The world is changing and teachers must keep up with the times. They need to know, and give, what their clients want. WOO TAI KWAN picks up valuable pointers at a conference organised by Microsoft.
KUSAINI: We have to make schools smart.
IF YOU were in charge of advertising at Starbucks and asked to promote its latest blend of coffee, or the head of marketing at Levi’s and told to recapture the youth market, what would you do?
This was the question posed to teachers at an international conference recently.
But what has the world of designer coffee and jeans got to do with the “staid” world of teaching?
Plenty, the teachers were told – for there are lessons from the corporate world that can be transferred to and applied in schools.
The event that challenged teachers to rethink their stand on education and look to the boardroom for solutions to classroom-based problems was the Second Innovative Teachers’ Conference held in Seoul, Korea, last month.
Organised by Microsoft Corporation (Asia Pacific) under its Partners-in-Learning (PiL) programme, the four-day event was co-hosted by the Korea Education and Resource Information Service (Keris) and Korea’s Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development, and supported by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, Unesco and EBS.
About 150 teachers from 23 countries in the Asia Pacific region – including Taiwan, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Malaysia – attended the conference, which aimed to provide teachers with a global platform to showcase best practices with technology.
“It is important that we empower teachers to learn innovative teaching methods that can make a difference to how they teach our future generation,” said Korea’s Deputy Prime Minister, and Education and Human Resources Development Minister, Dr Kim Jin-Pyo, who delivered the welcome address.
What made the conference unique – and different from last year’s inaugural conference in Singapore – was the experiential learning approach that immersed teachers in worlds totally different from teaching.
In keeping with the theme Changing Contexts: An Experiential Laboratory, the participants – pushed to look for new ideas in diverse worlds such as advertising (Starbucks), media (EBS), hospitality (W Hotel) and the arts (Sheraton Theatre) – sat in on “board meetings”, coffee-tasting sessions, and brainstorming sessions.
Besides the poster exhibition and talks, the conference participants were also taken on site visits to schools and the Korean University. Kang (centre) shares a happy moment with students of Topyeong High School in Seoul after one such visit. But the most popular “experiential laboratory” was probably the fashion show by Levi’s Engineered Jeans (LEJ).
After watching models take to the catwalk, the teachers were led on the journey taken by LEJ as it sought to make Levi’s “the jeans people wear”.
“It does not matter what you are selling,” said Levi Straus Korea Ltd marketing manager Kyung Ae Choe.
“To be successful, your product must be unique. It must appear new – even if is not.
“Then, there must be a fully-integrated support system.
“And, you must know your clients,” she added.
Teach less, listen more
This message was also echoed by keynote speaker at the plenary, and coordinator of the Unesco Chair in Education in Human Development at the Ayrton Senna Institute in Sao Paolo, Brazil, Prof Eduardo Chaves.
PROF CHAVES: Teachers must change together with the rest of the world.
“Teach less; watch and listen more,” said Prof Chaves.
“The world is changing, and teachers must change with the rest of the world.
Prof Chaves described the old era as having a “one-ness” – with people having just one country, neighbourhood, house, job and career – as opposed to the “many-ness” today, with the majority of people now having multiple homes, countries, languages, and even professions.
“Change is so rapid today; if you are not innovative, you will not be able to cope,” said Prof Chaves.
“Teachers are not specialists anymore.
“If before, students were told to ‘check with your teacher’; today, they are more likely to be asked ‘have you checked it over the Internet?’
“Learning takes place anytime, anywhere and even anyhow,” he added.
According to Prof Chaves, using technology in the classroom meant little if it was not used innovatively.
“For instance, if you used to write on the board but now use PowerPoint to display information, then you have a new tool but the process remains the same.”
And while schools have creative people, they lack the culture of innovation which can only be nurtured by giving students the freedom to explore.
“Innovative people take risks, so for schools to be innovative, students must be given the freedom to experiment.
“Use technology to expand their horizons, break down the walls of the classroom, put them in contact with outside lives,” he added.
