LEADING THE DIGITAL TRANSITION WITH TOMORROW’S ENTREPRENEURS.
A CHAT WITH CARLO MAZZONE, GLOBAL TEACHER PRIZE 2020 FINALIST, ITALY
Like other sectors, education needs to adapt and innovate. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the strengths and weakness of school systems in Europe and around the world. Vocational education now has an opportunity to lead the digital transition and develop tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. This is what drives Carlo Mazzone, an ICT teacher in a vocational high school in the Italian region of Campania, and one of the top ten finalists for the Global Teacher Prize 2020. Organised by the Varkey Foundation, the prize aims to reward teachers who are leading innovation in education. The ETF had a chat with him about the secret of his success and how he sees the future of the field.
1. What does innovation mean for you and what is innovative about your way of teaching?
Being innovative means changing the way things are and leading a major transformation that will bring about an overall improvement in the situation. In my case, innovation means approaching my work with a different way of teaching that makes the teacher a guide and a mentor for the students. To do that, you have to change your relationship with them.
I have seen that an entrepreneurial approach goes in that direction. Students run their projects like a start-up. Working on a project is a way of making the students actors and leaders in their own learning process. Teachers interact with them and become guides rather than mere content providers. Students are encouraged to use their skills and knowledge to find solutions to problems. When they miss information, they will ask the teacher to help them find new knowledge and solutions. They come to see their teacher as a point of reference or a friend, rather than someone who just doles out marks.
2. How have the students reacted to this new approach? How do you encourage and engage teenagers? What is your secret?
I have been following this entrepreneurial approach since the day I started teaching. In fact, skills development is the ultimate and most important goal of my teaching method. For this reason, I have always used a model that I call “vivariumware”. It’s a new word I created by combining the Latin word ‘vivarium” meaning an enclosed space for raising plants and “ware” meaning products.
So we’re talking about producing things in a protected environment: projects with concrete learning objectives, and not only technological ones, that can be the seed stock for real future developments that could become start-ups.
In this project environment, students are divided into groups which pick a team leader who is the one in charge of relations with the teacher. There is also a project leader who co-ordinates and manages the groups and relations between members. Each group gives itself a name, and operates like a mini-enterprise in realising the project
The role of the teacher is to give support and general information on the technologies and tools to use. In fact, students are free to choose their projects and tools, because I believe that personal choice is key to keeping the students’ highly engaged and passionate about their projects.
The projects can last a couple of months and at the end, there is a pitching session at which each group presents their project. The groups challenge each other and vote for the one they like best. Moreover, since the students are the evaluators too, they learn something through this participative activity.
This method can be adapted to different subjects and different disciplines. In fact, it is based on the modern idea of personalised tasks that can’t be replicated Nowadays, thanks to the web, it is possible to get information about everything. To assign tasks based on mere knowledge is not useful anymore. What school can do instead is to train students to think critically about what they find online by forcing them to be selective about information and careful about sources. I believe this practice is also useful to detect fake news and conspiracy theories.
3. What has been your biggest success with students?
In the last few years, I have mentored several classes in preparing for the Junior Achievement competition. Junior Achievement is the largest no-profit organisation in the world dedicated to business and entrepreneurial education in schools.
For four years in a row, we won the Junior Achievement Company Program in Campania, our region of Italy. In 2019, my students presented a project called Farm Animal Trade, a platform designed to cut out the middleman on which farmers and farming businesses can trade livestock at a national scale. They managed to pass the selection for the national BIZ Factory competition in Milan and to jump to an international level at the JA Europe Company of the Year Competition 2019 in Lille. The app is aimed to bring innovation to a sector that in Italy still operates along traditional lines. By putting buyers in direct contact with sellers, the trade is faster and cheaper while maintaining food security and animal health standards.
4. How can we get the message across that digital is vital for schools? What are the challenges facing vocational education and how do you see the future of vocational education?
Nowadays, everything is digital. Digital skills need to be part of education, especially vocational education. Our students will have to face more and more digital jobs. To be ready to adapt to future jobs is key. Big data and AI are just the beginning, and vocational education needs to have parity of esteem with the humanities and arts in terms of future opportunities for students.
5. Did your school support you in putting your new approach into practice? What can the school system do to mainstream your teaching method?
My school, the Lucarelli Vocational School in Benevento, has always supported my ideas, which come from my previous experience as an IT consultant. In general, I see a positive trend towards new methods based on know-how. The thing to do is to share this entrepreneurial approach as widely as possible among teachers through training courses. However, it should be stressed that the entrepreneurial approach is not only about developing business skills, it’s also about soft skills such as team-working and managing time and resources.
6. What was the impact of Covid 19 on your teaching? How did your school cope with it and what is the best solution for you?
Besides being the IT expert in my school, I have also overseen distance learning during Covid together with other schools as well. Fortunately, I was already confident with e-learning platforms and IT. After a few busy weeks, things went better. I also shared some manuals I developed with colleagues to solve problems.
Most colleagues were not used to digital, but they made an effort to keep in contact with students. The problems now are not the technical use of digital tools, but rather, how to approach workshop activities which are more difficult to digitalise.
You need to bear in mind that digital tools are only instruments, and on the other end, there are always passionate teachers.
7. In the light of this experience, what are your thoughts about digital teaching and how can we innovate?
Before Covid, the use of digital in schools was only strongly recommended, now it is compulsory.
But, we need to distinguish between using digital for teaching, and teaching digital and IT tools to create new applications and programs. One is when you use digital instruments to innovate your teaching methods towards an online presence and a more communicative approach. The other is about computer science and that will be the future for young people in the job market.
8. What advice would you give your colleagues inside and outside the European Union that share challenges of teaching in vocational education institutions?
First of all, I believe that teaching is what society and humanity is all about. It is part of what it means to be human. Whatever you teach, we work to help students to find their place in society and to become conscious citizens. Real culture is not just about technical skills.
At the same time, vocational education is a real and tangible way for young people to find a job. To achieve this, teaching has to have a more pragmatic twist. There’s an old saying: “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.” This is why an entrepreneurial approach and the use of Vivariumware is the right solution for me. In general, I recommend taking part in national and international competitions, such as the Junior Achievement one, because it is an opportunity for teachers to access useful materials and tools to prepare and engage students at their best. Created in 1919 in the United States, the organisation provides excellent teaching tools and materials in business and entrepreneurship.
I really believe that through project management activities, adapted to the specific needs and characteristics of each location, young people can hope for a better future for themselves, and therefore a better future for all of us.