Shaping schools of the future

Educators and students of all ages were recently treated to a showcase of the latest approaches, products and innovations for improving and enhancing learning in schools and other educational institutions.

IF YOU think designing schools of the future is merely done by plugging in smart gadgets and swiping back and forth on a touchscreen, think again.

There is more to it than that.

Microsoft worldwide vice-president of Education Anthony Salcito said the concept of school of the future was often misconstrued.

“When people think of schools of the future, people think of science fiction. It’s not a technology showcase,” he said.

School authorities must be able to tap their students’ potential, nurture them and inculcate values that would enable them to move on and face the challenges ahead.

Salcito spoke of Microsoft’s School of the Future, a project in Philadephia, United States, that he was actively involved in.

“It is not about the future of technology and devices, because that is always changing and going to get better and more efficient. The future that we must focus on, is the students’ future,” he stressed.

Salcito was one of the speakers at the opening of Bett 2013, a learning technology event held in London, the United Kingdom.

(Bett was formerly known as the British Educational Training and Technology show.)

“The generation of students in our classroom today is unique in that they have access to information and opportunities to reach and collaborate with one another, like never before.

“However, the reality is that as much as learning has changed, our schools, our classrooms, our institutions have not,” he said.

Salcito set the pace and tone for the four-day event which saw over 30,000 visitors from all over the world gather under one roof to exchange experiences and insights.

The event exposed school administrators, educators and students to learn and try new approaches, the latest products and innovations for improving and enhancing learning in schools, universities and businesses.

It is not unusual to still find classrooms that remind us of the black and white photos of our grandparents’ days, where students sat in rows and the teacher engaged the pupils with chalk and the blackboard. This is despite our technologies moving at warp speed.

Realising the gaps, many educators came to the event with hopes of searching for the right products and solutions. This was to create a richer teaching and learning experience for their school communities, and workplaces.

They spoke earnestly and shared openly about their visions and missions, the trials and errors, that had shaped their schools.

The event should also serve as a wake-up call for those who are not sure about teaching and learning with technology.

For many educators, what is even more important on their agenda is to create a conducive learning environment that will prepare their students for the future.

The journey of experimenting with technology and learning, however, is not always a rosy one, because creating a conducive learning environment means more than just plugging in expensive devices.

Transformation plan

With commitment, adequate training and guidance, educators will be able to devise a transformation plan that suits their school.

The stakeholders who are involved in the change implementation should all be on the same page by having a clear understanding of the challenges, expectations and learning outcomes.

Joining other global industry leaders at Bett and calling for actions to shape schools of the future, were FrogTrade Ltd and FrogAsia, which have played a key role in rolling out the 1BestariNet project in Malaysia.

With just a single 1BestariNet Yes ID, administrators, teachers, parents and students can access the Frog Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) which comes with exciting teaching and learning sites.

The 1BestariNet project aims to equip all 10,000 Malaysian schools with 4G high-speed Internet connectivity and a cloud-based learning platform.

YTL Communications and FrogAsia are now working closely with FrogTr-ade to deliver a holistic learning experience to all primary and secondary schools in Malaysia through the award-winning Frog VLE.

YTL Communications is in the process of delivering the high-speed 4G internet infrastructure and connectivity to schools, while FrogAsia is delivering training, mentoring and support in the usage of Frog to schools.

FrogAsia executive director Yeoh Pei Lou said building schools of the future means more than just plugging in smart gadgets.

“It’s not merely about replacing traditional paper and pens with a laptop on a desk. Teachers are encouraged to see how much they can do with the platform.

“It inspires students to want to learn beyond the boundaries of their textbooks and allows them to view learning in a new perspective.

“It also engages students and exposes them to technology which ultimately equips them for the future,” she said.

She said teachers would also be able to harness the use of technology to optimise teaching and learning.

“Technology can be used to present information to children in an engaging and informative way, and the teacher’s time can be used to facilitate the lesson, identify and help students who are struggling to understand the concepts.

“For example, students can view videos on how the human heart works and how blood circulates through the body.

“They will no longer have to rely on their imaginations but can see real images as well as computer simulations of the human body,” she said.

Hewlett-Packard multi-country area education manager Matias Matias said schools of the future were a place that would inspire students to maximise their potential and drive them towards their goals.

“A teacher’s role will have to evolve from being an individual who impacts knowledge to students into a mentor who guides students to achieve specific learning outcomes.

“With access to technology, teachers have to know how they can teach differently and what other possibilities learners can achieve.

“Schools of the future will not be not a place where students are dropping out because of boredom,” said Matias.

Experts present

Many education experts were present at Bett, including the famous educational researcher Prof Sugata Mitra, who conducted extraordinary experiments involving children called “Hole in the Wall” in India.

He is the winner of the 2013 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Prize. According to TED’s website, the prize is awarded to an outstanding individual with a creative and bold vision to initiate global change.

In 1999, Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, and installed an Internet-connected personal computer. As part of the experiment, they also set up a hidden camera to film the area.

What they found was that even in the absence of any direct teaching from a teacher, children started playing and learning how to use the computer and teach each other.

Although his experiment showed that learning could take place when the environment sparked enough curiosity, he still believed that teachers were indispensable.

He said a teacher’s responsibility was to convert a boring curriculum into something that would stimulate interest and excitement among the learners.

“Learning resources are readily available, so teachers are not required for that.

“However, teachers are required for the purpose of telling the children what are the interesting things to learn,” he said, when asked about the role of teachers.

Yeoh said technology would help teachers deal with schoolchildren of different learning capabilities.

“Work will be given to students on devices, and teachers will be able to monitor and track the students’ work in real time.

“Technology will enable teachers to easily identify and group students who are weak at a certain concept to re-teach, while students who are doing well can continue working at their own pace,” she added.

To continue enhancing the Frog VLE, Frog had recently acquired I Am Learning, which specialised in games-based revision and assessment system.

“Children’s competitive nature will motivate them to get the right answers and win the games,” said i-education director Michael Wilkinson.

At Bett, Yeoh said, she met people who were looking for solutions for schools in their respective countries.

“Malaysia is truly unique in providing a VLE across all schools in the country, and the credit must go to the Education Ministry for having the vision to implement such a project.

FrogTrade Ltd won the title of “ICT Company of the Year” at the Bett Awards 2013 in London.

The Bett Awards are considered to be prestigious in the education sector, and are committed to recognising a distinctive and diverse digital education resources market that meets the needs of the education system and learners.

Winning the title of ICT Company of the Year, Yeoh said, was just another testament to how Frog has been recognised worldwide.

“This is a premium product that had, up till the implementation of 1BestariNet, been only made available to private and international schools.”

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