With the recent launch of the national Year of English and Information Technology, the Government of Sri Lanka is spearheading a veritable revolution in the spread of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), with a series of initiatives that are being recognised as milestones in the Island’s march towards becoming a knowledge based economy. In another gesture to demonstrate that 2009 is truly the ‘Year of English and IT’, the Ministry of Education (MoE) of Sri Lanka has renewed its ‘Partners in Learning’ (PiL) Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Microsoft Sri Lanka.
The initial PiL MoU spanned over three years and achieved several significant breakthroughs in the realm of expanding the reach of ICT island wide. Spurred on by its success, the MoE took the decision to renew the agreement with certain new additions, where the contents were mutually agreed upon by the Hon. Minister of Education, Susil Premjayanth, MoE Officials, and Microsoft Sri Lanka representatives.
The signing of this new MoU further highlights the Governments’ effort to empower students, teachers and schools in Sri Lanka to achieve their fullest potential by providing both greater access to the latest computer technologies as well as the knowledge of how best to use these technologies to their advantage in this fast paced environment.
Minister of Education, Hon. Susil Premjayanth, said: “The MoE of Sri Lanka and Microsoft both recognise the need to improve access to and use of ICT in primary and secondary education, whilst also acknowledging the value of technology in schools and seeking to jointly improve both access to and the use of ICT for the support of teaching and learning. We understand the power of an international exchange of information and the need to make this vision a scalable, sustainable reality.”
Sharing best practices from around the world and scaling of existing programmes will be the avowed focus of PiL’s second phase. A “bottom-up” approach will be pursued in order to ensure that change is defined and paced at the rate suitable for individual schools, and is spearheaded by excellent and consistent educational leadership, which will invariably develop the entire learning environment of the student. Hence in the next five years a holistic approach will be adopted, where the school, student and teacher will be developed as three pillars through varied initiatives and programmes.
Tangible developments for a successful ‘Year of English and IT’
Thus the new agreement includes focus on improving the way that schools provide and manage educational initiatives to build the competitiveness of local students. The ‘Innovative Schools’ pillar will provide schools, with resources, training, expertise and technology blueprints that help create schools to better prepare students for life and work in the 21st century. Some of the key activities that will be undertaken under the Innovative Schools pillar are: providing internationally accepted curricula for teachers and students which will be localized wherever relevant, creating ICT readiness roadmaps for individual schools, providing training and guidance to principals and school leaders and creating online communities for collaboration.
The ‘Innovative Teachers’ pillar will receive extra input which will provide teachers with tools, forums and resources that build communities, support collaboration and access to quality content, and challenge educators to integrate ICT into teaching and learning in a meaningful way.
In PiL’s next phase, Teacher Development will be two fold; basic IT skills will be disseminated to teacher communities in less privileged areas whilst updating and enhancing the skill set of Master Teachers by means of specialist training, which will pave the way to the creation of ICT mentors. Scaling the annual Innovative Teachers Competition is another key focus area, where participation of teachers in global events and forums is also expected. A dedicated web portal for teachers to share experiences, download online tools for teaching, communicate with students and teachers, gain expert trainings etc. will also be implemented. National initiatives such as the Teacher PC drive will also be heavily supported through PiL by means of special pricing on software, value adding learning material and training.
The third and final area centres on programmes that harness the creative energy of students to drive their own desire for a quality education. The ‘Innovative Students’ pillar will empower students to use ICT in their schoolwork and learning. Under this pillar, learning material such as the Microsoft Student Innovation suite, as well as free developer software under Bill Gate’s initiative named ‘DreamSpark’ will be made available to students. DreamSpark offers developer software such as Visual Studio, Expression Studio, Windows Server, Microsoft Robotics, XNA Games Studio to all students at no charge. Coupled with hands on training, these tools and software will enable students and schools to move towards a collaborative learning environment where ICT becomes integrated to school work as well as overall lifestyle.
During the next five years, the Government and Ministry of Education will be able to count on the support of Microsoft SL to collaborate with education researchers who will document and analyse programme outcomes and changes in practice, thus enabling the MoE to identify and expand on those programmes that have the greatest impact on learning at a local level.
Sriyan de Silva Wijeyratne, Country Manager, Microsoft Sri Lanka commented: “As the largest private sector donor to the Ministry of Education, Microsoft SL has made its commitment to this country and its people crystal clear. The vision of our government for 2009 runs parallel to our own goal… for Sri Lankans across the Island to have access to IT thereby creating an equal footing from which they can reach their full potential personally and professionally and through this ensure that our nation can compete at a global level. Partnerships such as ours with the MoE are tremendously valuable to us and we thank ministry officials for their insight and progressive attitude as we work together to bring our collective vision to fruition”.
Learning and Innovation
In the first phase of the PiL programme many activities revolved around the ‘Innovative Teachers’ Pillar, but in the second phase, much more emphasis would be put on the concept of ‘Innovative Schools’, as the PiL team believes that only under a sustained systemic change at school level will there be better synergy between the three pillars and thereby better and further reaching results for students and teachers across the Island. This second phase will also address school development and transformation holistically, binding these pillars together - where innovative schools will be the foundation for innovative teachers and innovative students’ programmes.
The first phase witnessed certain activities such as training of teachers in the underprivileged areas of the Uva province and areas in the East, where to date, close to 9,000 teachers have been trained in the fundamentals of ICT through courses such as ICDL (International Computer Driver’s License). Another very successful initiative of the partnership is the annual ‘Innovative Teachers and Students’ Competition’, which sparked off an unprecedented response of over 40,000 entries in 2008, reflecting the eagerness that exists amongst the student and teaching community to participate in, and benefit from, IT.
Anura Dissanayake, Project Director, Secondary Education Modernisation Project, explains: “The government has dedicated this year to the spread of English and IT because of its pledge to empower the youth of the country with necessary skills needed to succeed in the global arena. I am delighted to report that we have, in conjunction with the government authorities, succeeded in enhancing a curriculum to reflect current realities and requisites for gaining easy employment. I am optimistic that the renewed MoU will engender greater gains in the field of IT and English, equipping our youth and teaching faculty with the necessary tools to succeed.”
Technology for Life
Right from the time of its inception in Sri Lanka, the PiL programme has invested over Rs. 100 million in primary and secondary education in Sri Lanka. And the company hopes to invest a similar amount over the next five years to help the community reach heights that were considered unimaginable. The Governments’ long term commitment to making technology more affordable, relevant and accessible for everyone through technology, training, and partnerships will be further supported over time through this initiative.
Since its inception in 2003, the PiL programme has reached more than 90 million teachers and students in 101 countries, encouraging worldwide economic and community development through education. Furthermore, in the past five years, it has created a variety of programmes worldwide including offering a fresh start with donated computers, an enhanced ICT curriculum, the professional development of educators, grants programmes to provide access to technology and affordable software licensing through school agreements. Continuation of this exclusive agreement will seek many opportunities in line with the Governments vision for Year of English and IT to help our citizens board the voyage of an equal life equipped with necessary ICT education.