Author Archives: katjaengelhardt

5 tips on how to make your information more accessible – and why it matters

Social inclusion and as a related issue accessibility of information appear to come up more often in the European but also national discourses as priorities to look at. Usually, people agree that both are important. Not always they see it as part of their work. And often, people do not know how what to do about it and how.

European Schoolnet contributed to the development of guidelines on accessible information, within the ICT4IAL project. We as project partners hope that they will help others working in the field of education to get started on making their information more accessible and becoming more inclusive.

One of the things we have learned during the project is that while becoming a 100% accessible organisation is still a long way to go for us and many others, there are numerous small steps that are fairly easy to implement. The following points can give you an idea:

  • Alternative versions: digital, transcript…
  • Check for accessibility: using built-in tools (PDF, word etc.)
  • Contrast colours
  • Electronic version: use built in tools, latest software
  • Sans serif fonts
  • Size: minimum font size

The guidelines give a more complete picture, also providing tips on more demanding tasks like making audio, video or online resources accessible. They are now available in 23 languages.

On 11 December 2015, the guidelines were presented and discussed during the international conference ‘Information accessibility for Learning. From Development to implementation of guidelines’, kindly hosted by the Polytechnic University of Milan. The conference participants highlighted numerous enablers necessary to make accessible information becoming the norm in the education sector: The involvement of a broad range of stakeholders is necessary, funding at different levels, and more teacher training is key.

While a lot still needs to happen on a structural level, we invite all teachers, teacher trainers, policy makers and others interested not to wait for others to make a start. The guidelines are an open educational resource. Have a look at them, try them out, adapt them to your needs and talk to your colleagues about it.

A lot of discussion in the area still focuses on the why? Obvious arguments are the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities from 2006, signed by 147 countries including all EU countries, impressive figures on the numbers of people with disabilities around the world and an ageing population which means more old people also benefiting from accessible information. All that is true beyond doubt but perhaps one new year’s resolution could be to spend less time on discussing the why and more time on finding concrete steps to make accessible information a reality not only, but also in European classrooms.

There is a lot of excellent initiatives in the field of social inclusion that already show us how to make some change. One of them is the Orchestra Sinfonica EsagramDSCI0820ma, a Social Cooperative based in Milan. Licia Sbatella, Associate Professor at the Polytechnic University of Milan and Scientific Director of Esagramma, invited the
ICT4IAL partners to a participative performance of the orchestra. The orchestra is composed of children with special needs and professional musicians – and for that performance also the ICT4IAL partners. It already performed in front of the Vatican and the European Parliament and is always open to new invitations.

For me personally, it was a great experience to make music together with a diverse group of people as part of such a special orchestra. It really showed me DSCI0822how a professional and dedicated team can bring people together. Without any prior knowledge or musical talent, I was able to contribute to a common learning experience. It is initiatives like this who in 2016 and beyond will continue to contribute to making a reality of promises upheld in conventions and political discourses, and encourage other stakeholders to tackle some of the barriers to making accessible information widely available in education.

Coding – an emerging reality for students and teachers in Europe

by Anja Balanskat Senior Analyst and Project Manager Creative Classrooms Lab

As a follow up of our desk research investigating computing and coding initiatives in schools, we now have a more coherent picture about priorities, school curricula and initiatives across Europe.

Altogether 20 Ministries of Education participated in the EUN survey on coding and computer programming in schools. Here are some of the main findings:


Computerprogramming and coding is already part of the curriculum in 12 countries: Bulgaria,
Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and the UK (England) (see graphic: Yes). 7 countries plan to integrate it in the future (see graphic: it is planned). There is no information available from 10 countries (see graphic: ???).



Does this mean that coding/or compute programming is the only main priority for Ministries of Education when it comes to ICT competence development? Fortunately it is not, 16 Ministries of Education still prioritize Digital Competence Development, developing ICT as a tool for learning and ICT user skills in line with policy initiatives that have been developed in this area for many years.

