Parambir Singh Kathait uses technology in his classroom in Uttarkhand, India. (Published Nov. 3, 2008).
HONG KONG — Nov. 3, 2008 — In the heart of India’s mountainous state of Uttarkhand, Parambir Singh Kathait has spent a decade teaching English and social studies to students in government-funded schools. Because his school’s computer lab had only four computers, Kathait struggled to demonstrate projects on the computers while stll giving students their own time on the machines. Three years ago, Kathait underwent a comprehensive IT training program that redefined his understanding of teaching with technology. The training program, called Project Shiksha, is a Microsoft initiative that has helped 200,000 Indian government school teachers become computer literate over the past five years. Says Kathait: “It was a turning point in my teaching career.
“Because of by Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program, I learned the skills I need to create projects my students can use to boost their learning, and that other teachers in the school can use to improve classroom teaching,” Kathait adds. “Using audiovisual projects and digital material has really helped me connect to my students, and it has encouraged their creative thinking.”
This week, more than 250 teachers, school administrators and education policymakers from 64 countries have gathered in Hong Kong for the fourth annual Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum (ITF), a global event hosted by Microsoft. The four-day event promotes the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) in education. It also brings together teaching professionals such as Kathait to share ideas with their peers.
The event, part of the global Partners in Learning program, recognizes innovative teachers who practice 21st-century learning in their classrooms. It also features discussions about how technology can address some of the challenges faced by educators. Since 2002, the Innovative Teachers Program has connected a global community of educators who share a common interest in using technology to enhance teaching and learning.
Partners in Learning increases technology access for schools, fosters innovative approaches to teaching, encourages professional development for teachers, and provides teachers with tools they can use to lead change in the classroom. Partners in Learning supports the goals of Unlimited Potential, Microsoft’s long-term commitment to provide relevant, accessible and affordable technology and training to help create sustained social and economic opportunity worldwide. Since its inception in 2003, Partners in Learning has reached more than 123 million teachers and students in 103 countries.
Says Ralph Young, vice president of the Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft: “The Innovative Teachers Forum brings together a global community of educators who are united in their commitment to create exciting new learning environments. By renewing its commitment to facilitate dialogues among educators across the globe, Microsoft Partners in Learning will continue to introduce new; learning methods in classrooms and empower educators with tools to help students grow into informed participants in the 21st-century knowledge economy.”
Microsoft offers teachers a toolbox of programs and resources designed to stimulate advances in teaching and learning. Some of the programs focus on technology skills training and professional development. Others promote the use of technology to build leadership and foster teaching methods that encourage critical thinking and independent inquiry among students. A team of 90 academic program managers around the world work with local education leaders to customize the Partners in Learning programs to meet local needs, provide Microsoft resources to integrate technology into the learning process, and design research to measure outcomes.
Adds Bee Yann Lee, principal of St. Andrew’s Junior College in Singapore and member of the Partners in Learning Advisory Board: “Partners in Learning has been instrumental in helping students learn more effectively. It provides resources and training that complement classroom technology, and facilitates global and local collaboration among educators. Partners in Learning has successfully propelled creative thinking about sustainable change in educational systems around the world.”
Lee is the former principal of the Crescent Girls’ School in Singapore, a Microsoft Mentor School and a pilot in the FutureSchools@Singapore program, where more than 95 percent of students have their own Tablet PC with specialized applications and digitized textbooks that replace traditional hardcover books.
Similar success stories abound. Technology is increasingly being used by teachers to eliminate the boundaries of where and when learning happens, while building a safe environment where learners develop as creative and critical thinkers.
Andrew Douch, a biology teacher at the Wanganui Park Secondary College in Victoria, Australia, and the ICT Innovations Leader of the college, uses podcasting and other Web 2.0 tools to communicate with his class. Students download weekly teacher podcasts, create their own podcasts to explain the products of their research, discuss biology topics on a common Microsoft Office SharePoint Server discussion board, participate in online quizzes, and chat with one another and the teacher using MSN Messenger. By creating a virtual learning space, Douch has opened up his classroom to students from other biology classes at the school and as well as other schools in Australia and around the world.
“A virtual learning space removes barriers between groups and completely redefines the idea of a conventional classroom,” says Douch. “There are thousands of students across the world who tune in to the podcasts and respond by sending in e-mails with their own content for future podcasts. That helps them stay focused on learning. Since we launched this new approach, we’ve seen a 10 percent improvement in student achievement in school-leaving exams.”
Over the next five years, Partners in Learning will focus on three program areas that have the greatest potential to empower and transform education: Innovative Schools, Innovative Teachers and Innovative Students. Each program area will build upon the most effective Partners in Learning programs of the past five years, and will empower sharing of successful tools and processes among a worldwide community of educators.
“The Partners in Learning initiative recognizes the power of technology in education to change lives. During the next five-year phase the initiative will remain committed to empowering students and teachers around the world to reach their full potential,” says Young. “Microsoft has always believed that technology is a catalyst for transforming education, fostering local innovation, and enabling jobs and opportunities.”