The difficulties of using technology within the Brazilian public school classroom

The insertion of technology into the educational environment has become increasingly common. Schools, colleges and universities make technology a great ally in the learning process because it stimulates creativity and is attractive to the student.

Distance learning (EAD) is a modality that uses technology as the main ally. That is, the student can learn and study in a virtual environment using the internet to communicate, watch videotapes, ask questions, solve exercises. In short, everything done in an educational institution is done on a computer, tablet or smartphone.

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This modality of teaching came to facilitate the entrance of students to higher education and specialization courses. This possibility to study anywhere you have Internet is attracting many teachers around the world, as well as students who do not have a teaching institution nearby to study or need to reconcile their studies with their daily lives.

In addition, online courses usually do not require class formation, allowing students to start studying at any time of the year.

In distance education, the student has the opportunity to manage his own learning, since it allows a great autonomy to study and “watch” classes according to their available time.

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The success of the EAD is the result of the evolution of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). With this, you can access a huge amount of information quickly. In this way, learning becomes simpler and more accessible. In other words, technological tools have enabled a great growth in access to education, providing a mode of teaching where learning has no distance.

Another factor that allowed this growth is the need for skilled labor. The labor market demands job vacancies in the most diverse sectors, but it does lack people who have enough qualification to meet the demand. With EAD, the paths between the student and the training were reduced, making life easier for those who want professional growth or career repositioning.

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The following are other advantages of using technology in ODL:

  • Students have the possibility to search for information on their own, because with access to the internet it is possible to conduct research on various subjects;
  • The teaching methods used in ODL make it possible to exchange experiences among students;
  • Virtual media and environments allow interaction between student and teacher in real time;
  • The technology used in distance education allows greater proximity and interaction between the students and the faculty of the course;
  • Students can ask questions in their own virtual environment with tutors or teachers.
  • The classes are available and the student can access them as many times as he wants. Therefore, those who missed a lesson or did not understand some content, will be able to revise them when necessary.

Contrary to what many people think, distance education is not badly seen in the job market, because with technological advancement, learning happens in much the same way as in the face-to-face course.

Experts say distance learning combined with technological evolution will be the future of education. Soon, education will become ubiquitous, available in virtual environments embedded in portable electronics.

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At EAD you can find a variety of courses and institutions that offer qualification from technical levels to graduations and postgraduates. This extends the field of action much more and takes learning opportunities to people who would not have access if they needed to attend a face-to-face course.

We can conclude that the will to learn and grow professionally depends on each person, but what can not be denied is that, currently, there are several alternatives to joining an institution and to take a course that allows the conquest of new paths. The EAD has come to put an end to existing barriers to professional educational development in Brazil.

Using technology to aid teaching within the classroom is already seen as a good thing by 92% of Brazilian teachers. The same percentage considers the professional qualification for the application of these technologies in the classroom positive, according to research carried out by the Lemann Foundation. According to the data released, teachers, for the most part, consider the use of technological resources as positive and advocate training to improve work in the classroom. However, TIC Educação, released in 2013 by the Internet Steering Committee in Brazil – an official entity that coordinates web services in the country – showed that only 2% of Brazilian teachers use technology as support in the classroom.

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Brazil has 190 thousand schools of basic education, of which 150 thousand are public. It has already been verified that the number of computers in public schools is insufficient, besides, they are usually installed in places unsuitable for pedagogical use and the Internet connection has low speed. According to the 2013 Basic Education Census, conducted annually by the Ministry of Education, 48% of public units still do not have computers for student use; 50.3% have internet access and there is one computer for every 34 students. Broadband is present in 40.7% of the units. In addition, there is a lack of capacity building for teachers to use the technologies within the classroom pedagogically.

As I have said several times in other articles, I believe that in order to speak the same language as children and adolescents, educators need to know how to exploit the potential of new technological resources. However, the figures show that technology is not yet part of the public school in the country. The main obstacles are poor access to equipment and the lack of a specific look at technology in teacher education policies.

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There are schools with very poor basic infrastructure, without electricity, for example, which makes it impossible to use electronic devices. In addition, the use of new technologies in teaching is still little approached in pedagogy and undergraduate courses. Only 44% of the teachers interviewed in the study of Cetic.br studied some discipline on computer use and Internet at graduation.

