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15,360 Teachers Join Hands to Transform the Future of IT Based Education

Over 15000 teachers from all parts of Sri Lanka are vying for an opportunity to display their innovative use of IT in the classroom at the Microsoft Innovative Teachers Competition, to be held on the 29th of January this year. The competition, held for the third consecutive year in Sri Lanka, attracted an unprecedented number of 15,360 entries for its Provincial Software Competition - three times more than last year’s number. The provincial level competition precedes the national level competition, with the provincial winners gaining automatic entry to the national final.

The Innovative Teachers’ competition which is carried out by Microsoft in collaboration with the Ministry of Education is organized in order to uplift the information communication literacy of the teachers which would be instrumental in today’s student centered education system. Another objective of this competition is to appreciate the active participation of teachers in propagating information technology among school children.

The overwhelming response this year included 3667 entries from the North Western Province, 2790 from the Central Province,  2071 from South and 1925 from Western Province with the Sabaragamuwa teachers sending in 1450 entries, Uva submitting 1341, the East making 973 entries, 659 coming from the North Central Province and 484 entries submitted by the Northern Province. This massive response reflects the satisfaction of the teachers about the technological knowledge they acquired through these training programs. Since teachers are the mediators who circulate knowledge among the next generation, the ultimate benefit lies with the entire student base of the country. The project would effectively contribute towards the Education Ministry’s goal to improve present Sri Lankan information communication literacy rate of 10% to 50% by the year 2010.

Jinashri Samarakoon, Educational Programs Manager of Microsoft Sri Lanka said, "This year’s number of entries has far exceeded our most optimistic expectation and we are truly impressed with the passion of Sri Lankan teachers who explore the power of IT in influencing students within the classroom. Each year, we have seen a quantum leap in the quality of the entries submitted, and believe this augurs well for Sri Lanka’s future. Microsoft believes that Sri Lankans must acquire ICT skills in order to be competitive in today’s Digital world - and we are heartened to note that through our many efforts in IT capacity building, we are well on our way to achieving our vision of 50% ICT literacy. In an era which computer technology is rapidly moving towards the ‘Global Village’ concept our mission is to make Sri Lankan teachers an integral part of these developments. We at Microsoft are glad to invite the entire teacher community to make use of this ideal opportunity and be empowered with the latest knowledge in information communication technology.”

Innovative Teachers, a part of the Microsoft Partners in Learning project, is yet another demonstration of the magnitude of the contribution the company makes to truly make a difference in bridging the digital divide in Sri Lanka. The competition is designed to encourage teachers to optimize the software and ICT facilities given to their schools by utilizing ICT in the classroom as a tool of teaching. The competition is the first and only national scale competition held in Sri Lanka for teachers and is designed to motivate and recognize teachers who have made such effective contribution using ICT in the classroom. The objective of the competition is to jumpstart the use of ICT in schools, so that children become aware of the potential of IT from a very young age. The project is part of Microsoft’s efforts to bridge the digital divide by making IT more accessible to students across the island.

Innovative Teachers is supported and implemented by the Secondary Education Modernization Project (SEMP) of the Ministry of Education with patronage of the Microsoft Partners in Learning project. Microsoft Sri Lanka in collaboration with the Ministry of Education intends to cover all schools in the island through the competition. Microsoft is encouraged by the commitment of the highest level from the provincial education offices to make the competition a success and stands evidence to a thriving pubic private partnership.

Expressing his views on the contribution of Microsoft to end the period in which new technologies were limited to urban high society and decentralize them to remote areas, the Director of the Secondary Education Modernization Project (SEMP) of the Ministry of Education, Mr. Anura Dissanayake said, “In general the technological knowledge of the teachers who serve in semi urban schools is relatively lesser than  the knowledge of teachers of urban schools which are equipped with the modern  computer laboratories. The situation can be worse in the rural schools which possess the minimum amount of facilities. Socio-economic problems, lesser access to the sources of computer technology knowledge and the lack of wise guidance could be the reasons behind this situation. Providing technological education regardless of the geographical and social barriers and picking up the best individuals to help them achieve their professional goals is a timely requirement. In this regard I would like to appreciate the role that Microsoft plays by joining hands with the MOE.”

The Innovative Teachers Competition is designed to build a powerful network of teachers who appreciate, and will actively use ICT in teaching and learning, thereby creating powerful learning experiences in their classrooms. The long term goals of projects such as these is to put in place the infrastructure and mindset required to propel countries like Sri Lanka into the digital age, by creating an ICT-ready population. The competition is open to teachers of any subject from public and private schools as well as international schools operating in the country. Entries can be submitted in Sinhala, Tamil or English and take the format of a lesson plan of forty minutes, developed using software available to the schools and the internet where applicable.

The judging of the submissions is carried out by an eminent panel of IT experts and academics, with representation from the Ministry of Education, National Institute of Education, university lecturers and Microsoft.  The criteria for selection includes exemplary and innovative use of technology in teaching, educational talent as evidenced by instructional practices in the classroom, demonstration of an engaging and inspiring presence to motivate and impact students, and the optimum use of technologies available in the school or community.

Last year’s winners, Mudiyanselage Sampath Priyashantha Rajapakshe, Namalie Prinyanka Liyanage and Hapuarachchilage Ajith Kumara Wasantha joined 250 innovative teachers from 23 countries in Cambodia to celebrate their profession and share best practices on how to propel their teaching to the digital age.

Mrs. Namalie Priyanka Liyanage of Bandarawela Tamil College, who won the award for the primary category at ‘Innovative Teachers 2006’, stated that her victory became a motivational factor in educating the students on modern day technological advances. “Competitions of this nature help improve the information communication skills of the teachers which will result in a better teaching process. Ultimately students who belong to the remote school will benefit vastly out of this project. I would like to appeal from institutes like Microsoft to more projects in collaboration with the Ministry of Education in order to upgrade the information communication literacy of the country.”

This years’ winners of the Innovative Teachers competition will be flown to the Regional Innovative Teachers Conference to be held in Hanoi, Vietnam where they have a once in a lifetime opportunity to share their experience and knowledge with their peers from around the world.

According to Mr. Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne, Country Manager of Microsoft Sri Lanka, this island wide project empowers the Sri Lankan teacher with much needed IT skills. “Sri Lanka acquires technology slower in comparison with other countries and hence it is quite challenging for the country to win whilst competing against globally challenging markets. The technological know-how is very important to stay connected to the modern world without being isolated and in return it is vital to be aware of ways to apply this technological expertise in a global context as well. Microsoft presents the latest technology to Sri Lankans and we are pleased to promote this knowledge to the next generation through uplifting the information communication capabilities of the teachers across the country. We believe this competition would be an ideal platform to accomplish that goal.”

The success of the campaign cannot only be measured in terms of the number of participants who entered, but in terms of the major impact it had in promoting IT as a whole in the country. By encouraging teachers to be innovative and bring IT into their classrooms as a teaching tool, Microsoft has succeeded in reaching over 1,350,000 children all over the island. This campaign supported not only the government’s objective to improve the country’s ICT literacy to 50% by within the next two years, but also enabled Microsoft to touch more lives in a positive and proactive manner, thereby thriving towards its goal to touch 1 million lives by the year 2010.