RIGA - The use of computer technology and the Internet in schools in the Baltic states has blossomed in recent years, but in some areas is still well behind other European countries, according to a recently published report from the European Commission. The European-wide study on the use of information and communication technology in schools during 2006 found that, while they show many positive indicators of ICT growth, all three Baltic states rank near the bottom for computer use in the classroom.
In Estonia, where 95 percent of schools have access to a broadband Internet connection, ranking it along with Denmark and Malta as one of the top countries in Europe in this regard, only 27.9 percent of schools are actually using computers for education in the classroom, compared with a European average of 61.4 percent. Among teachers with 20 or more years experience, a mere 6 percent are using computers in more than half of their lessons.
In Lithuania the situation is just as grim. Almost all schools use computers in some capacity, but only 33% have access to a broadband Internet connection, one of the lowest percentages in Europe.
Lithuania also ranks poorly for computers used in the classroom, with only 48 percent of schools doing so. Moreover, with only 5.9 computers per hundred students 's or one computer for every 17 students 's Lithuania and Latvia are tied for the dubious title of having the lowest number of computers per student in Europe.
Latvia not only has a dismal computer to student ratio, but also the lowest number of teachers using computers in the classroom. The study found that only 5 percent of teachers use computers in more than half of their lessons.
Beyond the statistics, the view from the ground level shows that schools are making real efforts to integrate ICT into the eductation process.
"We have made the first step toward using computers in the school," said Irma Jufko, the vice-director of Riga's secondary school number 13, "but if you had come two years ago I would not be so positive about our situation."
Jufko proudly shows off the two computer rooms, which are used mostly for computer science classes during the day and generally open to students after class. The school is one of the 66% of schools in Latvia that has a broadband Internet network connecting all the computers. The school also has three overhead projectors that can be used in classrooms.
The school library also features ICT available for students. Most of the administration offices have computers, but most of the classrooms do not. In all, the school has about 40 computers.
Using computers in school libraries rather than classrooms is typical of countries in the early stages of ICT integration, according to the study. It's indicative of an "early stage of computer use in schools, where 's as a result of a lack of ICT equipment 's computers are firstly installed in an area accessible to all pupils and teachers. It appears as if the use of computer labs is the starting point for most schools when it comes to the introduction and use of ICT," the authors of the study, Werner B. Korte and Tobias Husing, wrote.
In fact, the study found that Latvia boasts some of the best-equipped school libraries in Europe. Latvia is ranked as having the third best ICT in libraries and specially designed computer rooms. Lithuania also does particularly well in this area.
While ICT is not a part of every class available to the students, the school runs a variety of special projects to make the most of what they have. Students are able to correspond with other students and professors from France, Sweden, and Turkey. Such programs allow the students firsthand learning of other cultures, Jufko said.
Like many schools in the Baltic states, Riga's secondary school number 13 plans to further the integration of the Internet in daily school life. "The computers we currently have are 2001 models, hopefully this year we will be able to get a new classroom of newer computers."
This is only the first step that the school plans to take. The director of the school, Ludmila Krutikova, explained that "gradually we will try to expand in the classrooms, but first we need expanded help from the state." Krutikova hopes that the government will help to supply them with a computer specialist to maintain and upgrade the machines. This would allow the current computer science teachers to expand their knowledge as well as give some informal courses to other teachers interested in using ICT in class.
An underlying theme in all three Baltic states seems to be how best to secure new resources allowing for further use of ICT in their schools. In all the Baltic States, the majority of respondents to the study cited a lack of computers as the primary reason for their not using ICT in the classroom.
In order for Latvian schools to improve the ICT available to them, they must write an application and letter of motivation to the Ministry of Education. Schools are required to outline specifically what they plan to spend the funds on. This means that the school must be very careful with what technology it spends its money on, Krutikova said.
Signs of expanding technology are still very apparent throughout Secondary school number 13. At the main junctions of the halls, TVs show recent news or various shows teaching about a particular theme that changes every week.
Jufko is very proud of how far the school has come with technology. "This is now becoming the reality, it is no longer just a dream."
Just how soon the ICT reality makes its way into all Baltic classrooms, however, still depends on how much governments can fund.