Picture2But what is the main rationale for integrating coding and programming in national or regional school curricula? The majority of countries participating in the survey, which have integrated computing in the curricula or plan to do so, aim to develop core educational skills such as logical thinking skills, coding skills or core competencies e.g. problem solving skills. Only 10 countries introduce it to respond to the needs of the job market and to foster employability or to attract students to study computer science.

As regards curriculum integration:

  • Computer/Programming/coding is integrated by most countries (10) at upper secondary school level in general education and vocational education.
  • Three countries (Estonia, Greece,United Kingdom (England) integrate it in primary education.
  • Only Estonia and Greece integrate coding and programming at all levels of school education.
  • In 7 countries (BG, CZ, CY,EL, PL, PT, UK (England)) it is compulsory for specific levels of education and mainly part of a computer course.

Given this higher profile of coding in the curriculum in these countries, are teachers prepared to teach this as part of the ICT subject, which is the most common subject, in which coding is taught?

  • 9 countries (BG, CZ, CY, EE, IE, IT, LT, PT and the UK (England)) make training provision (in in-service or pre-service training) to support teachers in teaching computer programming/coding.
  • Ireland offers a variety of activities to teachers as part of initial teacher education (ITE) mainly for the Post Primary ITE sector. In the Primary ITE sector, coding is not included as a mandatory element but some electives maybe offered.

Developing students coding skills can be approached in various ways, in school, within and outside official school hours, and benefitting from a variety of offers from other stakeholders in the field, e.g. by taking part in competitions or coding clubs. 12 countries have reported on their collaboration with industry, sector organisations, computer society clubs, teachers and subject associations, or universities.

First lessons of successful integration will be hopefully learnt in the near future from countries that are today forerunners in this area such Estonia, Greece, Ireland, UK (England). Certainly other interesting initiatives are going on in countries that did not respond to the survey. We will be keeping an eye on the subject. Check details in the report,” Computing our future” which also contains a case study on the introduction of coding in the English curriculum.

If you already feel like starting to learn how to code in one day and create your own app check out the one of the recent initiatives offered by the Sunday Times:

It just requires a mixture of concentration and creativity to learn the new literacy of the 21st century: //Create play function play() {

How mainstream can inclusion and accessibility become in 2015 and beyond?

blackboard with random drawings by children

Pelgulinna Gymnasium in Tallinn

The start of a new year is always also a good moment to look back at what happened the last year and which new things one learned. For me, it was the conclusion that while the topic inclusion has been high on the agenda of many European countries the last few years and many students with special needs moved from special schools to mainstream schools, the topic is still not mainstream enough to be a concern for all educators. Below I share the most interesting facts around inclusion and accessibility issues I came across during SENnet  workshops and Peer Learning visits in Portugal and Estonia in 2014.

(1)    Who is a student with special needs and who is not depends on the definition used. The term is, according to the OECD, not well defined internationally. For the Estonian government, for example, also very gifted students are students with special needs.

(2)    Devices like tablets can enable students with special needs to make independent choices and communicate who could not do so otherwise. (see SENnet Austrian Case Study video)

(3)    At the Pelgulinna Gymnasium in Tallinn, students with special needs are particularly interested and active in coding and robotics classes.

(4)    Teaching students with special needs and teaching with ICT are the areas in which teachers need professional development the most. (TALIS, 2013)

(5)    One cannot assume that parents of students with special needs can always provide all necessary support. The UK Teacher of the Deaf Darryl Bedford shared at the SENnet workshop on 21 October that most of this students are not even able to communicate at home, as their family does not learn sign language .

(6)    Providing continuity in external support provided to schools is vital, as teachers will only cooperate with services they know and trust.

(7)    Including students with special needs in mainstream schools is a benefit to all students, as all students learn important skills for life while learning and cooperating together.

(8)    Making texts/ audio/ video etc. accessible benefits in most cases all readers, not only those with special needs.

(9)    Especially having in mind today’s ageing population, also people with no disability at present might develop a special need later in their lives. Having that in mind, any step towards more accessibility/ inclusion is in any of our best interests.

