The topic of digital maturity of schools was brought to light in 2020 and is now well-established as an important subject matter both internationally and at home in Slovenia. The Covid-19 epidemic and the distance learning that followed as part of the preventative measures, to which all levels of education in Slovenia were subjected, thus exposed many shortcomings, as well as the need to use information and communication technologies (ICT) and digital tools in teaching.
Between July and September 2020, 4PDIH conducted a survey on the digital maturity of Slovenian schools, which encompassed 111 primary and secondary schools. A digitally mature school, as it is understood in 4PDIH, encourages teachers to use technology to improve their teaching and to formally enable them to do so. Teachers in such a school continuously develop their own digital skills and at the same time encourage students to use ICT and digital tools in their independent learning and development of crucial skills.
The impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on the ICT activity of schools
The 4PDIH survey identified, among other topics, the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on the ICT activities of schools. It turned out that schools were not prepared for distance learning, as almost 85% of the schools required adjustments or even major adjustments in their work processes. Additionally, the vast majority of teachers found that teaching during the epidemic was much more demanding for them. Only a small proportion of schools characterized teaching during the epidemic to be as demanding as before or easier to conduct.
Barriers to improving the digitalization of schools
The most considerable obstacle to improving the digitalization of schools was the lack of time to plan and prepare for the integration of ICT into the schools’ processes. As the most important activities for improving the effective use of ICT, the schools highlighted the training of employees, educating employees about the benefits of digitalization and providing access to a computer device to every student. However, only 37 schools out of 111 respondents provide regular training for employees and teachers for the development of digital competences, and slightly more schools (48) provide regular training for the development of digital competences in students.
Schools are aware of their commitments
Teachers and schools were therefore forced to use new and different approaches if they wanted to ensure an appropriate level of student participation and motivation during distance learning. In doing so, they faced a number of challenges connected to their digital maturity. However, one of the encouraging results of the research is that schools are well aware of the great responsibility to design and prepare their school plans in such a way that they will be resistant to various unforeseen circumstances. Almost half of the schools answered that such plans are already in the making. At the national level, Slovenia has been actively monitoring and participating in European and international initiatives, guidelines and action plans in the field of digital education for many years, but experience in practice during the epidemic has shown only partial effectiveness and lagging strategic implementation of changes in the school environment.
Teaching in modern learning environments also requires modern learning approaches from the teachers. The conclusions of the research conducted within 4PDIH show that schools are aware that students can develop their full potential only when they can actively participate in the lessons. That being said, teachers must be able to create enough learning opportunities and make sense of existing ICT solutions and digital technologies. Only with a combination of appropriate technical skills and appropriate didactic or pedagogical approaches will the schools be able to confidently perform in the digital age.