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Tapscott: Portugal Taps Technology for Learning

There's been a lot of attention paid recently to ed policy in other countries, and even a move toward setting international benchmarks or standards that outline what content and skills students should master in order to be competitive with their peers around the world.

I've written a lot about the comparisons made between schools in the United States and other countries, particularly those that perform well on the PISA or TIMSS tests. Inevitably the experts analyzing the data point to the likes of Singapore, South Korea, and Japan as models of academic success. As I wrote in this recent Digital Directions story those nations, as well as Australia, China, and even the United Kingdom have earned praise for their attention to building the kinds of technology skills that are deemed critical to success in college and the workplace.

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But Don Tapscott suggests we take note of a not-so-well-known player on the global stage: Portugal. That European country of about 10 million, Tapscott writes in , has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Internet access, hardware, and teacher training, to make it accessible and useful for all students:

This means that nearly nine out of 10 students in Grades 1 to 4 have a laptop on their desk. The impact on the classroom is tremendous, as I saw this spring when I toured a classroom of seven-year-olds in a public school in Lisbon. It was the most exciting, noisy, collaborative classroom I have seen in the world.

He goes on to include his own observations from that classroom:

The teacher directed the kids to an astronomy blog with a beautiful color image of a rotating solar system on the screen. “Now,” said the teacher, “Who knows what the equinox is?”
Nobody knew.
“Alright, why don’t you find out?”
The chattering began, as the children clustered together to figure out what an equinox was. Then one group lept up and waved their hands. They found it! They then proceeded to explain the idea to their classmates.
This, I thought, was the exact opposite of everything that is wrong with the classroom system in the United States.

I don't know that we in this country could hope to replicate what Portugal is doing, given that the U.S. population is 30 times larger, and presumably a lot more diverse. But many education reformers would agree with Tapscott's point about equipping students to find the answers, engaging them in relevant hands-on activities, and abandoning the industrial model of schooling.

What do you think are the lessons from Portugal?


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