Corfu is a tiny island in the Ionian Sea, only half the size of Hiiumaa, and a well-known and popular tourist destination in Greece. Some are familiar with Corfu from Gerald Durell’s story „My Family and Other Animals“.  And some have spent wonderful holiday on the island themselves.

But beside beaches, hotels and olive groves, Corfu is also home to a vocational school teaching IT. This fact brought our IT teacher Timo Puistaja to Corfu last autumn for a long Erasmus mobility. The destination was Esperino Epal Kerkyra, which translates as Corfu’s first vocational school, and the aim was to establish partnerships, learn and teach.

Why such an idea and such an exotic destination?
Actually, the idea has been around for several years to find a partner somewhere a little more exotic country. Just to give students a broader view of how things work in Europe and Southern Europe. And since I’ve lived in Greece, it was a familiar place to go and look for partners. Apart from IT, the school also teaches hairdressing and something about metals. But in this school there were no tourism students.

How much are IT studies different between VOCO and the vocational school in Corfu?
The content is perhaps not very different. But I noticed that our lab facilities and equipment are more modern and we have more of them. In Corfu there were two computer labs where IT students studied and there was a bit more focus on theory. It was more academic, but there were practical assignments too.  They don’t have any apprenticeships at all and in this particular school all the learning is done in school. The curriculum is similar to our IT Systems Specialist course. Software development was integrated into it a little bit and the first steps were given on how to study it further on your own or in higher education.

What did you learn and teach there?
My 1,5 month long mobility was also combined with my own classes at VOCO. So, I went to the vocational school in Corfu to shadow other IT teachers, for example HTML development classes and computer networking classes. I was involved in the day-to-day running of the IT department there and I could even see on the management side how the school was run.
And then I also managed to give some guest lectures. I told them that I felt confident in IT subjects and I could teach, just name the subject. My confidence worked and the teachers offered me the opportunity to give two lectures on computer networks, which were also visualised with handy tools. I did one lecture on using Google search engine but not for IT professionals.

How were you received by the students?
If Greece is exotic for us, then vice versa. I was exotic in appearance alone and of course I was received with great excitement. A big white guy with blue eyes and blond hair comes up and starts talking! But I was listened to and I believe I managed to impart some words of wisdom. And they even came to thank me personally after the lesson.
In Greece, of course, the teaching is in Greek, and the computer programs are also in Greek, which is perhaps a bit of a problem in the IT field. Of course, they also learn a good deal of English, though perhaps not as fluent as we do here in Estonia, but at a good level. There was not much of a language barrier.

At the same time they were giving distance learning lessons to VOCO students. How did our students and yourself feel as a teacher?
Fortunately, the previous period had taught everyone how to do distance learning. I confirm that it is possible. It is certainly very important to have a large pedagogical toolbox to understand if learners are engaged, how to make the theory exciting for them and most importantly to understand if learning has taken place. I feel that I did well and could easily do more. Teaching from a distance opens new doors for our department, because we have a very real readiness today to hire a teacher from anywhere in the world.
A funny thing happened. German guests from Bavaria came to VOCO, took a tour of the school building, and ended up in a class that I was teaching from a distance. They asked where the teacher was and then it was pointed out on the wall that the teacher is in Greece. I explained to guests what and how we were learning, but the Germans didn’t quite believe that the teacher is in Greece, but thought someone else in the class was teaching.
In fact, I would encourage all our colleagues to give it a try: if it is possible, you can teach and learn from a distance. Of course, this presupposes that the teaching materials and courses are put in such a form that they can be easily delivered from a distance.

But the students, did they learn?
From the teacher’s point of view, there are little tips to check whether learning has taken place. I usually ask one-to-one questions – it doesn’t matter whether in class or from a distance. I give the theory and always ask questions about. That way I can see if they’re listening and the learner has a little motivation to focus and listen. And, of course, I do tests. Practical work can also be done and assessed. If there is a lab assignment in Moodle and the student has done it in a meaningful way and submitted it, then it confirms learning and understanding.

What now? Will and when will the collaboration with Corfu teachers and students continue?
The initial plan is to have Greek teachers come to Tartu this spring and then we will put in place a plan to start exchanging students. Then we will see how the cooperation will really work.

Could you experience Corfu as a tourist?
Corfu is very much built on tourism. But I was there in the off-season and the towns away from the capital were like ghost towns: all the restaurants, bars, shops closed, not a single person on the street. It’s quite strange to end up in a big city where you don’t see anybody for miles. But in the capital, life goes on 24/7, and Mediterranean cruise ships still stop. Immediately you notice when it’s cruise ship day, it’s buzzing from morning till night.

What was the thought you came back with?
Actually, it was just another reminder that everything is absolutely great here in Estonia. Because when we live and work here every day, sometimes it seems like things are bad here and there, but they’re not. When you come back from a trip, there is always this feeling of greatness.

The teacher mobility eas supported by EU Erasmus+ programme