For some years now, several educational organisations from four different countries--Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany--have collaborated on providing education for expat children in the children’s mother tongue. All of them are looking at how to make the best use of the internet.
Astrid (10) is home from school: there’s plenty of time to work on her own language. She sits down at the computer and goes to the special internet page that she was given. Under News she can see that it has been snowing in her home country – ‘that’s certainly different from the weather over here in Colombia’, she thinks. Oh look, her friends Emma (parents posted to the US), Anna (Mexico) and Frida (Ireland) are also online. She plans to have a chat with them later. But first she must check what the teacher thought of her last homework assignment.
This is more or less what education for expat children in their own language and culture might be like. Key word: might, because the four participating organisations in OLC-Eden (Own Language and Culture – European Distance Education Network) each have their own traditions and preferences. There is one thing, however, that Globalskolen (Norway), Danes Worldwide (Denmark), Edufax (Netherlands) and Deutsche Fernschule (Germany) all agree on: the significance of the internet for distance education will only increase.
The basic principle is also the same for all four participating countries: it is in the very best interest of expat children, who usually get most of their education from international or local schools, to be educated in their own language and the culture of their own country (including the rapidly changing youth culture!). This is the best way to ensure that these children will quickly and easily get back into the mainstream of the national education system when they return to their own country.
Globalskolen is the most advanced when it comes to using the internet for distance teaching, but then it was also the first to make full use of the many possibilities of the digital universe. Sverre Leivdal, Principal of the school, comments: “We teach Norwegian, social studies, religion and ethics to children between six and sixteen years old, all of it entirely via the internet. Our students are given an assignment every Friday, to be completed ten days later.”
The Dutch Edufax, which this year started using the internet for teaching Dutch language and culture to all of its 700 students between the ages of six and 18, is also rather advanced. Edufax Principal, Peter Zuidema, says: We use the Norwegian platform, much of which we copied in its entirety. After all, you needn’t reinvent the wheel.”
Edufax students find more than just lessons on their site. The homepage looks rather like the front page of a newspaper, with a lot of news from the Netherlands. The students also have the option of posting their own stories and opinions. They can also use the site to contact other Dutch expat children of their own age. They can, for instance, work together on assignments through a forum. Zuidema says: “We have, in fact, created virtual classrooms in this way.”
The Danes also support blended learning systems. Danes Worldwide provides education in Danish language and culture for 450 children. Eight times a year, the school sends its pupils a DVD with lessons, which also features their teacher. Anne Marie Dalgaard, Principal of Danes Worldwide says:
“We believe in this personal approach.” Homework can be sent back digitally to Copenhagen, where that same teacher from the DVD checks the assignments and adds his or her comments. That is how it works now, at least; Dalgaard expects that the school will likely make increasing use of a full internet platform in the future.
The Germans are even more cautious. This is partly because the lessons are meant mainly for very young children (between five and 10 years) and because these not only concern language lessons, but also (if so desired) maths and other subjects taught in regular German primary schools. The lessons are sent to the students by post, fax or email and the homework assignments can be returned to Germany in the same way.
Why not use the internet? Georg Pflüger, Principal of the Deutsche Fernschule, explains: “I don’t honestly believe in education by computer for very young children. You can use the computer to learn things, sure enough, but it isn’t a proper replacement for a real hands-on learning experience. Our materials include a lot of things that require children to use their hands – seeds for planting, that sort of thing. And of course, you cannot learn to write on a computer, you need a pen.”
All the same, the Deutsche Fernschule is also starting to use the Internet for distance education. Pflüger continues: “We have started a pilot project, a model school, so we can check if the internet method actually works. We decided to do so because various parents asked us to. The added benefit is that it forces us to re-examine and update our materials.”
One school may have taken the digital approach a little further than others, but all principals are nonetheless enthusiastic about the international collaboration. Sverre Leivdal comments: “Since we are part of a network that allows us to exchange experiences and learn from one another, we believe we are definitely among the best educational organisations in our own countries, as well as by European standards.” Anne Marie Dalgaard adds: “Digital education is part of modern life. Collaboration means that we can learn from one another and it allows us to compare certain things. We might also exchange other experiences within OLC-Eden, such as articles about how best to help dyslexic children.”
None of the principals feel that the international collaboration ought to be limited to the current four countries. Leivdal: “We would gladly work with other countries as well.” After all, the objectives are the same for any organisation that provides distance education. As Georg Pflüger says, “When parents take their children abroad, they are broadening their horizons. But it remains important for these children to have roots in their own culture. That is what we at OLC-Eden can very much help them with.”
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Global Connection/ Henk Dam
Global Connection is an internationally operating media company focusing especially on expats and their partners. For more information, visit www.global-connection.info
Photo credits: dalbera; Ernst Vikne; Jim Sneddon