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Beating Global Competition, Royal College Selected Microsoft’s Pathfinder School



In an exciting development, the reputed Royal College of Sri Lanka has been selected a Global Pathfinder School in the Microsoft Partners in Learning Network. This is a landmark event in the history of education in the country as it demonstrates the competency of local schools to match counterparts abroad. This triumph is doubly significant because Royal College was selected from amongst schools across the world, by eminent global educationists hailing from leading educational institutions. By staking its place at the top, Royal College has also enhanced Sri Lanka’s educational legacy, putting it on the global education map.


In Sri Lanka, a local competition was organized by Microsoft Sri Lanka in coordination with the Ministry of Education to select the five most innovative schools in the country, in which Royal College participated and was selected along with four others. These schools submitted their applications to the Microsoft global body, which evaluated the participants based on academic success, innovation culture, leadership development, learning community, strategic development planning, and innovative use of ICT. By being appointed a Global Pathfinder School in the Microsoft Partners in Learning Network, Royal College will be assisted by Microsoft to uplift its standards by making available expert resources to help improve the school further by sharing its global best practices.


Leaders from more than 42 schools gathered in Salvador for a four-day workshop to kick off a journey of transformation in their school communities. Upali Gunasekera, the Principal of Royal College and Upul Nishantha, the school’s ICT Teacher, represented Royal College at the event. Over the next 12 months, these school leaders will go back to their home communities with a mission to transform the way their schools operate. They will be encouraged to rethink all aspects of school life, from the structure of the day, to the use of technology in the curriculum, to ensuring that teachers have the space and time to bring innovative practices to the classroom.


The Government of Sri Lanka has declared 2009 the ‘Year of English and Information Technology’ and has undertaken a series of activities aimed at expanding the reach of ICT amongst the youth. This Partners in Learning initiative of Microsoft is aligned to support the government’s vision to put Sri Lanka on the global IT map, whilst realizing its long-term objective of providing necessary skills amongst youth to meet both local and global demands. Microsoft is working in close partnership with the Ministry of Education in this endeavour.


Sriyan De Silva Wijeyeratne, Country Manager, Microsoft Sri Lanka, said: “We are so proud that one of the leading schools in our country, Royal College, has made it to the exclusive domain of Microsoft’s Global Pathfinder Schools. I am confident that they will gain a multitude of benefits from their participation and be able to share this wealth of knowledge with other local schools, so as to propel the level of education in Sri Lanka to the next level. At Microsoft, we believe that technology can expand the power of education and unlock the potential of students, educators and schools. I would like to express my deepest gratitude for the support and encouragement this initiative has received from the Ministry of Education, whose vision to transform the education landscape of the country is commendable and which will serve to revolutionize the use of ICT in local curricula in due course.”


Partners in Learning Initiative


The Microsoft Partners in Learning Innovative Schools Programme engages with governments and schools as a trusted advisor, collaborating with them to formulate a vision for reform and to identify partners, technologies and environments that will improve learning. The programme offers frameworks and models for change that any school and any educational system can adapt and apply to help students achieve their full potential.


Through the Innovative Schools initiative, Microsoft builds communities of schools with a common interest in transforming education. The corporation delivers technology expertise, development tools, and maturity models, as well as online and regional training, to support educational leaders in creating holistic change. Microsoft is expanding its Partners in Learning Innovative Schools Programme from a pilot to a full-scale global programme, with the addition of 30 new Pathfinder Schools and 12 Mentor Schools, representing 34 countries.


Partners in Learning is committed to help break down local barriers to learning. Over the years, Microsoft has successfully built long-term partnerships with innovative schools around the world which are on the forefront of creating effective, holistic change. These are the mentor schools in its programme and they serve as pathfinders for innovative education. Some of the experts in this field that Microsoft has mobilized to share their knowledge are Dr. John Bransford, the James W. Mifflin University Professor of Education and Psychology at the University of Washington and principal investigator of The Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center; Fielding Nair International - a National Science Foundation Science of Learning Center; SRI International; and Dr. Michael Fullan, Professor Emeritus of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.


The Pathfinder Schools will work with 12 regional Mentor Schools, chosen primarily from among participants in the Innovative Schools pilot programme, which ran over the last two years. The Mentor Schools will be honored at the event because they have achieved a level of change within their education systems and are viewed as leaders in their countries and regions. Their innovations have a global interest and are replicable models that other schools can follow. Some Pathfinder Schools will have the opportunity to share the knowledge they gain as Mentor Schools in the future.


