Ensino a Distância para a Itinerância
“Ensino a Distância para a Itinerância” (EDI) - previously known as Escola Móvel - is a distance-learning project of the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science aimed at ensuring regular schooling of those “travelling” students who would risk to drop out from compulsory education due to their need to move throughout the country over the year and change more than one school.
It is the case in particular of children and teen agers whose families work in the circus and fairs. Though the project addresses also other disadvantaged situations, such as hospitalized children, teenage mothers and drop-outs who for different reasons cannot handle the brick and mortar school. The initiative covers students in lower secondary education and – to a less extent upper secondary education - and ensure completion of compulsory education through distance learning. Although “online” and “at distance”, the virtual school is mostly based on the Portuguese national curriculum and follows the traditional school approach, being based on classrooms, subjects, time-table, assignments and grades, including transcripts at the end of the school year. The underpinning approach and pedagogy is however adapted to the needs of the specific target group and the mean adopted.
The project develops from a previous initiative called “Escola Móvel”, launched by the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Sciences in school year 2005/2006 through the Department for Innovation and Curriculum Development, in cooperation with the different Regional Departments of Education and schools across the country.
This project aimed at responding to the needs of travelling families regarding their children’s education, since the constant movement between regions, towns and schools, made it extremely difficult for children and teenagers to attend classes regularly or feel motivated to engage in learning, with high rates of dropout and failure. With the collaboration of a restricted group of teachers and the allocation of technological resources, Escola Móvel began to offer travelling children and teenagers the possibility to attend school every day through a virtual environment which provides both learning and socio-affective stability, by allowing them to interact with the same teachers and classmates throughout the year.
Escola Móvel started with a small group of 13 students, attending the 3rd Cycle of basic education - 7th, 8th and 9th year of schooling (lower-secondary) - who had access to a weekly learning plan in the subjects of the National Curriculum, communicating synchronously and asynchronously with their teachers. In order to provide face-to-face interaction and minimise students’ isolation in the learning process, there was one week of “presential” activities that involved the different subjects and established the roots for a blended learning environment.
The evaluation of this first year clearly showed where improvements should be introduced, and in the course of the two following years, Escola Móvel went through several organisational and pedagogical changes:
- Adjustment of the national curriculum to students’ needs and characteristics, with four more traditional subjects – Portuguese, English (first foreign language), Spanish (second foreign language), Mathematics – and the creation of subject areas providing a more integrated approach to knowledge - Past and Present World (History and Geography), The Universe and Life (Natural Science and Physics/Chemistry), Communication and Expressions (Art, Music and ICT);
- Organisation of a daily synchronous timetable with periods for the different subjects and subject areas;
- Establishment and reinforcement of partnerships with schools, educational organisations and institutions, such as Vodafone, the National Reading Programme and Live Science Centres, in a network of exchange and support aiming to promotes students’ success and inclusion;
- Organisation of four “presential” weeks per year (September, January, April, June), where it is possible to reinforce the sense of belonging to a school as a community, foster citizenship skills and interpersonal relations, as well as to promote activities which complement online classes, including field trips to science centres, museums and historical sites;
- Appointment of tutors who guide and support a small number of students (an average of four students per tutor), working alongside with parents.
The positive results achieved by students soon led to the enlargement of Escola Móvel to other age groups and learning needs:
- Younger students from travelling families attending the 2nd Cycle (5th and 6th years of schooling);
- Students from travelling families who finished basic education and proceed to upper-secondary level in professional courses;
- Teenage girls in the situation of early motherhood, helped by an institution due to their families’ lack of support, and whose new responsibilities pose serious difficulties in the attendance of regular schools;
- Students identified by partner schools as having repeatedly failed to complete basic education.
In 2008/2009 Escola Móvel started preparing its establishment as a state school, which took place on 31st July 2009. In fact, the growth in the number of students in a few years, from 13 to about 100, and the almost inexistent dropout and failure rates among these students - including in the national examinations – validate this school as an educational environment which responds to actual needs by giving specific students the opportunity to do or complete their schooling, and thus broadens their future opportunities.
In 2010, Escola Móvel ceased to be a "state school" and the Ministry turned it back into a pedagogical project, also as a consequence of the need to save resources at the light of the economic crisis. The name was then change into its current denomination “Ensino a Distância para a Itinerância” and it was decided to move the project from the Ministry department into the school community, building partnerships with physical schools in order to host the virtual school in their premises and rely on their organizational and financial infrastructures.
The project is now hosted by one school in the Lisbon Region which –together with the north is considered the areas where “travelling” students concentrate the most (although for the future the idea is to base it in more than one school in Portugal).
The school hosts teachers and provides the logistics and organizational infrastructure for the virtual school. In the current academic year (2011/2012), 120 students are covered by the project. While most of the features and achievement of Escola Móvel have been maintained, the current organization of the distance school had to adapt to the different conditions where it operates now and evolved on the basis of the lesson learnt by working with students through the years.