Thursday, 22 December 2011

eTwinning Conference "Leading 21st century education" - conclusion

It's kind of funny when you think how many ideas, projects, doubts and (especially) questions can come out of a single event. The eTwinning Conference held in Genova was a gold mine for my personal reflections, not only dealing with the future of eTwinning, but with the future of the EU and the future of European education.
Which means, a huge part of my own future (and yours, if you're a teacher). Something we cannot fully decide for ourselves: and it's quite scary when you feel someone else is deciding for you.

 So, while in Genova, I just sat there all the time, staring at the policy makers, burning with questions, and hoping for some answers. Unfortunately, there actually was very little time for questions. And I must admit what was said was not exactly answering my doubts.

If you want the official covering of the event, you can have a look at the article on the eTwinning portal When eTwinning meets policy makers! You can find videos there , documents and much of what was said and done.

And if you want my very personal, very unofficial and very uncensored opinion as well, just go on reading!

I was convinced by:

Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou's speech. True, eTwinning is an EU success story, and Heaven knows if Europe needs success stories these times. And true, as a success story it deserves more attention and recognition by the political world. Now, the question could be: is the political world interested in common EU success stories? or individual (national) selfishness is bound to prevail?

- The four workshops. Of course I loved mine (Pedagogical Practices), I found I had so much in common with the experts in my panel, even if we came from very different experiences (with me being the only simple teacher...). But I liked all of the workshops I could attend, and it was pleasant to see there were teachers in all of the panels: after all, there was someone who knew what we were talking about in practice, not just delivering a lecture. What's more, the workshops were the ideal size in terms of participants, so we could exchange ideas and try to find common solutions for our (common) issues. There was a debate, not just a speech from a stage. And here, there are two questions as well: 1) did the policy makers understand the real value of this cooperation between teachers all over Europe? or 2) did they look at it as a non-expensive toy to keep their teachers entertained and professionally growing (without them having to do anything)?

- Anne Gilleran's sentence: eTwinning is a place where you're allowed to fail. Great! Even if as teachers we're usually obsessed with being perfect, in fact we can't be. And it's a relief to feel free to make mistakes once in a while - and learn from them. That's what LifeLongLearning is supposed to mean. Now, to the question: will policy makers understand this? will we still be free to fail in an "institutionalized" eTwinning?

I was NOT convinced by:

- the projection of a bright technological future for the European schools, where teachers and students communicate via twitter, regularly meet on social networks and happily exploit ICT as creative educational tools. I've visited schools in Tuscany (and we're supposed to be one of the rich parts of Italy) where the ICT equipment is zero. A high percentage of teachers can't even hold a mouse. Lots of pupils think exploiting ICT means playing Wii or Play Station games. And there are even more serious issues: more and more families, in this time of crisis, can't afford buying a pc or paying for the internet access. Lots of Municipalities have less and less money to provide their schools with ICT equipment. Not to mention the crisis of European Education we've been discussing in another post (how can we forget all of those un-met benchmarks?). My feeling was that the impact of the present crisis was underestimated. It's my personal opinion, but the efficient and creative hypertechnological school of the future is Utopia school... or (worse) it is going to be an elite school for those who can afford it.

- the policy-makers speeches: sorry, apart from very few happy situations, the distance between the politicians and the EU-minded experts (Eugenio Riviere, Santi Scimeca, Anne Gilleran, Donatella Nucci etc) was patent. The politicians just kept seeing their small slice of the educational world, while the others talked in a wider perspective. And sadly, I'm not sure they had the same goals in mind. My question: did they understand each other?

Ok, that's all for my experiences and thoughts about Genova. I know maybe I've been boring with all of these posts, but we are living such a difficult period for the EU and the debate in Genova got for me a wider meaning, going beyond eTwinning.

After all, in my opinion the question is not if eTwinning will or won't be recognized by the institutions of the different countries. The question is: will the different countries recognize the existence - and value - of the European dimension in education?


