translated by James Young