During the three-year regional '21st Century Schools' programme, implemented by the British Council, almost one million students aged 10 to 15 across the Western Balkans have acquired and improved their critical thinking, problem solving and coding skills, with the assistance of as many as 18,000 trained teachers and 4000 principals.
Aiming to enhance digital literacy and prepare students for the professions of the future, more than 100,000 micro:bit devices were donated to schools across the Western Balkans for the delivery of new skills and techniques in classes. Given that critical thinking and problem solving techniques and skills can be used in any teaching subject and not only in ICT classes – just like the donated devices – more than 2,000 Coding Clubs were set up in almost half of the schools covered by this programme. In these Clubs, students are encouraged to design creative and innovative projects using micro:bits, with as many as half of the students in these clubs being – girls.
Inspired by the positive feedback demonstrating strong effects of the programme on children from diverse groups, British Council undertook research on the impact of the programme across the region.
The research has shown that the inclusive feature of this three-year '21st Century Schools' programme has contributed to a significant improvement of analytical skills, critical thinking and coding skills in vulnerable children, and especially among girls coming from disadvantaged socio-economic families with no previous skills in using digital technologies.
The programme has contributed to increased motivation for education and school attendance, particularly among children with more severe learning difficulties and children from very deprived communities whose motivation was previously undermined due to the feelings of exclusion, insecurity and inequality.
'Children developed social sensitivity and empathy for their peers with disabilities during the joint projects, which additionally influenced their further participation in initiatives supporting their vulnerable peers. Acquiring new skills and experiencing a strong feeling of progress and success invoked a stronger motivation for learning in children, and also enhanced their self-esteem'.
Moreover, the teachers who completed the programme highlighted that the use of micro:bit technology in different subjects improved learning and children’s capacity to perceive links between different subjects. The teachers reported that these new teaching methods and more interactive educational techniques have contributed to enhanced student engagement in classes and a more proactive approach to learning, while at the same time the programme also assisted teachers in achieving their teaching objectives.
Aside from presenting encouraging results about the positive effects on vulnerable children, the report on the programme’s impact on vulnerable children also includes recommendations for the improvement of the curriculum, activities for students and teachers, same as of the learning environment.
One of the most important underscored recommendations entails the importance of systemic introduction of micro:bits in the regular curriculum, given that this method of work enables and fosters group work and cross-curricular links, while also helping teachers achieve their lesson objectives with all students.
Another important area that needs to be further developed implies offering more peer-to-peer support when it comes to learning, because children tend to benefit more when working with someone closer to their age and interests, so that they may remain interested in the educational process and improve their integration within the school.
In addition to improving ICT infrastructure in schools, it will be equally important to train more teachers or design tools allowing trained teachers to relatively easy, systematically and effectively, transfer their micro:bit coding knowledge to other teachers in school.
In order to improve the implementation of the new techniques with vulnerable children – especially those with learning difficulties – it is important to include at least one training module on how to apply these techniques when working with these children, how to address challenges in the application of these techniques, how to engage them in coding, and similar.
Another underscored conclusion entails the necessity for greater support to girls in promoting their interest and participation in STEM education.
The report can be downloaded here, as well as a summary of the report.