Further reading: 

Katja Engelhardt has joined the European Schoolnet Observatory Team in 2012. She mainly works on the Creative Classrooms Lab project and the SENnet project. 

Computer programming and coding in schools— a hype in education or an emerging trend?

by Anja Balanskat Senior Analyst and Project Manager Creative Classrooms Lab

There are a growing number of countries in Europe and internationally, which refocus their ICT curricula on developing students’ computer programming and coding skills and introduce this topic in national, regional or school curricula. …And this for very young learners starting already in the last year of kindergarten or in primary schools and in many cases as a requirement.

European Schoolnet, which is also supporting  the organisation of the Microsoft coding competition for schools, the Kodu Kup Europe, will in the coming months feature recent developments in this area and currently gathers further information from its Ministries of Education to obtain a more detailed picture of how coding or programming is or will be integrated in school curricula across Europe. We will also look into how teacher training and educational resources are provided in line with such new requirements. On 25 June, European Schoolnet already organised a workshop on how to connect and upscale coding. In this first blog entry I give a short overview of what we already know about this topic from the country reports of ICT in education published yearly by European Schoolnet and information published in some recent news articles.

Which countries explicitly have integrated or will integrate coding or programming in school curricula?

The UK is an exemplary case as it is one of the first European countries to mandate computer programming in its primary and secondary schools from September 2014 onwards. Students will start learning to write code when they enter school at 5 years old until they finish at the age of 16. For example, by the end of key stage one (age 7) students will be able to create and debug simple programs, understand algorithms and how they are implemented as programs on digital devices and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions.

Already in 2012 Estonia launched ProgeTiiger (a division of the Tiger Leap foundation), which is a pilot program to teach programming to all students, from grades 1 until 12. ProgeTiiger is funded by the government and volunteer teachers that are interested in learning coding receive training and then teach the programming skills they learned. Children from 6 years onwards will have coding/programming as part of the curriculum and 60 teachers have been trained so far to teach the first four year groups.

Finland will require all primary school students to learn programming, starting in the fall of 2016. 1st and 2nd grade students will learn the basics of giving simple commands, while 3rd through 6th graders will learn visual programming and 7th through 9th graders will be taught a programming language.

In France the Minister of National Education, Benoît Hamon, said in a recent interview with Le Journal du Dimanche that programming courses will be offered to primary school students starting this fall 2014. The courses, which will be optional and offered during extracurricular time, will teach students programming basics and how to create simple applications. Hamon also expressed a desire for programming to be offered at the secondary school level. The goal, he said, is to give French students the keys to thrive in a connected world and to encourage them go into technical vocations.

In Greece, under the “Digital School Strategy” framework, a number of special actions/projects are in progress in order to obtain better integration of the most recent ICT developments in the curriculum. The new curriculum for the course of Computer Science and Information Technology (ICT) in compulsory education aims to develop the necessary digital competences (i.e. knowledge, skills and attitudes related to ICT) in order to enhance students’ learning capabilities, continuous and lifelong development and ultimately their participation in the society. For this purpose, the new curriculum is divided into four interdependent components:

  1. ICT as a scientific and technological tool.
  2. ICT as a learning-cognitive tool.
  3. ICT as a problem solving methodology.
  4. ICT as a social phenomenon.

In lower secondary education, ICT has been introduced as a subject that is taught once a week by a specialist IT teacher. During the first two years of lower secondary education pupils get to know the basic operations of a computer, its peripheral devices and the operating system. At the same time, they develop their skills and abilities as regards software programs covering graphics, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and databases. In the third year (grade 9), pupils are introduced to programming through the use of the LOGO language and they work on team projects, using the Office software package productivity tools they were taught in the previous years.

