REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 30, 2004 — When Miharu Soyama and Yukiko Asano arrived in the Seattle area in June for a week of training at the Puget Sound Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology, they represented the vanguard of a new approach to teacher training in Japan that promises to bring valuable information- and communication-technology (ICT) skills to thousands of teachers across that country in the next five years.
Soyama and Asano, professional technology instructors, will use the knowledge they acquired at the center to create project-based curriculum that will help teachers in elementary and secondary schools develop ICT skills and then train colleagues in their own schools.
The project is part of the Partners in Learning Grants Program, an initiative launched by Microsoft in 2003 to help students and teachers around the world gain access to essential computer and training resources. The program, five years in duration, includes more than US$250 million in cash grants from Microsoft to develop curriculum, promote skills assessment, provide technical support, and deliver research funds and resources. Today, programs are running in 67 countries.
“This is a global initiative, but it is being implemented based on the needs of each country’s education system,” says Greg Butler, Microsoft’s director of Worldwide K-12 Education Strategy. “In every country, we work with governments to find out how we can best partner with them, and then we create an advisory group to develop ideas for promoting training that are ideally suited to local conditions.”
To implement the Partners in Learning program in Japan, Microsoft worked with a consortium of leaders from schools and government, including the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). The consortium focused on creating a program to develop leadership skills for a core group of teachers who will then help colleagues identify ways to expand the use of technology in the classroom.
That led to the Teach the Teachers seminar at the Puget Sound Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology. A private, nonprofit technology training center in Bothell, Wash., the center has worked closely with Microsoft on several programs for teachers. During the seminar, teachers create technology-based projects they can utilize in their own classrooms. The seminar enables teachers to master the technology needed to implement the project, learn assessment strategies to measure the effectiveness of projects in the classroom, and develop the skills to foster the professional development of their colleagues.
Yuzo Takita, who manages the Partners in Learning program in Japan, says the program was created in response to an existing MEXT training program that hasn’t delivered the expected results. One of the Partners in Learning consortium members is Yasutaka Shimizu, president of MEXT’s National Institute of Multimedia Education. He thinks the MEXT program is too limited because it supports training for only a single teacher from each school.
“Dr. Shimizu has encouraged us to promote the power of collaboration among a number of technology leaders within a school, rather than just one,” Takita says. “His belief is that a single teacher working alone often doesn’t have the resources or time to deliver training to an entire school.”
Since returning to Japan, Soyama and Asano have worked with Takita to adapt and translate the Puget Sound Center curriculum. They started this month to work with the first group of 15 teachers in Japan. During the training, teachers will develop technology-rich education projects that they can use in their own schools. Takita plans to train at least 100 teachers during the coming year. He also has launched “Innovative Teachers,” a Web site through which teachers who attend the training program can communicate with one another and post projects that they have created.
Takita says there is a great deal of excitement about the project-based learning approach offered through Japan’s Partners in Learning program.
“This training course is our challenge to the Japan education system,” he says. “We strongly believe that it can foster teacher-leaders much faster than the current MEXT program.”