The Global Search for Education: From Macedonia – Let's Get Digital
The Pegasus English Language School, located in Tetovo, Macedonia, was founded in 2002. According to the school’s Director of Studies, Pero Sardzoski, the original goal was to create a “peace project” focused on overcoming the conflict between two ethnic communities (the Macedonians and the Albanians) living in his city. Guided by the principle that ‘only sound education can bring a sound future’, teachers created an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play – The Merchant of Venice, and targeted 12-15 year-old students of English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Youth from different state schools, both Macedonian and Albanian, as well as other young learners from Rome, Turkey and Serbia performed the play on stage in 2002. Sardzoski says it was a “major breakthrough” which led to numerous other events using the English language to build inter-cultural and inter-ethnic relations among the youngest members of communities. A blended learning model was developed utilizing both EFL and ICT instruction. Today the school is recognized as a pioneer in promoting Digital Literacy for EFL Students.
Pero, how has technology affected your school’s impact?
With the advance of technology, we gradually started introducing digital tools in our teaching methodology, and now we operate in a one computer plus video projector and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) classroom setting. We provide continuous training for our teachers to enable them to use various digital learning tools in their teaching practice, such as: Edmodo, Kahoot, Quizlet, Quizizz, Nearpod, Triptico, Google Classroom, Google Arts and Culture, Google Expeditions (VR), and many more. We allow enough freedom for our teachers to explore new digital tools, as well as share their experience among each other. This has enabled us to reduce paper consumption in our school, particularly with Edmodo as our virtual learning platform, by flipping the classroom and doing more with less — which is one of the goals for sustainable development promoted by the UN (Goal No.12).
With this approach, besides their English language competences, we have enabled our students to develop the most required skills for the 21st century (communication skills, creative skills, digital literacy skills, digital citizenship skills, presentation skills, and interpersonal skills). We have also managed to create a model for developing sustainable paper consumption patterns in education, and, in the process, meet one of the UN SDGs. This approach can easily be applied to any educational setting, thus enabling a larger impact in education, which is one of the largest paper consuming industries in the world.
What do you think makes your program unique to other content development programs for children?
In 2015, with the increased applicability of digital technologies in every sphere of our modern living, we recognised the need to combine EFL and ICT instruction in our teaching practice and expand our curriculum with a new program that we called Digital Literacy for EFL Students. With this program, we enable our students to develop their English language skills through the use of digital technology by introducing digital content development in English language for students aged 12-19 through web design, blogging, filmmaking and video editing, digital presentations, and the use of social media. Digital Literacy for EFL Students was a finalist in the category of Local Innovation at the ELTons Innovation Awards 2017, organised by the British Council, which provided external evaluation of our program, and increased our visibility as pioneers of digital innovation in education in our country and beyond.
How would you describe the biggest challenges you’ve faced? How have you addressed them?
At Pegasus ELS, we have gradually been introducing technology in our teaching practice, and it all started with teachers bringing their laptops to class to present videos to students, the next step being a portable video projector to be used by teachers in turns, and evolving into what we have today – a video projector and a laptop per classroom, with a set of digital tools to be used in class, and students bringing their own devices. This is where we faced the biggest challenge – using students’ smartphones in class. Most of the schools, at least in my country, are still reluctant to allow students to bring their own devices and use them in class, which is due to a lack of proper training for teachers that would enable them to use this approach effectively. By providing the necessary training for our teachers, we have managed to successfully turn this into an advantage and enable students to develop their digital citizenship skills in an effective way.
If someone asked you to share your best 1 or 2 examples of the Pegasus program in action, what would you show/tell them?
Going paperless with Edmodo is one of the most significant achievements we have made. This, of course, encompasses the use of various digital learning tools in combination with all the amazing features that Edmodo offers, which has enabled us to create a secure digital learning space for our students, where they can develop a sense of belonging to a learning community that stimulates their self-esteem via teacher-guided and student-centered interactions, by commenting to each other’s posts, doing quizzes, working on individual and group assignments, and receiving awards, badges, and grades for their work.
What lessons can classrooms in other countries learn from your journey?
It takes minimum technology, some basic digital training for teachers, and a bit of time and proper guidance to get students accustomed to this approach that we have successfully implemented over the years. Once teachers and students get used to it, there is an amazing flow of content production and a much easier communication that will make the whole process a pleasurable learning adventure.
Where do you see your program 5 or 10 years from now?
My vision is to internationalize education by making all these wonderful innovations available to every educator and every student across the globe, for free. The only way to create a sound future is through a sound education, which should not be limited to the resources and capabilities of the national educational systems only. Our planet needs every one of us to take an active part in this transformative process. Therefore, I am fully committed to attaining this vision, and help children flourish to their full potential!
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C. M. Rubin (Cathy) is the Founder of CMRubinWorld, an online publishing company focused on the future of global learning and the co-founder of Planet Classroom. She is the author of three best-selling books and two widely read online series. Rubin received 3 Upton Sinclair Awards for “The Global Search for Education”. The series which advocates for all learners was launched in 2010 and brings together distinguished thought leaders from around the world to explore the key education issues faced by nations.
Follow C. M. Rubin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@cmrubinworld