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Innovative Teachers & Students National Competition takes our Nation’s talent to the Global arena

A staggering 88,000 entries stands proof of exceptional passion that transforms our education system

This year, the Ministry of Education together with Microsoft Sri Lanka will take our school IT standards to the next level with the introduction of new competition guidelines for the Innovative Teachers & Students National Competition. The new rules for submission will ensure that this year’s winner of the Innovative Teachers & Students Competition would be ready to pit their skills on a more equal footing, against participants from the Asia Pacific region at the Innovative Teachers regional Competition scheduled to be held in New Zealand in March 2012.

The National Competition, which has been in existence for the last 7 years, was initially open exclusively for teachers, but owing to the level of interest shown by the students as well, the Ministry of Education decided to allow students to participate alongside teachers beginning 2008. The Innovative Students competition is held with the intention of improving students’ creativity and IT skills which will enable them to access the latest in technology, gearing them to face the challenges of the 21st century. The involvement of both the educator and the student has given the competition a new dimension, paving the way for ICT to be adopted as a more interactive and innovative tool easily integrated into local teaching and learning methods.

The 2011 competition goes a step further by requiring participants to move away from creating their projects using only Microsoft Office as done in the past. Under the new criteria, participants were given the opportunity to build projects on advanced Microsoft applications and software tools such as Visual Basic, Visual Studio, Moviemaker and Songsmith in addition to the usual MS Office applications, testing their IT competence and creativity.

Additional Secretary to H.E. the president, Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Education and Project Director of the Education for Knowledge Society Project (EKSP), Mr. Anura Dissanayake commenting on raising the bar for contestants stated, “our teachers and students have shown amazing creativity in the projects they have submitted in the past. Therefore, our decision to extend the scope of the competition was encouraged by the quality of the entries and the enthusiasm shown by our teachers and students. They’re as capable as their international counterparts and should be allowed to compete on equal ground, which will also better their chances of success. Also, using advanced technology will encourage and empower them, helping them to develop better ICT solutions which can easily be deployed in and out of the classroom.”

Yashinka Jayasinghe Alles, Academic Programmes Manager for Microsoft Sri Lanka says, “Over the past few years we witnessed a marked improvement in the quality and standard of the entries which was very encouraging to all of us who are involved in conducting this competition. The Ministry and EKSP team who is backing us in this programme identified this trend, and made it an opportunity to give the maximum benefit of the programme to our teachers and students. We believe this is the right time to move the competition to a higher level. This would allow our teachers the opportunity to compete on an equal footing when it comes to the regional competition and show the rest of the world that our teachers and students are capable of taking our country to greater heights. However, this competition is not just about winning or losing. It is about identifying and adopting more effective teaching methods, and giving the winners the chance the share knowledge and experiences with their counterparts around the world.”

What participants have to say…

Two teachers, who are participating in the 2011 Innovative Teachers & Students National Competition, talked of how their involvement has helped them to be more innovative in the way they use ICT for education.

Mr. K. V.D Erosh Buddhika, a teacher from the Bandanagoda Primary School/Western Province says, “My first teaching appointment was in 2011, so this is my first time in this competition. This is an excellent opportunity for teachers whichever their subject maybe, to sharpen their knowledge and be up to date. As I am a mathematics teacher, I submitted two projects in mathematics, out of which my project for grades 1-8 were among the top 5 from the Western Province and I won second place for my project designed for grades 9-11. I was able to utilise the training I received at a workshop organized by the Ministry of Education in designing my projects. Through this competition, I was able to recognize the importance of breaking free of traditional teaching methods to embrace new and practical ones.”

Mr. Rasika Sampath Edirisinghe of Siddhartha Vidyalaya, Matara who first participated in the competition in 2008 says, “As a Mechanical Studies teacher, even though I had technical knowledge I didn’t really have a clear understanding of developing a project for this competition. However, I was able to win first place after submitting a design relevant to Mechanical Studies. I won in the national level competition in 2009 and also participated in the regional competition in Singapore in 2010. There, I was able to gain a lot of experience on how they use IT for teaching at schools. It was also an excellent opportunity for us to be able to see how they use technology to make teaching simple and to meet with other teachers and discuss different methods of instruction. I believe that competitions like these are extremely important for teachers like us who come from rural areas to gain technical knowledge and to move forward. I must also add that our teachers and students pay a lot more attention to this particular competition over all the others because it makes us feel very proud to represent our country at global forums such as this.”

Microsoft’s commitment

The Innovative Teachers & Students National Competition is conducted under the flagship Microsoft’s Partners In Learning initiative, which through its many programmes help educators and students across the world to connect, collaborate, create and share so that students can benefit from new teaching methods and new ways of learning. Under the guidance and patronage of the Ministry of Education and spearheaded by the EKSP project, Microsoft conducts impactful programmes that are aimed at bringing our education system on par with the rest of the world. This competition is one such initiative that has made a significant impact on the education space as it encourages the use of modern technology as a very effective tool to help expand the power of education and unlock the potential of Sri Lankan students, educators and schools.

The competition this year…

Over 88,000 teachers and students participated in this year’s national competition – a significant improvement from 2010’s 80,000 entries. The increase clearly shows the spread of ICT awareness and accessibility in the country. The highest numbers of entries have come from the Western, Southern and Central provinces while a substantial number of entrants came from the Uva, North, Sabaragamuwa, Eastern and North-Central provinces.

On a provincial level, the three schools with the highest number of entries will win Rs. 25,000, Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 15,000 respectively.

Paving the way for the future

The actual value of this programme extends well beyond the 88,000 entrants in the National Competition. This change in the competition format means that Sri Lankan schools’ IT standards have been taken to the next level, placing them on par with their global counterparts and enabling our teachers and students to compete in the global IT arena as equals with the rest of the world.

“This year’s entrants have shown remarkable talent and innovation in classroom, we are confident of having exceptional picks for the regional competition and believe that our teachers and students are more than ready to take on the rest of the world,” says Yashinka Jayasinghe Alles.

In addition, the impact of using ICT for education at this level would mean enabling educators to reach a wider audience. Hurtling the benefits of ICT into a widespread movement might one day give Sri Lanka the singular honour of being able to create the next Bill Gates, Jerry Yang, or Mark Zuckerberg, proving beyond a doubt that we are a nation who not only follows trends, but is actively involved in setting them. It is far reaching initiative such as the Innovative Teachers & Students National Competition that will pave the way for our talent to rise up and make a Sri Lankan mark on the global ICT hall of fame.