The ‘Innovative Teachers National Competition 2008’ conducted by the Ministry of Education’s Secondary Education Modernization Project (SEMP) II and Microsoft Sri Lanka drew nationwide attention recently. In an exciting development, the winners of this competition attended the ‘Regional Innovative Teachers Conference’ in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 25th- 29th May 2009.
The Ministry of Education, year after year, opens up the opportunity for Sri Lankan teachers to be a part of this learning exercise, supported in its noble initiative by Microsoft Sri Lanka. This year’s Sri Lankan chapter of the event was spectacular in every sense and witnessed the convergence of leading educationists at the event, made more significant since 2009 has been anointed the ‘Year of English and IT’ by the Government of Sri Lanka, which brings empowering programmes such as this into the spotlight in its mission to make ICT accessible in every nook and corner of the Island.
This much anticipated grand finale of the event, which was the Fifth Microsoft Regional Teachers’ Conference held at the Meridien Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, was organised jointly in partnership with Ministry of Education Malaysia, UNESCO Asia Pacific, TakingITGlobal and Microsoft, under its flagship ‘Partners in Learning’ (PiL) programme. This penultimate conference was attended by more than 80 teachers and 50 senior government and education officials from at least 18 countries globally. These innovative teachers were winners in their respective national competitions, where selection was based on their work and efforts in the quest of raising the education standards through the use of ICT. This conference is organised annually to recognise their creativity, innovation, and the often challenging work of bringing education to a higher level through the use of ICT as well as inspire other educators.
The event drew to a close with a gala dinner and awards ceremony where Mrs. C. Karunasekera, Katuwana National School, Southern Province was adjudged the winner in the country prize for the most innovative teacher in the poster competition category. Sri Lanka’s proud winner, Mrs. Chithrangani Karunasekera, expressed her delight at being declared the ‘country winner’ from amongst a group of teachers representing Sri Lanka at the global conference: “Firstly, I would like to thank the Ministry of Education and Microsoft for giving me this opportunity. As a teacher, I deem this conference very important to all educationists because it recognises and validates new teaching methods initiated by us. Despite our gains, the fact remains that Sri Lanka still lags behind in incorporating ICT in our education sector. My experience at the global conference revealed the access to high-tech ICT components and resources that other countries enjoy. I am confident that the government’s pursuit of transforming our local educational sector via the use of ICT will give us the right technical advantage we need. I would once again like to express my gratitude for this opportunity as it has enhanced my understanding of how ICT can help us leverage innovative teaching methods.”
The compelling theme of this 5th Microsoft Regional Teachers’ Conference event was ‘Empower, Enact, Engage: Becoming Agents of Change’, where the event created a platform for the advancement of best practices and adoption of innovation. This Innovative Teachers’ Conference helps educators further their professional development, learn from, and inspire one another in promoting the creation of exemplary practices, and gives educators access to online learning communities. Jointly organised under its flagship Partners in Learning programme, this is Microsoft’s worldwide initiative to empower schools to increase student learning through teacher development and leadership. Thus, the Innovative Teachers' Programme helps educators further their professional development, learn from and inspire one another in promoting the creation of exemplary practices, award software grants and give educators access to online learning communities.
Some of the principal highlights of the final conference in Malaysia included a one-day field trip and fun-filled poster sessions where the teachers shared their innovative teaching practices and competed for the recognition of the ‘Innovative Teacher of the Year’ (in their respective countries) award. The teachers presented their projects to the judges who consisted of senior government officials from across the globe.
Special collaboration projects were also arranged wherein teachers from different countries collaborated in the development of specific teaching/learning materials based on their field trips. Furthermore, a forum was held with students, moderated by Michael Furdyk of TakingITGlobal, to enhance communication and exchange of ideas and opinions between educators and their beneficiaries. There was an endearing spirit of camaraderie and mutual respect at these sessions which offered an unparalleled learning experience for the participants.
The highlight of this event was the fact that every teacher present was exposed to teaching methods and material from other countries and had ample opportunity to interact with peers – an opportunity that helped them transcend boundaries of race and language and get an insight into how ICT can connect students and educationists across the globe in a mutual win-win relationship.
This conference mirrors the government of Sri Lanka’s mission to link ICT to a new vision of education which involves using existing and new tools to help students master the key concepts and skills embedded in science, social studies, English, art and other curriculum. It is universally accepted that educational technology is not, and never will be, transformative on its own steam, but that it requires teachers and educators who can actively integrate technology into and across curriculum thereby widening the scope of learning. ICT needs to be connected with pedagogy to stimulate the learning process and to help create an innovative educational system.
Mr. Anura Dissanayake, Project Director, SEMP II, Ministry of Education, Government of Sri Lanka, said: “I am encouraged by the response to Microsoft’s Innovative Teachers programme as it reflects the wealth of talent and desire to learn new teaching methods amongst our teaching community. By offering international exposure to our local teachers through the National Innovative Teachers Conference and the Regional Innovative Teachers’ Conference in Malaysia, our teaching community is provided with insights into how ICT can enhance learning in schools across the globe and I am confident that they will put this experience to good use in their respective schools. We are confident that such collaborations will ultimately transform new horizon of education for students in Sri Lanka.”
By mobilising Sri Lanka’s teaching community through this conference, Microsoft hopes to ignite a passion for teaching through new and innovative methods involving ICT to empower students’ islandwide. Economic, ecological, social, political and cultural integration across nation states combined with the rapid advancement of technology have brought about transformations that are part of globalisation. Regardless of our location, we face a common destiny; where the unfolding of an event in one part of the world affects lives in other parts. In such a new world order, our children and young people have to be prepared to be agents of change rather than just passive observers of world events. The Regional Innovative Teachers' Conference this year aims to engage its participants in conversations about such preparation in schools; and hence, the theme Empower, Enact, Engage: Becoming Agents of Change.
Engagement is paramount for learning success; where engagement entails mindfulness, intrinsic motivation, cognitive effort, and attention. By undervaluing the rich and complex processes of learning for engagement, classroom activities that require active inquiry and deep conceptual understanding may become scarce in schools. Learning for engagement then has to involve teachers and school leaders in empowering their students to critically examine real world issues and phenomena and providing them with opportunities to act upon them locally.
Yashinka Jayasinghe Alles, Academic Programmes Manager, Microsoft Sri Lanka, said: “We are grateful to the Government of Sri Lanka for laying much needed emphasis on integrating ICT into school and university curriculum and by encouraging teachers island wide. This initiative has brought an entire community of teachers not merely as educators but also learners - and the sense of confidence and mutual respect that has been fostered amongst teachers to try their hands at new techniques of education via ICT is becoming a reality. Today, we can actually witness the tangible results of the Innovative Teachers Programme impacting students’ island wide in a positive manner.”
The exciting component of the Innovative Teachers Programme is its aim to bring together a community of teachers as ‘learners’, who can, just like their students, be open and receptive to new teaching methods. This programme therefore helps to facilitate the creation of collective knowledge whilst creating a platform for the advancement of best practices and adoption of innovation. It is only opportunities such as this conference afforded that teachers from remote areas access training and technology resources. By witnessing first hand through discussion and experience, this programme has delivered integration confidence to teachers using technology in the learning process. Undoubtedly, such an innovative programme will succeed in engaging teachers intellectually and encourage them to be active stakeholders in their profession.