Period: 1998-10-01 – 2000-12-01 (24 months).
Funded by: Comisión Europea
A PONTE was a demonstration action funded by the European Program ESPRIT and has started on the 1st of October 1998. The project tackled the specific problems of Secondary Education in Rural Areas, and evaluated the impact of the introduction of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to face those problems.
Rural areas have the following specific characteristics, grouped by the following themes:
- Demographic: low population density, dispersed population pattern, high emigration rate, ageing population, geographic isolation
- Economic: family owned business, subsistence economy, no substantial economic growth or loss, isolation from global economy
- Socio-cultural: ICT illiteracy, cultural isolation, low social mobility, sparse interactions between individuals but high familiarity within neighbourhoods
- Several of these factors clearly applied to the two regions in which the A PONTE project was going to perform a pedagogical experience: Galicia in Spain and Northern Portugal. In additon, both regions have many cultural and linguistic links.
Given the framework of characteristics for rurality outlined above rural schools in general can be characterised by the following:
1. There is a low teacher-pupil rate;
2. Sometimes, pupils are grouped in cycles or levels and not in classes;
3. Teachers have to assist pupils of different ages, abilities and attitude, teaching different material;
4. In many cases the school centre is the only public service left in the locality, generating a sense of isolation;
5. It is difficult to access cultural resources and events.
6. Students have to be grouped in schools, thus depending on bus transport schedules.
Based on this situation the needs of these schools are:
- To provide more/better educational services: In many rural areas the pupils cannot select the school they wish to attend. To our understanding this should translate into actions that improve the quality of education offered in these schools, an objective difficult to reach if they –which is normally the case– receive less financial support.
- To break up the isolation: Isolation is a phenomenon cited repeatedly for rural areas. It certainly has a direct negative impact on education. Also, in rural areas the school often functions as a cultural centre in a given area. Closing down a school centre thus leads to a process of “cultural desertion”. It seems crucial to provide access to a wealth of resources outside the area (which should be moderated, though) as well communication with the rest of the world.
- To counterbalance the disadvantage of the “have-nots”: All the pupils have the right to equal access to high quality education, independent of their place of residence (rural or urban).
- To stimulate the economic development: Education is a moving factor for economic development (OCDE 1991, Delors 1996). One of the factors that most negatively influence the development of rural areas is the lack of qualification, which does not allow to initiate new labour or economic activities. Through adequate educational programs the level of professional qualification can be enhanced by introducing new professional areas and labour activities that allow for regional development (Grande 1998, Hernández 1989, Bude 1992).
Modern Information and Communication Tools could be useful to satisfy the needs of rural schools. On the other hand, some people think that sometimes it is difficult to put innovations into practice; it generates lots of work and not necessarily solves educational problems efficiently.
In addition to this, innovation proposals coming from the Administration are frequently incomprehensible for the staff who have deal with them. Processes of change can generate suspicion, even rebelliousness, but it is necessary to believe in them. Public Administrations should prepare, support, implement, develop and research towards the design of these innovations and explain them clearly to motivate the involved staff, specially teachers. These should take teachers and parents oppinions into account when designing these initiatives.
The A PONTE project has evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of using ICT in educational systems particularly in remote areas. The specific goals of A PONTE were:
- To establish closer relations between universities and schools in rural areas.
- To meet demand for less taught subjects.
- To bridge multicultural and multilingual diversity.
01.10.98 – 1.12.2000
Key Project Participants:
A PONTE project was carried out by the following international consortium:
Sema Spain is the Spanish branch of Sema Group plc, one of the main software houses in Europe with a large expertise in system integration, management facilities and consulting. Within the A PONTE project, Sema has been in charge of the overall project co-ordination and the integration of the distance learning tool Aula A PONTE.
CESGA is the Super-computation Centre of Galicia. CESGA has been co-ordinating the ‘pedagogical experiences’ in Galicia and between Galicia and Portugal. CESGA was in charge of the local support to the Galician schools, the project web site, the co-ordination of two workshops and the final conference, the evaluation of the project results and the help-desk.
AURN is the Association of Universities of Northern Portugal. AURN has co-ordinated the ‘pedagogical experiences’ at the Portuguese participating schools and also organised the second workshop.
- Person in charge : María José Rodríguez Malmierca
- Partners: SEMA Group (ES) -coordinador-, CESGA + USC, Associação das Universidades da Região Norte (PT), Context European Educational Ltd. (NL), SBLN Ltd. (GB).