In an attempt to bring digital technologies to public schools, the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) even created projects, such as the National Educational Technology Program (ProInfo), which brings computers, digital resources and educational content to schools, the project “One Computer Per Student” (UCA), which distributes netbooks to students and, more recently, the distribution of tablets to high school teachers. To promote access to the Internet, there is also the Broadband Program in Schools (PBLE) and other actions, such as the National Program for Continuing Education in Educational Technology (ProInfo Integrado), which guide educators on the use of these technologies.

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The projects may even be in the right direction, but it is a fact that the quality and quantity of resources for them to achieve good results are still insufficient. The federal government reinforces the need for schools to be connected and for pedagogical technologies to be disseminated in the public school system. The idea is good, but nothing will advance good projects if there is still a lack of investments in infrastructure and technical support.

The relationship between technology and basic education is permeated by major projects and major disappointments. In no other area of ​​education do we move from euphoria to disappointment in such a short time. It is enough that a report or government program points the potential transformers of a new device, so that in a few years new investigations call for caution and caution. It is a cycle that has been repeated for decades. Since the 1990s, we have been promoting the creation of computer labs in public schools. Since then, we have collected stories that report that equipment arrives at its destination, but there are months in its boxes, due to lack of infrastructure, lack of technical support, political obstacles, among other factors. The question then becomes: why do we invest so much budget resources in major technology integration projects in basic education if we have achieved so few systematic results? The reasons are several 1, but I stress here three elements, from the Brazilian experience. Before, however, some considerations.

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Taking as a starting point the theme of this issue of ComCiência and for argumentation purposes, I will divide educational technology into simple and complex technology. I call technology simple technology like device: they are computers, cell phones, calculators and other equipment used by many people in everyday life. Complex technology, in turn, comprises the entire system of people and resources that come together over time so that the devices reach the users’ hands, allied to the relationships and conditions that sustain them.

Following a worldwide trend, the Brazilian government invests more and more in the integration of technologies in public schools. Programs such as Proinfo and TV Escola contemplate not only infrastructure and equipment, but also training of teachers, managers and production of didactic resources. Fortunately, there is no longer the puerile notion that simply delivering computers to school will transform school practice. Large-scale investments in basic education are made from the perspective of complex technology. A more recent example is the UCA program – One Computer per Student – which included the purchase of six hundred thousand laptops for use in public schools (Preao 57/2010). We already have on the horizon the UTA program – One Tablet per Student -, taking a ride on the tax incentives to companies producing tablets in Brazil. Other large projects are carried out at the initiative of state and municipal governments.

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Rarely is a large-scale project promoted on the basis of successful earlier initiatives. Most of the time, integrating technologies into education is done only on the basis of their educational “potential” and short-term impact analyzes that generally focus on the relationship between the device and school improvement or student learning. As an example, projects that use laptops in education tend to emphasize the growing interest of students in the school. As a consequence of the introduction of laptops in the classroom, students miss less and participate more in class. This simple and direct relationship between device and educational enhancements provides a comfortable element for those who analyze, but the results are of little practical use. The interest of the student, almost always, is by the device to which he does not have access at home. But if it is not supported by coherent educational practices, interest is ephemeral and will be little related to the proposed educational goals. In education, there is only complex technology. It is the one that does not go beyond the barriers that historically surround the relationship between market, public policies, educational policies and technological innovation. Ignoring these factors is promoting a Russian roulette implementation. It is not surprising, therefore, that the problems faced by large-scale projects in public basic education are repeated: there is a lack of involvement of school actors in planning and execution, there is little understanding of the real situation of the school network, implementation rarely goes as planned, and the effective use in the educational space rarely follows the scenario imagined by who planned the project. As a result, we observed a set of recurring historical problems that we witnessed in large-scale projects in Brazil (Cysneiros, 2001; Sorj and Lissovsky, 2011).

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In other words, we know little about the relationship between technology and education, because although we understand that large-scale projects occur within complex technology, we systematically promote and investigate simple technology. If teachers already know this in practice, philosophy has long warned us that the essence of technology can not be investigated from technology itself (Heidegger). There is then a mismatch between our expectations and what technology can provide in its link with education. Let us then go on to three elements which, I believe, contribute to this problem.