In Switzerland, Prof Juraj Hromkovic from the federal polytechnic university of Zürich offers a course on coding in primary schools which is already adopted in around 40 schools in the German speaking cantons. The introduction of the new curriculum “Lehrplan 21” for the German speaking Cantons in 2013 was widely discussed by expert groups. In a previous version of the plan, it was up to the teachers if and how they integrate ICT, which was strongly criticised by ICT related interest groups, which asked for a separate ICT subject. In a compromise the plan now foresees to teach ICT and media education in 3 modules thereby fixing the number of hours to be taught and the learning objectives. From grade 3 onwards children in primary education will have one hour of ICT and media education and two hours in secondary education. The plan covers 3 areas to be tackled:

  • ICT: basics of programming
  • Media education: use of mass and new media
  • ICT user competencies (e.g. knowledge of word, excel, ..)

Internationally, Australia has been in the process of reworking its national curriculum to require children to learn programming concepts beginning in kindergarten and how to write computer code beginning in year 3. Whether coding or programming can be actually considered as a new trend in school curricula and is taught in more than the 6 European countries mentioned above, we will only know after an analysis of the results of our survey with ministries. In other European countries such as Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany (Bavaria), France, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania and Spain ICT or computer science is taught as a separate subject …and therefore potentially coding and programming is part of the programme likewise.

The survey results will be highlighted on the observatory blog in October 2014. Meanwhile, in another blog entry I will focus on the question why students should actually learn coding or programming, e.g. the educational benefits it can bring about and look at some interesting examples of practice already happening in schools.

Further reading: 

Country reports on ICT in education, EUN, 2013


Teaching our children to code: a quiet revolution, 4 November 2013, The Telegraph              

Coding in schools: A is for algorithm, 26 November 2014, The Economist


AAAS Serves: The Proge Tiiger initiative, 25 March 2013, AAAS MemberCentral                         

How Estonia became E-stonia, 16 May 2013, BBC News


Erziehungsdirektoren präsentieren Lehrplan 21, 28 June 2013, Tages Anzeiger

Education: sus à l’analphabétisme informatique!, 22 August 2013, L’Hebdo


Das digitale Einmaleins, 11 January 2013, Zeit Online


France to offer programming in elementary school, 16 July 2014, IT world

How can we accelerate the adoption of what works in education?

by Anja Balanskat Senior Analyst and Project Manager Creative Classrooms Lab

Intrigued by finding “new” answers to this ongoing question and to connect to well- known thinkers in this area, I took part in a round table debate in the prestigious House of Lords in London, known for its heated debates.

The debate was open, straight forward and most of all, not driven by technology issues itself (be it as a tool used in the debate or as the focus of the discussion), a truly professional dialogue enriching each other’s mind with views and evidence about the impact of technology on pedagogy, 1:1 learning, the role of national policy, teachers continuous professional development and access issues.

Valerie Thompson, director of the e-learning foundation in the UK, and partner in the Creative Classroom’s Lab project of European Schoolnet organized this global conversation chaired by Lord Knight: 21st century learning, education reform and the impact of learning technologies with Education leaders, policy makers, educators and representatives from industry from the U.S., UK, Canada and Europe. The One-to One institute in the USA was represented with a high number of delegates as it shares common missions and goals with the e-learning foundation in providing advocacy for 1:1 teaching and learning programmes.

The group agreed that we can see already a number of transformed schools, where teachers are no longer ”sage on the stage” and students are engaged in self-directed, independent and active learning, they collaborate with teachers and peers and where classroom time is spent productively discussing concepts, presenting ideas and sharing information. However, what is needed to get more schools on the train to transformation? A number of key messages derived from the discussion:

Tackling fundamental questions

Educational objectives and pedagogy have to determine the choice of devices. Schools have to define these first and then decide which devices can support their objectives. One device is probably not enough and BYOD or “Bring your own Browser” is more of a probable future scenario. School leaders look into technology investments that have most impact on students learning and makes their school an outstanding school. A focus on the impact on the processes as well as on the outcomes is needed, when driving decisions about changes in schools.

Neil McLean from the UK, Head of Education at e-skills UK , argued that changes in schools require teachers not only to rethink how they do things but who they are? What is their main role as an educator?

