Roundtable: Six degrees of separation – Rafal Lew-Starowicz

How fast is the pace of edtech adoption around the world, and where does the UK stand in the edtech roll of honour? Steve Wright asks six edtech experts for top tips, best practice, and the view from where they sit

Rafal Lew-Starowicz is deputy director at the Ministry of National Education (Poland)

Q. What does your country’s edtech strategy look like currently? Is the adoption of edtech where you would like it to be, or is more progress needed?

In Poland, there is no single strategy regarding ICT education. Related activities such as Education in the Digital Society, or Education for Innovation, are part of the Strategy for Responsible Development, which is a government initiative across all ministries. The Ministry of National Education (MNE) has been busy with the ongoing digitalisation of Polish schools, and the improvement of students’ and teachers’ digital competences. We focus on supplying schools with equipment and high-speed internet, and also – more importantly – on providing the knowledge and skills needed to use this equipment effectively in class. 

Together with the Ministry of Digitalisation, at the MNE we have created a National Education Network, a programme that allows schools to connect to a fast, safe internet. Changes in the edtech sphere are dynamic. Schools are eager to use digital retrofitting programmes, for example as part of the ‘Active Board’ programme, and teachers receive ongoing digital training. We would like teachers to use more digital technologies during lessons, not only in computer science classes – and not only in ways that are already familiar to them. 

Q. Are there any factors or agencies driving the pace of change in your country?

Developments related to technological education in schools are moving forwards at their own pace here in Poland. This progress is dependent on many factors, such as state budget funds, involvement of school authorities, and, finally, teacher receptivity. Nowadays, the knowledge-based economy is the basic factor driving the rate of change. This is why we create new core curricula to help educated young people into the job market. Our young people realise that, nowadays, a school education is not enough – rather, they are expected to learn throughout their lives. 

Another factor driving the pace of change is access to new technologies, which are so important for both general and vocational education. Education based on new technologies allows students to acquire competences that help them to flourish in the labour market, both in Poland and beyond. Leadership is very important in this area; something that not all school heads understand.

Q. What one initiative or development really helped things move fast where you are?

When it comes to schools in Poland, a key factor was a change in bureaucracy that freed schools up to make their own decisions around innovation. Each school can now decide for itself whether, and how, to refresh its edtech strategy. Another important factor was the development and implementation of a new core curriculum, which puts greater emphasis than its predecessor on the development of digital competences – including internet security – in all subjects, not just ICT. This new curriculum also introduces programming from primary school level onwards. When this is combined with the Nationwide Educational Network programme, which will see all schools connected to a fast, safe internet, we will observe a digital revolution in Polish education.

Q. How would you assess your country’s progress in edtech, against the global picture as a whole?

It is difficult to answer this question unequivocally for Poland. There are areas that have developed very quickly and where we are among the pioneers. However, we realise that we still have a lot of work ahead, especially in encouraging teachers to implement new technologies in education. Certainly, though, if we take into account the amount of space and time now given over to edtech in schools, Poland has nothing to be ashamed of.

Q. Which innovations have proved most popular in schools and universities in your country?

The one activity that is gaining more and more popularity currently is the creation of digital or virtual learning environments (VLEs). These are genuinely open educational resources and, thanks to their increasingly high quality, they are a valuable source of knowledge and a learning tool.

Q. What are your impressions of the UK’s edtech landscape? Anything you have seen here that you like, and anything we could be doing better?

I am impressed at how you deal with protecting minors from unsuitable content on the internet. The legal framework, as well as the support from NGOs, is of great value here. 

In Poland, we strongly believe that schools are playing a very important role in creating a landscape of social mobility and equality of opportunity. In England, on the other hand, I observe a gap between private and state schools, particularly when it comes to access to technology (where resources are more readily available at the former). But maybe this will change over time.

Q. Any particular instances of best practice that you’d like to share/promote?

For me, the key issue is combining theory with practice. Digital technologies should embrace both, as well as learning through play. Traditional teaching methods do not work in today’s world, and we should promote and look for solutions that will allow us to innovate in education. In the new core curriculum, we have included a number of key solutions such as teaching programming and coding from the first grade of primary school, or learning about internet safety and legality. The Nationwide Educational Network, which will connect all Polish schools to fast, safe broadband, is also important for us.