The coronavirus pandemic that suddenly hit the world a couple of years ago affected many aspects of life in Lithuania, including education. In just a couple of weeks, all Lithuanian educational institutions had to switch from contact to distance learning, using the latest technologies. Since then, technologies became inseparable from the educational process.
In the interview below, Gytis Cibulskis, the Head of Kaunas University of Technology E-learning Technology Centre, talks about the impact of technology on Lithuanian education and the difficulties it faces.
How important are technologies in education?
Technology has become an integral part of education and many teachers and learners can no longer imagine a learning process without it. The Internet has become an endless source of learning resources that facilitate the transfer of learning materials in the technology classroom; communication, collaboration, and diverse learning platforms are essential in organising the learning process remotely and in a hybrid way.
What technologies are lacking in the Lithuanian educational system?
Although the application of technology is rather common in the education and study process, the pandemic has also highlighted some gaps. It has become clear that not all schools have a sufficient internet connection for hybrid teaching, although secure wireless internet access has been introduced. This is still a challenge to many schools. Not only schools but also universities lack cameras and other hybrid teaching equipment, most systems are used separately without integration into a unified ecosystem, and there is a lack of funding for upgrading outdated infrastructure and acquiring the latest technological solutions.
What is the greatest technology-related challenge in the Lithuanian educational system?
Insufficient integration of the systems used in educational institutions is rather prominent. For example, the teachers and the students who use different learning platforms such as student e-record books, e-textbooks and others have to connect with different logins and passwords and there is virtually no data exchange between the individual systems. In higher education, such integrations are often already in place or at least have clear solutions that are within the power of the institution itself, while in the general education sector neither schools nor individual providers can address this challenge, as this should be done at a national level.
Which education sector lacks technology the most: kindergartens, schools, or higher educational institutions?
It is difficult to distinguish any sector, but funding for the secondary school technology provision is often centralised through various national projects, whereas the universities are more likely to deal with technology acquisition on an individual basis. Only a few initiatives are centrally funded, such as the computer network of Lithuanian research and study institutions LITNET, the LamaBPO system used for the general admission of the Association of Lithuanian Higher Education Institutions or the eLABa information system of the Lithuanian Academic Electronic Library.
Other inter-institutional initiatives, such as the Lithuanian Science, Studies, Activities and Process Management Information System EDINA or the Lithuanian Distance Learning Network Support and Development Consortium, although previously funded centrally, are currently jointly using the funds and resources of the participating institutions for the development, acquisition and maintenance of technological solutions and information systems.
Although this principle has proved its sufficiency in maintaining the existing systems, it is not very suitable for the implementation of new systems or the financing of technological innovations, as the added value for a particular institution is often difficult to measure and raising funds from consortium members is problematic. International projects are widely used to develop and implement technological innovations, but they are more often won by large universities and it is difficult for smaller institutions to remain competitive.
Students are naturally curious about new technologies, and the knowledge they acquire using technologies seems more attractive to them.
– Gytis Cibulskis, Head of KTU E-learning Technology Centre
In terms of the use of technology in education, are we among the advanced or lagging as a country? What technological solutions are most lacking in our educational system nationally?
We are certainly not lagging behind, but there is always room for improvement, especially since technologies are rapidly developing and other countries are also very active in adopting them. Virtual learning environments were used extensively in universities and colleges even before the pandemic. Meanwhile in schools, although the pandemic has greatly accelerated the uptake and application of various technologies in distance education, it would be great if the relevant technologies were used even after returning to regular classroom work. This requires proper training for teachers and the provision of the necessary infrastructure.
Schools must have access to wireless internet for children and the ability to connect their smart devices securely. Technological facilities should be provided for the underprivileged students at the school, perhaps even with the option to take the equipment home. There is also a need for a unified identity management system that allows students to log into different systems with the same user name and password, which simplifies the implementation of EdTech innovations for schools.
More attention should also be paid to the development and accessibility of digital learning tools. It would be great if higher education institutions were encouraged to become actively involved in the development and implementation of EdTech innovations. Virtual labs, learning data analytics, artificial intelligence applications, and other innovations could be tested in higher education first. The solutions tested here could be replicated in the general education sector as well, involving teachers in the development of teachers’ digital competencies.
Does the use of technology in education encourage students to be more interested in science, to be active users of it?
Indeed, students are naturally curious about new technologies, and the knowledge they acquire using technologies seems more attractive to them. In addition, technology makes the transfer of some knowledge much more efficient through a variety of visualisations and simulations.
The pandemic has revealed that seemingly impossible can become possible within two weeks. During the pandemic, distance learning has successfully become available for every student, living in both urban and rural areas. Does this mean that Lithuanian educational institutions can adapt quickly to changing situations, and all they need are the right tools?
Indeed, the pandemic has provided a major impulse for the rapid uptake and deployment of technology in distance education and has demonstrated a high degree of flexibility and adaptability of educational institutions and educators themselves. It is great that, in the face of the crisis, universities have not been left out and became involved in supporting schools and teachers. Specialists from many universities conducted seminars and training, advised teachers in thematic discussion groups on social networks, and provided access to their infrastructure. KTU together with LITNET offered a virtual learning environment MOODLE maintained by its data centre, which was ordered by over 250 Lithuanian schools.
What are the most critical issues related to technology in education? Lack of certain technological solutions, insufficient literacy of teachers, lack of motivation or lack of appropriate digital content?
All the listed problems are relevant, but I would like to emphasise the improvement of teachers’ digital competencies the most. A good start has already been made – incentives have been created through the teacher training packages, the EdTech digital education transformation project has been initiated, hybrid teaching equipment is being procured centrally, and other projects are being initiated. It is to be hoped that the impetus given by the pandemic will have long-term positive consequences for the overall digitalisation of the educational sector.
You have been elected to the EdTech Digital Education Transformation Project Expert Council. Has the Council already planned the next steps you will take in education digitalisation?
The EdTech Project Advisory Expert Council is just getting started. We have met, listened to the project presentation and discussed the ambitious goals. A meeting is planned shortly, where we hope to discuss in detail the measures to achieve the planned project goals and indicators.