EDUCATIONAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL SOLUTIONS TO SUPPORT "SMALL SCHOOLS" IN DISTANCE LEARNING SETTINGS: EVIDENCE FROM THE ITALIAN CONTEXT
1 ITD-CNR (ITALY)
2 INDIRE (ITALY)
About this paper:
Conference name: 14th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2022
Location: Palma, Spain
Abstract:‘Small schools’, characterized by a low number of pupils and located in ‘difficult’ territories, represent an important phenomenon of Italian school, especially as regards the first cycle of education. They are particularly frequent in mountain areas, small islands and in all those inland areas characterized by low population density, often presenting critical socio-economic situations and difficulties linked to isolation and distance from services (Bartolini et al., 2021). Reflections on the “educational method” and on how valorize the concepts of “inclusion” is crucial for isolated and at risk of marginalization schools contexts, since school is a presidium of democracy.
Remoteness and Distance education could be part of the curriculum of the small rural schools to offer to the students the opportunity to have equal and quality education as the “standard” schools (Mangione & Cannella, 2021; Mangione & Pieri, 2021).
The present study is aimed to explore the strategies implemented for students unable to attend in presence due to environmental issues or medium/long-term health problems in the context of Italian Small and rural Schools.
Firstly, a convenience sample of school principals from Italian Primary and Secondary- First Grade Small Schools was selected and an online exploratory survey was submitted. A totally of 456 respondents have completed the questionnaire. Specifically, the survey purposes were 1) identify the incidence of students who are unable to attend school due to environmental or health issues; 2) create an early collection of practices used to manage them.
In the following phase of the study, a Focus Group was conducted in order to investigate in depth strategies and approaches used in Italian Small School to manage students who cannot attend school regularly. Based on the availability and the student cases reported in the previous questionnaire, a select number of headteachers in northern, southern, and middle Italy were invited to participate (N=11). To ensure the commitment of all participants, two online Focus Groups were conducted independently by two researchers (N=5; N=6) that were recorded and transcribed entirely.
A thematic analysis approach was adopted to analyze the qualitative data (Braun & Clarke, 2006).
In the national questionnaire 85 headteachers reported at least one student in their school who required homebound education before the onset of the pandemic. In 65% of these cases, teachers adopted one to one lesson setting, in student's home.
The themes that emerged from qualitative interviews are: “Working with the community”, “Features and practices of Italian Small Schools”, “Multi- classes scenario”, “Teaching organization during lockdown”, and “Homeschooling”.
Results of qualitative data have shown that parents, local communities and administrations are strongly and proactively involved in the management of Small Schools in Italy. Moreover, in this context, a generalized process of educational, methodological and technological innovation has been underway for some time, also to avoid the school closure due to the few students enrolled. A successful implication of this process is the school's early and advanced management of Distance Learning during COVID-19 spread.
Keywords: Distance education, Small and rural school, Covid-19.