European Commission Selects TU Wien Informatics’ Digital Learning Project
The project “Head in the Clouds: Digital Learning to Overcome School Failure” provides Open Educational Resources for disadvantaged Roma children.
Digital literacy has become one of today’s key-prerequisites in both professional and private life. Tasks such as navigating through an unknown city, writing an email, arranging a business meeting, or learning a new language, call for competent handling of devices (e.g., smartphones, computers, tablets, etc.). Many children and young people, especially from socially disadvantaged groups, however, don’t have access to digital devices, preventing them from acquiring knowledge in a variety of disciplines and transversal skills.
To enhance the digital education possibilities of children and youth in the context of minorities, mainly Roma, A Min Tjoa and his team from the research unit Information and Software Engineering initiated the Erasmus+ project Head in the Clouds: Digital Learning to Overcome School Failure in cooperation with six international partners: Technical University Kosice, Gaia Kosovo, Verein Offenes Lernen, Fundatia Crestina Diakonia Filiala Sfantu Gheorghe, Sukromna zakladna skola, and scio. Having been nominated for the UNESCO ICT in Education Prize by the Austrian UNESCO-Commission in 2018, the project has now been selected as a “success story” by a panel of experts from the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture of the European Commission. “Success stories” are finalized projects that have distinguished themselves by their impact, contribution to policy-making, innovative results, and/or creative approach, and can be a source of inspiration for others.
The European Union development strategy identified the main weaknesses and risk areas. One of the most significant was described as the early school leaving of Roma minority members. Roma constitute Europe’s largest transnational ethnic minority with an estimate of ten million people. Learning outcomes of this minority are significantly lower than the outcomes of the majority. As one of the reasons for the early school leaving of Roma, insufficient understanding of learning materials was identified. The result is that most of the Roma community members drop out of education before attending a secondary school and continue their lives as unemployed or enter the labor market as unskilled workers.
Head in the Clouds
The project provides Open Educational Resources for kids and youths aged 6-16 years. The material boxes offer ideas for activities in the domains of IT education, Programming, English, Environmental education, Video Making, and Real Life challenges. The so-called Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLE) boxes are usable in schools, as well as in any form of non-formal educational settings (including in and after school programs, learning centers, at home, etc.). The tasks are available in English, Slovak, Hungarian, and Serbian language. From September 2015 to August 2018, TU Wien Informatics, together with six partners in five countries, implemented a strategic partnership in the field of school education. This Erasmus+ project deals with the prevention of early school leaving, the development of basic and transversal skills and the enhancement of digital literacy in the context of minorities, mainly Roma. Educational disadvantages and exclusion lead to lacking integration in the labor market and exclusion from society in general, which is a vicious circle in minority communities this project wishes to break. In three locations in Slovakia, Romania, and Kosovo, the project implemented an innovative educational approach to tackle the issue with more than 100 participating children and youths. In their afterschool and youth programs, teachers and youth workers used explicitly designed learning materials to engage the young people in their learning process. The chosen MINIMAX approach (aiming at minimal teacher invasion and maximum learner autonomy) was initially inspired by the Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLE) approach. This widely recognized alternative educational method supports an individual learning process according to a student’s abilities, needs, and interests.
The project started with a needs assessment to tailor the educational materials to the local contexts and needs. Mentors and youth workers received a specialized training and subsequently implemented the same with the target groups and evaluated them. The team observed the changes in learning disparities, school attendance, school leaving, the pursuit of careers, and the rise in transversal skills like digital competences. Based on the evaluation, tools, and materials were improved. After three years, the partners working directly with the target groups continued their implementation of the methods, tools and materials – learning with their children and youths in the clouds.