The Honourable Minister of Education Susil Premjayanth said: “I would like to congratulate Royal College for its spectacular performance in being selected one of Microsoft’s Pathfinder Schools. Having competed against many schools around the world and emerged successful indicates that given a little support and encouragement, our students can take on the world. This performance also provides us encouragement to place greater importance of innovation and reform in the way we have viewed education in the past. Global exposure of this kind will open up new avenues for our students and elevate our education sector. This is the precise objective that the government had in mind when it designated 2009 as the Year of English and IT. I applaud Microsoft for their technical inputs and for sharing their global best practices in the local context.”


Benefits of being a Pathfinder School


Appointed a Pathfinder School, the teachers at Royal College will face more opportunities to improve their teaching skills by attending workshops conducted by Microsoft both locally and abroad. The school’s students will also be able to partner with students in other Pathfinder schools to share best practices. They will receive more exposure to technology and they can look forward to a much better learning experience at Royal College.


Upali Gunasekera, the Principal of Royal College, commented: “As educationists, we are constantly trying to make our syllabus current and dynamic so as to excite children into learning. I am honoured that Microsoft has selected Royal College as one of the Pathfinder Schools in its Partners in Learning initiative, I sincerely hope that we can share that knowledge with local schools and generate lateral learning in the education sector. Thanks to the Ministry of Education’s efforts and Microsoft’s innovation, we are placed more squarely at the centre of global changes in the constantly evolving frontier of education. This will be one more asset in our efforts to reform the country’s education system to be more aligned with 21st-century economic and social needs. I feel privileged to lead the school on this historic occasion in the 174-year rich history of Royal College.”


Microsoft’s goal in the Innovative Schools Programme is to help communities around the world improve teaching and learning, while igniting the imagination of students everywhere. As a key Partners in Learning component, Innovative Schools delivers models that any school, any system, can use to help students achieve their full potential. Microsoft is transforming education through the use of advanced technologies, customized training and strong partnerships by exploring solutions in three interconnected areas, which are empowering teachers and engaging students; building vibrant educational communities and developing agile infrastructure.


Anura Dissanayake, Project Director, Secondary Education Modernization Project II, said: “My heartiest congratulations to Royal College and Microsoft Sri Lanka for this achievement. This heralds a new era in our education system and I am hopeful that as Microsoft’s Pathfinder School, Royal College will be able to create a positive change in the learning community in Sri Lanka. As policy makers we are faced with the challenge of making our educational system relevant for the times we live in and I am confident that such efforts will help chart the roadmap towards change and innovation that will pervade not only city schools but also smaller schools in remote areas, so that the youth in the country receive equity in education and can participate on such global platforms. This is one more step forward in achieving the government’s vision to make IT accessible for all.”


When teachers and students are exposed to new methods of local innovation in learning led by world class expertise that Microsoft brings, there are a whole host of positive consequences, such as the fact the leaders feel empowered to think out of the box and develop a wider world view; that this vision of change is shared with the learning community of teachers, students and administrators; and that they connect, collaborate and explore best practices with education leaders worldwide. This innovation helps students compete in a rapidly changing, connected world.


Creating Interest in Learning


Any school can benefit from the Innovative Schools Program by registering to be a part of the Innovative Schools Network (http://innovativeschoolsonline.com), a collaboration portal that offers content, discussions, resources and advice from educational leaders and experts who are at the forefront of creating and implementing effective school reform. Each year, the Innovative Schools Program selects 30 schools from around the world to work with its experts and community of innovative schools in an intensive process of reform. Schools are selected for their potential to create scalable and replicable reforms that can influence schools within their own community and country as well as globally. The programme offers technology expertise, development tools and education models, as well as online and in-person training to support education leaders in creating holistic change.


Mentor schools have achieved a level of change within their education systems. Their innovations have a global interest and are replicable models that other schools can follow. These schools will be featured through case studies, best practices and they will provide mentoring support to other schools. Mentor level is achieved by invitation only.


The Innovative Schools 6i Process provides an effective framework for decision making that guides schools in finding the right answers. There is no single blueprint to serve all educational communities, but the 6i Process can frame conversations about reform—and how it can work in your community. Developed through partnerships with schools around the globe, the 6i Process involves Introspection, Investigation, Inclusion, Innovation, Implementation, and Insight.


Royal College’s unprecedented performance in this initiative has energized the rest of the learning community to take note of further such initiatives and participate in them in the future so as to identify gaps in learning that can be filled with the valuable support and technical inputs from Microsoft’s expertise.