The offer of CPD also has to be rethought considering cultural, human and societal developments. Some interesting approaches were brought up from Ron Canuel, President of the Canadian Education Association, where teacher leaders develop professional development programmes, rather than outsourcing programmes. Or, as put by Professor Diana Laurillard, (London Knowledge Lab): “We do not need to teach teachers how to use technology, but teach them how to learn using technology.”

A mix of top down and bottom up interventions

Practitioners are crucial in the process of transformation. Therefore we have to hand back the profession to the professionals and let them lead the process of transformation. In the UK via the TES teaching resource website around 1 Million teachers already downloaded lesson plans and 800 000 uploaded user generated resources. In Shanghai, according to the OECD, teachers are evaluated by their ability to share teaching resources and their level of influence.

In the U.S. teacher contracts as part of long term 1:1 implementations are reviewed and changed to allow teachers more flexibility and creativity as highlighted by Leslie Wilson, chief executive officer of the One-to-One institute in the U.S.  If government interventions stop e.g. because of changes in policy, the organization steps in to support schools by forging alliances with industry and providing services to schools as in the State of Michigan.

However, there needs to be clear statements from the policy level likewise as argued by Gary Kynaston, Headteachers of Hammersmith Academy, a newly built school that successfully deploys 1:1 teaching and learning strategies to support students with all abilities from year 7 to year 13.

At the level of financing it was pointed out by Lord Puttnam that costs savings should not be made where it can have dramatic consequences e.g. opting for a cheaper deal when providing technology for schools, but one, which does not include training for teachers any more. Moreover, it is only education that can fund our health and pension systems, and everybody should be more creative in raising funds for it.

The role of research and innovation

If research is to inform decision making long lasting scientific experiments will not be the most efficient tool to do so, but evaluations based on rigorous data and teaching practices, as claimed by Professor Diana Laurillard. Teachers should record their transformation on a small scale and the research community should engage in a rigorous collection of data of practices with built in crowed source analysis. Technology can help us to build in a scientific community in this area. The main problem with innovation is that there is no common matrix, definition, or methodology as pointed out by Ron Canuel. This has to be addressed by the research community. The group mainly agreed that pilots are needed, but they are hard to replicate. What is crucial to know is that not the “early”, but “mid” adopters, have the power to convince. Reaching the critical mass of innovators is also a main objective for European Schoolnet which implements a number of large and smaller scale projects to experiment the innovative use of ICT in schools (see the Future Classroom Lab projects). Policy makers and educators should engage in the sharing of best practices internationally.

Mind the gap- digital access issues

The elearning foundation pointed to 3 existing  divides, which, if coming together, could fully exclude learners from access to  learning technology.

  • The divide between rich and poor families:  8% of students in the UK do not have online access at home and those are from the poorest families,
  • The divide between primary and secondary schools: Primary schools are the smallest schools compared to secondary schools with over 1000 students. Secondary schools because of their size usually have an infrastructure in place with support staff, which primary schools often can not afford.
  • ICT Schools and NON ICT schools, where ICT is not a priority or non existent. There are still schools in the UK and these can be well performing or “outstanding” schools according to OFSTED (UK official schools inspectorate.

Further Reading:

Mind the Gap campaign in the UK

Jaron Lanier (2013), Who owns the Future?

Innovation vs Circulasticity, Why the status quo keeps bouncing back 

Project Red: A Global Toolkit for Education Transformation 


Trends in special needs education: More mainstream technology and call for involvement of all stakeholders

by Katja Engelhardt, member of the Observatory team

On 26 November, I presented European Schoolnet’s SENnet project at the conference on image_largeModern Technologies in inclusive education in Warsaw (Poland). I am part of the Observatory Team of European Schoolnet and support the SENnet project. This was the first conference organised by the Polish Ministry of National Education which was simultaneously translated into sign language. At the conference, Pawel Kubicki (Educational Research Institute) said that inclusive education was still a fresh research topic in Poland.

