When the Portuguese government introduced broad, deep Internet access to society during the last decade, the results were described as a “technological shock.” The aftershocks in education have been especially strong because of eEscola, which has raised education outcomes and increased competitiveness.
Portugal’s eEscola program has been the most significant element of government efforts to provide society with broad, deep Internet access. eEscola debuted with ambitious goals: to make computer equipment (portable devices) and broadband Internet (particularly wireless) easily available to students, teachers, adults in training schools, and youth associations. The aim was to develop a knowledge society and economy in Portugal, and over a decade after implementation, eEscola boasts about 1.7 million beneficiaries. Overall, about 17 percent of the Portuguese population has directly benefited, and about 43 percent of the Portuguese population has indirectly benefited. In total, the program has involved about 1.2 million new subscribers.
But eEscola has done more than simply earn good grades for itself and its students. It has shifted Portugal’s education paradigm and created a networked society characterized by its social interactions, knowledge sharing, and information research. Specifically, it has:
- Prepared new generations for the challenges of the information and knowledge society and economy;
- Contributed to the technological modernization of Portuguese schools and society as well as to entrepreneurship;
- Supported the transformation of Portuguese schools through digital learning spaces, promoting collaboration, creativity, communication, and problem solving skills;
- Provided access to eContent and eServices, and further strengthened the ICT skills of students, teachers, adults in training programs, youth associations, and their families;
- Supported the education technology industry development, leveraging its degree of expertise;
- Improved dialogue capacity among teachers, students, and parents; and
- Bridged the digital divide by stimulating the diffusion of ICT among Portuguese families.
Part of a larger plan
The eEscola program is a critical component of the Portuguese Technological Plan for Education, an unprecedented effort to promote schools’ technological infrastructure and the availability of content and services online for students, teachers, and others. Specific goals for schools included:
- Simplification of school management;
- Provide schools with quality web services, critical for the education system;
- Launch IT infrastructures allowing “digital education”;
- Facilitate education entities with tools to better coordinate, supervise, and control results; and
- Provide schools with high-speed broadband Internetv and enable services such as voice, videoconference, TV, and surveillance over IP.
Both the overall national ICT plan and the eEscola model may be very useful to other governments seeking to enhance student scores as well as overall competitiveness. To create a successful initiative, it is important to have a holistic view of the classroom, the school, and all levels of the education administration. It must be sustained by an approach that leverages industry expertise, and above all, industry’s full involvement.
On the government side, three elements are key:
- Make equipment available and provide easy access at affordable prices;
- Mobilize all the “actors”—publishers, communications operators, educational community officials, producers and distributors of equipment, and the educational community in general; and
- Mobilize and sensitize society and the business community to the availability of people with new skills and consequently the need for new profiles of employability.
A program like eEscola, executed carefully and within the context of a national ICT strategy, can facilitate students’ improvement, entrepreneurship, and innovation while enhancing citizens’ competencies across an entire society. Ultimately, such a positive report card reaps rewards throughout the economy.