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Technology turns into an inclusive force to provide pupils with a more personalized education

by Pierangelo Soldavini

If Maria Montessori was alive today, her method would surely have included tablets and the web. In keeping with the philosophy of this pioneer in education, Italian schoolteachers are increasingly turning to digital tools to involve and motivate children, who may know how to work touch screens and cell phones better than books and paper. The goal is to provide a personalized and creative curriculum to spark curiosity and help find answers.

Montessori herself was a big believer in the autonomy and freedom of children during the educational process. “With digital technology, a child can become the master of his own education, and in this I see a great affinity with the Montessori method, which starts with a child's request: Help me to do it alone. Digital technology offers a made-to-measure environment where a child can maneuver alone, and discover the world at his or her own speed,” said Elisabetta Monticelli, head of the Bruno of Osimo comprehensive institute.

Technology thus becomes an instrument more of support than learning. “The more ways there are to teach, the more ways there are to learn,” says Stefania Bassi, elementary school teacher at the Dalla Chiesa Institute in Rome, who brings her tablet from home and attaches it to a projector that connects with the web by using her cellphone as a Wi-fi hotspot. It's a creativity that's typically Italian, to compensate for a lack of infrastructure.

Stefania had an idea of taping on her cell phone the voice of a student who was embarrassed to read in English. From that came an activity that set the scene for the creation of a video of English lessons by kids. In Friuli Venezia Giulia, the “Kids of the River” program - nine elementary and middle schools with 7,000 students - puts out school materials on a blog through a learning cooperative from which children and teachers work together to produce e-books.

In the Bergamo Alps, Nadia Mainetti and Daniele Cortinovis started from zero four years ago when they realized that tablets allowed handicapped and learning disabled students - and they had quite a few - to participate in lessons more actively than they ever had before. With their school and other classes in Lombardy, they developed educational programs students could participate in from outside.

Technology has become an inclusive force that allows for a real personalization of education, for collaboration, and allows one to access it form anywhere. The Lombardy primary school initiative called “Child Author” helps children from classes in various schools create and tell stories in a collective way. “Their writing skill has without a doubt improved, but what's probably more important for us is the process that's activated to arrive at the final product,” said the project's coordinator Stefano Merlo.

Even the Reggio Emilia school system is experimenting with technology to enhance the experience of pre-school and primary school. They are doing it their way. For example, asking fifth graders to submit a prototype of their ideal tablet. But here there's a debate, led by teacher Giusy Grasselli: “Is it right to have the possibility of modifying reality? The goal of education isn't just simple knowledge, but learning to ask the right questions: the contents become instruments to understand how one learns how to learn.” Even - and maybe better - with a tablet.