For me two topics touched upon by several speakers were particularly interesting. The first one was the shift away from assistive technology towards mainstream devices with multiple accessibility features (Universal design: find here the new SENnet report). Both Janusz Krupa (Polish Ministry of National Education) and Marlena Plebanska (Centre of Education Development) shared the belief that what was good for all students should also be good for students with special needs. Amanda Watkins (European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education) shared figures illustrated this trend. In this year’s collection of 50 country examples of use of ICT that supports students with special needs (collected within the ICT4I project), 75% of the examples illustrate the use of mainstream technology. In a similar collection of best practice examples in 1999, it was only 60%.

A second crucial issue discussed was the need for a multi stakeholder approach to best cater for the needs of special needs students. Amanda Watkins emphasized that it was important to include all teachers, not just a few specialists. Iwona Olszówska (Educational Consulting Centre at Special Education Centre no 1 in Czestowa) stressed that also the role of the specialists has changed.  While in the past the main task of special needs teachers was to support students with special needs, today they are also expected to guide colleagues and parents.

Iwona Olszówska initiated an Educational Consulting Centre in Czestowa (Poland) which puts the idea that a multitude of stakeholders must be involved into practice. In the centre, teachers give open lessons, which can be attended both by colleagues and parents. It also offers consultation hours to parents and involves student teachers.

A step towards more involvement of parents has also been taken on a national level: Today it is the decision of the parents to which school they send their child with special needs. Janusz Krup (Ministry of National Education) put forward that also the Powiat (regional) level had it role to play in the support of special needs students.

Katja Engelhardt has joined the European Schoolnet Observatory Team in 2012. She mainly works on the Creative Classrooms Lab project and the SENnet project. 

PISA results 2012 – How do Mathematics classes differ from Science lessons?


This Tuesday the OECD launched the results of the latest PISA study. During the European Commission’s media launch event I attended the same day (in order to keep the European Schoolnet Observatory Team of which I am a member updated), Jan Pakulski (Directorate General for Education and Culture, Head of Unit A4) put a strong emphasis on one of the EU benchmarks for 2020: the share of low-achieving 15-years olds in reading, Mathematics and Science should be less than 15%. The EU-averages in Science (16.6%) and reading (17.8%) are now close to that benchmark but mathematics remains an area of concern.

What I am surprised about is that many more students find Mathematics difficult than Science lessons (as both subjects require similar competences). What makes Mathematics lessons different/ more difficult than Science lessons? There will be many answers to this question, but I found one in the last European Schoolnet Observatory Briefing Paper. The briefing looks at the use of ICT in Mathematics and Science classes, based on the findings from the Survey of Schools: ICT in Education. Students use ICT in Science classes more often than in Mathematics, both in grade 8 and 11. Although the difference in use between Mathematics and Science lessons is not big, it makes me wonder whether Maths and Science teachers and students may have different specific characteristics that need to be addressed independently. 

The briefing paper concludes that the types and magnitude of obstacles to the use of ICT within the classroom are quite different for Mathematics and Science teachers. Exam pressure stands out as the single relevant inhibitor for all subjects and grades. But Mathematics teachers are the most highly affected, especially at grade 11 in general education.

In reaction to the PISA results, the European Commission recommends for policies to look at what motivates young people to learn, how to give them new tools and instruments and how to teach them to steer the learning process (among others). Using ICT in an innovative way in Science and Mathematics classes could be one of the tools to look at. Both Science and Mathematics teachers agree on the positive impact of ICT on students’ higher-order thinking skills, motivation and achievement (according to the European Schoolnet Observatory Briefing Paper). It almost seems to be paradoxical that while the use of ICT has the potential to increase students’ motivation and achievement in class, exam pressure appears to be the biggest inhibitor for its use. It would be very interesting to have a closer look at how to overcome the obstacles to the use of ICT in these lessons. As the figures suggest, this should perhaps be done for Mathematics and Science lessons separately.

One initiative that is already looking at these topics is InGenious. This European Coordinating Body in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) was launched by European Schoolnet and the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT).

Katja Engelhardt has joined the European Schoolnet Observatory Team in 2012. She mainly works on the Creative Classrooms Lab project and the SENnet project.