Smart School Challenges

Smart School ChallengesSmart School Challenges

The plan for turning regular schools into smart schools has been implemented in 126,000 classrooms in 50,000 schools across the country.

“However, there are currently 650,000 classrooms in 105,000 schools that are yet to be fully equipped” with smart technology, said Rahman Issazadeh, head of Smart Schools Office at the Ministry of Education.

The first step towards smart schools is equipping them with multimedia training materials for teachers’ use, including films, photos, audios and slides, to improve education quality and content in the Information Age.

Smart school as a learning institution has been systemically reinvented in terms of teaching-learning practices and school management in order to prepare students for ICT (information and communication technology) in the digital world.

“This year (ends March 19) we needed an additional $900,000 to cover more schools, but only a quarter of the amount was allocated,” IRNA quoted Issazadeh as saying.

The official said by the end of the next five-year economic development plan (2016-2021) the program should at least be introduced in all the schools in the country, even if not completely. Under the plan, laptops, computers, internet connections and projectors should be provided to classrooms.

The smart school plan was officially launched in 2011, but “it is unfortunate that less than 1% of the country’s teachers have skills and knowledge required to teach a smart class.”

However, in the next fiscal year (starts March 20) “we are planning to hold different courses for empowerment of teachers including, ICDL” (International Computer Driving License), the world’s leading computer skills certification, he said. To date more than 14 million people have been accredited by the ICDL program in over 150 countries, through its network of over 24,000 ICDL Accredited Test Centers (ATCs).

The Education Ministry’s budget is not adequate to cover teachers in all smart schools. Last year, some schools paid for the teachers training programs instead of the ministry, Issazadeh said.

“This is a very big challenge for us and therefore, holding different programs to empower teachers has been placed high on the department’s agenda.”

The use of web-based technology in classroom instruction has no doubt been given priority in Iran and efforts have been made to ensure that it is incorporated into the wider professional teaching practice. However, teachers’ experience with the in-school use of web-technology may be less positive and remains a big challenge, experts say.

Teachers’ lack of technological skills in integrating optimal use of ICT into the curriculum is reportedly the main reason for the challenges. Studies show that teachers had insufficient technical support at school and limited access to the internet, and lacked pedagogical instruction to facilitate students’ specific conduct on internet searches; they also lacked a positive attitude towards teaching in smart schools, says an online research paper on the website

What constitutes the challenges in infusion and instruction of ICT in schools and the role teachers should play in the provision of teaching and learning with web-based technologies, has only started to be explored in the last few years.

 Traditional Methods Continue

While the vision behind the smart school plan is laudable, however, it may not be successful due to the above-mentioned reasons. Although hundreds of classrooms have been equipped with multimedia, it is observed that traditional teaching methods continue to be employed, indicating the fundamental flaws in the program.

Some students who don’t have computers at home may also feel confused and frustrated when they are offered new educational methods; therefore according to educational experts the necessary infrastructure should be first developed.    

The economic plight of many families, particularly those living in remote and deprived areas also makes computer technology unaffordable for their children, is another major obstacle in the way of the plan implementation.  

Ali Dartomi, a teacher of a smart school in North Khorasan Province says, “Now we have an internet-connected laptop and projector in the class, but no educational software and no video clips have been provided. So teachers have to buy the required software. This is one of the biggest weaknesses of the project.”

Ahmad Vafaei, a parent says his child’s class teacher “only shows a video clip once in a while and no educational software is used to support the lessons taught.”

The education and ICT ministries, based on an agreement, developed the smart school concept. In Tehran, the first smart school was inaugurated in 2007 and was implemented as a pilot project in four high schools that had appropriate facilities compared to other schools and where teachers and students were trained in web-based technology use.

Equipping smart schools with computers, smart boards and network facilities is not enough, say experts.  Like many other countries, an implicit assumption seems to be dominant in the smart school project: that by equipping schools with computer hardware, ICT integration will turn into a mainstream trend.