  1. Interesting and sensible remarks, Laura. I must say I rely on teachers' creativity (and common sense) more than I do in politicians' speeches. But I'm a teacher, so I may sound obvious. Anyway, the present situation in the EU tells us much about politicians and their (mis)understanding each other...

  2. Dear Laura,
    I agree with you in many points, and I like to read your opinion.
    I think eTwinning can be an EU success story because of some important things. For example one of the reasons could be if the programme from the beginning helps teachers with a virtual "meeting point", so we can meet each other and do projects/activities as well. (I remember I tried to find a partner and partner school for 3 years, when finally and luckily I met you:)and it happened before eTwinning)
    Teachers and pupils who collaborate, with their ideas could have an important role in the success of eTwinning.
    And I think, it is very good if there work experts and not politicians.
    I always like if there are workshops when we can talk each other, there are questions and real answers. I like to hear about other colleagues' experiences, and find common points, and common solutions. Even if there are differences too in the education system in our countries, we many time have the same problems.. (maybe here the politicians could help us to resolve some of them...) and it is great when we could feel it: yes, somebody asks our opinion and because would like really to hear it.

  3. Yes Monika, it's great when we feel decision makers are asking our opinion because they truly want to listen to us... too bad it doesn't happen very often! I hope this conference will open a new door, and a new beginning will be possible for collaboration between teachers and politicians.

    Or am I just too optimistic, as usual?

    What do you think Teresa? I'd have to agree with you: we can rely on each other's common sense much more than on any politicians' speech. Anyway, I'm hopeful.

    Will eTwinning developers find the way to a real collaboration? Let's hope they will.


  4. Hi Laura,
    we don't know each other but I've been reading all of your posts about the Eminent/eTwinning event and the article on the eTwinning portal as well. For many aspects, I find your position and ideas to be quite sensible.

    I believe that's the greatest challenge for eTwinning: involving decision makers. Did you know they had an event for school principals a couple of weeks before the Conference?

    Much of the eTwinning future depends on how (and if) they manage to involve the "higher level". To me, no official recognition would mean the end of eTwinning (or its survival as a sort of clique, or worse, "religious" sept).

    As you put it in another post "teachers can't do everything on our own". We did a lot for eTwinning and we were rewarded by our students' motivation and success. But what for our future? Now, let's see what eTwinning can do for us, our career, our position.

    keep up posting and sharing, and.. happy new year!


  5. I'm afraid I have to agree with the pessimistic comments. I was in Florence at the national eTwinning awards (so sorry you couldn't be there Laura) and we all felt the enormous gap between school principals and teachers. It looked like headteachers had learnt their speeches by heart without actually understanding the spirit of eTwinning (and the amount of work behind the projects). And those ones were supposed to be the "enlightened" school leaders!
    There's much work to be done on school leaders, be them principals or politicians. I'm not sure we'll see school change in an European direction in the near future. Maybe eTwinning decision makers have to reset their target, or to work harder.

  6. I love eTwinning and I've taken part in lots of projects, always with good reaults, even when we didn't actually win any prize. If you are lucky and you pick the good partner, you can be sure you and your students will have a great time and learn a lot (about the topic of the project and about ICT).
    I also attended one Learning Event, web 2.0, which was very good.
    Anyway, I think something has to change. eTwinning is based on the assumption that teachers will do everything (project, training courses, etc.) for free, because of their passion. But a job is a job and not a mission.
    I agree with Jack, we are not supposed to be a religious sept.
    Now I'm not a young teacher anymore and I'm not very interested in this, but for my young colleagues it could be useful to get some official recognition out of their work. I think if you don't get any money out of your extra work, you will deserve at least to have some professional "credits"!

  7. I agree with you Laura, eTwinning is a great action, that can be improved. Of course, in order to be improved, the different Ministries of Education have to come to an agreement and reward their teachers for their European as well as national committment.
    I hope eTwinning will be a success story for the whole Europe, not only for the teachers who experienced it.
    In order to do this, we have to involve more teachers: the problem is that is difficult to convince them to give eTwinning a try, because they see it as "working for free".
    Any suggestion?