Need to rebrand
Six teachers represented Malaysia at the conference. All had been selected based on their benchmark practices with technology after attending a two-week course on integrating ICT into classroom instruction, under the PiL programme.
Noraini Mohamad Seleh, from SMK Datuk Haji Kamaruddin, Selangor, said: “I learnt so much about designing materials which I can use to help students learn without leaving the classroom.”
“It has been an eye-opening experience,” said Kang Seow Hung from SMK Pasir Panjang, Negeri Sembilan.
Five of the teachers – including Ho Chai Siong (SMK Chung Cheng, Sarawak), Rosetti Poh Yuen Yi (SMK Taman Molek, Johor Bharu) and Ahmad Radhafizal Che Kassim (SK Penaga, Penang) – had been trained by local training arm Prestariang Technology Sdn Bhd.
Sia Lay Boey from SJKC Taman Connaught, Kuala Lumpur, attended a technology programme by CSSM Sdn Bhd.
“I am proud to have been given this chance to come to Korea,” said Sia, after her project (see sidebar) bagged the prize for Malaysia.
Also present at the conference was delegation head and the Education Ministry's deputy director-general of education Datuk Kusaini Hasbullah.
Kusaini commended Microsoft for organising a “world-class” conference and urged teachers to use technology as a springboard for innovation.
“Actually, it’s about rebranding,” he said.
“The idea is to make schools shift from learning in traditional ways to learning through using ICT. Innovative teachers are those able to make this shift,” he said.
“I am proud to see that our teachers are as capable as those from other countries,” he added.
The road ahead
The road to technology adoption is a difficult one. Our nationwide technology adoption initiative – the Malaysian Smart School Project – is testimony to this.
The conference offered interesting pointers.
For one thing, the merit of learning with technology was clearly highlighted by the teachers’ showcases. The exhibits ranged from simple electronic presentations to high-tech uses of mobile phones and wireless technology.
Students in Korea, Taiwan and Singapore are already using tablet PCs, PDAs, cell phones, digital cameras and other forms of “instant” technology that requires neither walls nor buildings.
In this sense, construction of computer labs need no longer be the main thrust of a technology initiative as that might be missing the wood for the trees.
Khusaini put it succinctly when he said, “We have no time to wait for smart schools. We have to ‘smarten schools up’ – make existing schools smart.”
The conference also showed the value of giving teachers a platform to share ideas.
“We must remember that most teachers today are digital immigrants,” said Prof Chaves. “They may have migrated into the digital world, but still speak digital with an accent. They use technology in conservative ways and need support.”
As this goes, the PiL programme is to be lauded as it has benefited over 225,000 teachers and 3.8 million students in the Asia Pacific region since its launch in 2003.
According to Microsoft Asia Pacific's regional managing director of public sector Peter Moore, Microsoft will be investing US$250mil (RM950mil) in the PiL programme over the next five years. An Innovative Teachers’ Network will soon be set up, with Malaysia a focus area in the first phase.
But perhaps the strongest message from the conference was simply this – to remain relevant, teachers need to know, and give, what clients want. This is itself a paradigm shift.
The question is, “Are our teachers ready for this?”
Gems from the conference room...
“It’s good to give technology a shot, it’s good to be innovative... but you must have lots of passion to even want to try.”
- Cecillia Estoque, the Philippines
“They’ve done a fantastic job, bringing so many people together. And the poster exhibits are... well... fantastic.”
- Karin Beijer, Sweden
“Stop saying you have no resources. That is no excuse. If you are innovative, you can find the resources.”
- Arti Sharma, India
“The whole conference is very well organised – it’s really nice to see them, you know, for once... giving teachers so much respect and recognition.”
- Edna Yaffe, Israel
“I learnt what teachers should, and should not, do with technology. ICT should empower students to control learning.”
- Tran Duc Huyen, Vietnam
“Our students belong to the Net generation. If they want to learn with technology, we have to master technology. And the only way to master technology is to use technology. It’s like doing maths.”
- Dao Nguyen, Vietnam.