The first and only national level competition of its kind to be held in Sri Lanka, the Ministry of Education and Microsoft’s initiative, the Innovative Teachers Competition is held exclusively for teachers across the country on an annual basis. This competition is designed to help motivate and recognize all teachers who actively use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in their teaching and learning, to create effective and productive learning experiences in their classrooms on a day to day basis. The main objective of this competition is to jumpstart the use of ICT in schools, so that children become aware of the potential of IT from a young age and also to encourage educators to adopt ICT as part and parcel of their teaching methods. As it is a main objective of the Ministry of Education and Microsoft’s efforts to bridge the digital divide by making IT more accessible to students across the island, it is both Microsoft Sri Lanka’s and the Ministry of Education’s primary aim, to reach out to all schools across the island via this competition.
Microsoft’s global initiative ‘Partners in Learning’ focuses on the development and sustainability of three main pillars in the education system, namely; Innovative Teachers, Innovative Students and Innovative Schools. This competition deals with the Innovative Teachers pillar, one component of which is the annual Innovative Teachers Competition, which is conducted by Microsoft Sri Lanka, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education. This joint initiative is organized to increase teachers’ knowledge of ICT island-wide, as is very much the way forward, especially when considering the present day context of a student oriented education system.
“Microsoft believes that education on ICT can be a powerful catalyst to improve teaching and learning efficiency in all countries. Ultimately, education changes lives, families, communities, and even nations. ‘Partners in Learning’ is a global initiative designed to help increase technology access for schools, foster innovative approaches to pedagogy (the science of teaching) and teacher professional development, and provide education leaders with the tools to envision, implement, and manage change. ‘Partners in Learning’ delivers the Microsoft promise to transform education, by inspiring, identifying, sharing and scaling practices and behaviors that can improve learning outcomes,” said Microsoft Spokesperson/Academic Programmes Manager, Yashinka Jayasinghe Alles.
The Innovative Teachers programme is built on the understanding that informed and empowered teachers will be at the heart of the constructive and powerful teaching and learning process. By inspiring and learning from each other, educators around the world are transforming the way their students engage with the rest of the world. Innovative Teachers, enables teachers to learn from one another and work collaboratively on new approaches to learning through national or region-wide portals. Going beyond traditional methods of teaching, they will inspire educators to teach students in effective ways that were previously considered impossible. They will also help pioneering educators to identify which of the new learning programs are most effective and will enable teachers and schools to share their knowledge with colleagues around the world, so new practices can continue to grow and thrive.
Educational technology is not, and never will be, transformative on its own. It requires teachers and educators who can integrate technology into and across a curriculum, and bring in the relevance and link between ICT and the manner in which students learn. ICT needs to be connected with sound pedagogy to stimulate the learning process and help create an innovative educational system. Hence the need to foster an innovative teaching and learning culture is imperative, especially in the light of the emergence of a knowledge economy.
All submissions are judged by a panel of IT experts and academics, in each province using a set of predefined measurement criteria. 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 their school or community.
Commencing as of 2008, Microsoft is partnering with the Ministry of Education in conducting a student competition similar to the Innovative Teachers Competition, which focuses on students demonstrating their ICT skills through creating a lesson plan based on a subject of choice. This again is with the aim of encouraging students to adopt ICT in their schoolwork and also to motivate them to integrate different mediums such as the Internet and the varied productivity tools with their lessons. Students compete in four categories, namely: Grade 1 – 8, Grade 9 – 11, Grade 12 – 13 and A/L streams. In the student competition the number of entries was around 24,071.
The competition is currently at the Provincial stage, where judges have sieved through the entries and have even selected winners from each Province, subsequent to a rigorous screening process, spanning over several months. This year, the competition exhibited entries from all nine provinces (the Northern province being the latest addition), who took part in the competition, with several provinces such as Central, North Western, Sabaragamuwa, Southern and Uva doing extraordinarily well. This is quite an achievement, especially for the lesser privileged provinces such as the Uva region. The next level of the competition will deal with the provincial winner’s entries, now being judged at a national level, for which the National Awards ceremony will be held on the 26th of January 2009.
“In the continuous aim of uplifting ICT education in our education system, Secondary Education Modernization Project II of Ministry of Education and Microsoft jointly organized the School Educational Software Competition 2008 aiming the teacher and student community to popularize the use of educational software in training and learning as an annual event. Turning a new page in ICT history in the island, close to 40,000 software entries were submitted to the competition. These innovative software entries prove the 21st century skills of both the teachers and students and their transformation to the new era.” said Project Director, Secondary Education Modernization Project II of the Ministry of Education - Mr. Anura Dissanayake.
In each Province there were ten winners selected, where they were awarded cash prizes, ICT training vouchers and certificates for their efforts. The first place winners were awarded Rs. 10,000 in cash prizes, followed by Rs. 5,000 for the second place and Rs. 3,000 for the third place. Winners from the 4th place to the 10th place were awarded Rs. 2,000. However it is not only the winners who are recognized through the competition, all those who participate in the competition are awarded a certificate of participation in order to encourage them to annually submit entries for the competition.
These winners are also given due recognition at a Provincial award ceremony, which gives them the motivation and commitment to continue their endeavors and also act as ICT mentors in their respective schools. Subsequent to the selection of the best entries, these lesson plans are made available via the SchoolNet facility to the rest of the schools in the country so that all schools have the opportunity to learn from the best entries which are submitted. SchoolNet is an initiative of the Ministry of Education and the Asian Development Bank funded Secondary Education Modernization Project which has established a wide-area network (wan) connecting most of the senior secondary schools and other related organizations in the country.
The 1st and 2nd place winners from each category in each province will be eligible to enter for the National Awards round where the top three winners in each category will be selected and then ranked from 1st to 6th place. This placement at the National level paves the way for the winning teachers to be recognized as the most innovative teachers in the country in terms of integrating ICT into their teaching methodologies. Whilst this serves the students and the schools of the respective teachers it also acts as a catalyst to further the careers of these teachers as well.
Any school can present any number of entries for the competition which need to be developed in line with the national curriculum. These lesson plans should also be created in such way which adds value to the knowledge of students. The degree of creativity used also differentiates from one entry to another. Each of these entries need to be certified by the school Principal as to being developed by the specific teacher. Each individual entry has to be presented in a CD. The judging panel is selected by the Provincial Education Director and consisted of IT specialists, Subject Specialists, University Lecturers etc.
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, private schools and even 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.