Computers in the classroom: how JumPC helped teachers and pupils without turning the system upside down

Computers in the classroom: how JumPC helped teachers and pupils without turning the system upside down /img/jumpc.png

Last year every child of the fifth class, A section of Don Milani School in Rivoli, Piedmont got an individual laptop computer, equipped with educational software for primary school and a custom, simplified user interface (fifth class in Italy hosts 10 years old children). The computers, called JumPC, were assigned to be used for normal schoolwork and homework, in class and at home, throughout the whole year. The same experiment was carried on for shorter periods also in the third classes (section A and B) of Borgofranco di Ivrea and in class forth, section C in Novi Ligure.

According to one of the coordinators, : “even the Minister of Innovation… greatly appreciated the idea and promised to adopt similar deployments of one computer for every student”.

I asked Paola what is the real reason to use JumPC or anything similar in primary school (which in Italy means children between 6 and 10 years of age)? What can you actually do with computers like those which is both actually useful and not doable without the computers?

Paola: What you can do is school as usual, just in a more interesting and captivating, entertaining way. Computers bring in a flexibility that lets us work, elaborate, rebuild or correct any text even after a project was closed, and in a collaborative way. Our children still learn to study and research using every available source: books, TV shows, oral sources, field work and the web. Computers are never used more than one hour at a time, or for more than two hours a day. But Internet in the classroom is a limitless resource.

Stop: But many italian parents and teachers are still stuck with the “Internet = pornography and abusers” equation.

Paola: There are more and more initiatives every year to make families and teachers really aware of dangers in cyberspace. Unfortunately, all too often they are just scaremongering which doesn’t give enough value to simple tools already existing, like tutoring and Internet content filters. The latter are important, but even more important is to be close to children while they use the Internet, in order to help them to become users who are respectful of others and well informed about both risks and opportunities. This solution, which is the one we adopt, guarantees a browsing experience which is protected but also effective.

Stop: What do the children think of the JumPC?

Paola: They’re happy of the fact that they learned to type quickly, take digital pictures, play logic games and search information online, even on English websites. They also published, without any help from their teachers, some multimedia diaries.

Stop: Were parents involved?

Paola: Of course they were, and with a very important role: they were requested to always monitor and support their children for all their homework, regardless of how it happened, that is through books or computers.

Stop: What’s their opinion now?

Paola: Overall, their judgment is positive. Some explicitly approved the balance between JumPC and traditional methods, others noted that regular usage of the computer seemed to make their children more meticulous and attentive.

Stop: These days there is plenty of programs to give each student a computer or at least a big discount to buy one. Which of these programs should be avoided?

Paola: Those which throw computers to families like if they were just home appliances, without any preconfigured educational software and Internet filters. Using computers as educational tools only makes sense if there was a lot of preparation and configuration work before and around them.

Stop: Which advice do you have for other schools willing to give computers to every student?

Paola: Find a sponsor, copy our model, network with other schools.

Stop: You did this to get help from an High School, didn’t you?

Paola: Sure we did, and with excellent results! All the JumPC were configured, loaded with lots of educational software and tested by the students of Professor Dario Zucchini of the Industrial Technical Institute Majorana of Grugliasco. Their help was essential, as it spared us teachers from any installation-related problem.

Stop: This means that JumPC also had an excellent side effect: besides cutting costs, partnerships like these are a great experience of public services for older students, and I hope they will be copied in many other schools. Back to JumPC: what will happen this year?

Paola: The gratuitous loan thanks to which we got the computers in 2008 is still effective, so we’ll be able to use them again this year. After that, unless something happens, our program will shut down. There is work to extend it to other schools in Piedmont, but as of October 2009 we didn’t receive any offer for financing.

To know more about the JumPC you can read the JumPC complete report or the collection of press releases. Both websites are in Italian, but if you need more information just email marco -@- digifreedom dot net.