First, the integration of technologies in education is entangled in a discourse that highlights the role of education as the engine of economic development. Despite the merits inherent in providing quality education for all, it can not be ignored that economic development depends on a number of other factors (Cuban, 2004). The consequence of a school-focused discourse is that it takes on more and more responsibilities that go beyond what its structure and staff can do effectively and cohesively. The cycle is pernicious. The school receives resources linked to increasing demands and when, in a short period of time, it does not meet the new expectations, it is considered to be a failure and a lack. Isolating education as a preponderant factor for economic improvement is ignoring the multiple barriers to social advancement, the incongruities of meritocracy that overestimate diplomas and credentials, and increasing competitiveness in society (Husen, 1986). It is not surprising, therefore, that more and more parents are looking for computer science courses for their children since kindergarten, with a view to a differential for the future labor market. These inconsistencies arise when we relate economic development to education, without asking ourselves what education and development we want. It is in this vacuum that the projects of educational technologies that promise to prepare the students for the labor market and promote the social ascension through instrumental competences with the technology are inserted.

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Second, it is important to remember that the perspective of transforming education through technology accompanies the birth of the public school (Cuban, 1986). It walks along with the idea that the school needs to mirror society and the “reality of the students”, which is generally poorly understood by policy makers and promotes (or develops) the devices. Technologies have always brought the promise of educational innovations; however, complex organizations, such as schools, tend to incorporate them in ways that do not substantially change their way of working (Papert, 1997). When they arrive in schools, technological resources tend to be absorbed and used in a complementary or supplementary way to existing practices. The reflection of an educator in the 1950s already presents this dilemma:

“Projectors, televisions, phonographs and recorders are finding their place in American colleges and schools. Audiovisual resources may supplement or supplant lectures, demonstrations, and textbooks. In doing so, they can serve a function carried out by the teacher: they present material to the student, and when they succeed, they do it so clearly and in such an interesting way that the students learn. There is another function to which they contribute little or nothing. This may be better evidenced in the exchange that happens between teachers and students in small groups or tutoring. Much of this exchange has already been sacrificed in American education so that it can teach numerous groups of students. There is a great danger that this exchange will be completely obscured if the practice of using equipment made simply to present material diffuses. The student becomes more and more a passive receiver of instruction, “says Skinner (1958, p.969).

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The didactic transformations and learning improvements that we expect in the classroom are dependent on the reforms that take place not only within the classroom, but also from regional and national practices. The success of implementing a computer lab in a school is as much a consequence of a teacher’s attitudes as of the management that organizes their use, and of the state policy that determines their funding and sustainability. Ignoring these factors or taking them as isolated units and expecting sophisticated results in educational practice within a few short years is at least naive.

Third, there is a discourse that promotes the need to always include “new” technologies in education, starting from the perspective of social, digital, or technological exclusion. Providing internet access has reached the discourse of universality, taking into account the importance of active citizen participation through digital channels. It is important, however, to dissociate access to the Internet as a tool for social inclusion to its necessary role in the teaching and learning process. In the past, taking the case of the United States, discussions of equity of access have been made to promote access to calculators and cable television in schools – great promises to improve learning that have yielded few results (Light, 2001). The tendency is that the school is always lagging behind the technologies available for personal use, and this is not necessarily bad (Amiel, 2006). The debate about digital inclusion through the school still values ​​equity of access and not the quality of activities. It is perhaps because of this asymmetry between the objectives of providing access to new technologies to the detriment of the quality of experience that we are not equally keen to promote cinema 2 in education and little is known about its impact on learning, despite its enormous potential educational.

The inclusion of new technologies in education continues to follow the already worn-out maxim of instrumental technology that I have categorized here as simple. It is a concern with the instrument to the detriment of the process and the ends to be achieved. Rarely do we see project proposals that do not clearly state the device to be used, even if, in principle, a range of devices can be used to achieve the same educational goal. Anyone who does not know what they want, any device is feasible. And for those who want everything, there is no device that will solve. Digital exclusion does not happen because of limitations of instrumental abilities that depend on a single device. Learning to use the cell phone can be useful, but it is only an initial goal for anyone involved in education. Educational technology should focus on developing a fluency with the technological system itself. This means making use of and appreciating the development of digitization, media, connectivity, among other topics, with clarity of purpose and implications. That is, lucidity about all the complexity of the system that the device carries and entails. It is certain that educational technology does not depend on a specific device to achieve its goals.

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There is no denying that success stories exist. There are several teachers and schools that make productive and creative use of educational technologies within the framework of a sound educational project. Perhaps the paths between our expectations and what actually happens through technological development are never found (Rescher, 1980). But we can bring these lines closer, lowering our expectations and recognizing that, following the logic of the large-scale projects already implemented in Brazil, we must suspect any promise of transformation of educational systems through the implementation of new technologies.