When I traveled to Singapore the other month and I had the chance to visit Nan Chiau Primary School and join the school’s celebration for the launch of My Cloud. My Cloud is a project in partnership with Microsoft Research in Beijing where Nan Chiau is providing access to Chinese-based learning environments for Chinese character, as well as Chinese reading for students on the Web.
Using Microsoft Silverlight and technology from Microsoft Research in Beijing, Nan Chiau is rolling out a tool to help parents and help students learn the Chinese language and its context in greater depth. In many ways, Chinese is a dying language in Singapore. While Malay is the national language, and many people speak Mandarin Chinese and Tamil…the majority speak English, and in society all the signs are written in English. It’s interesting to hear everyone in Singapore speak perfectly fluent English with no accent…and now Chinese is the hard language to learn.
Nan Chiau is a school with tremendous leadership and vision for both ICT's technology and the potential. The school has enthusiastic and committed teachers. The school recently received recognition as a Microsoft Innovative Mentor School. Nan Chiau Primary School’s vision is for every student to be a responsible and useful citizen.
Established in March 1947, the school strives to progress with the times, continuously undergoing self-renewal in line with the needs of the nation and making positive contributions to the educational development of Singapore. The staff has received several awards in education since 2008 as they strive to help provide an environment that is conducive to helping each student reach his or her full potential. Nan Chiau Primary School offers many special programmes which focus on not only the social and cultural development of the students, but on strengthening their academic capabilities as well.
I am really excited about the Imagine Cup 2011 competition…not only because the worldwide finals will be held in my hometown of New York City…but because we are launching a new program called Imagine Cup Solve This to provide students with a marketplace of real-world problems that global inter-governmental organizations (IGOs), non-government organizations (NGOs) and non-profit organizations need help solving. Students will be able to search through a library of problems to find project ideas that will inspire them to create solutions that matter to them most.
The initial set of organizations who have submitted problems include NetHope, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations Programme on Youth (UNPY), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Robin Hood Foundation.
By providing students with real problems to solve in areas such as disaster relief, literacy, education, environmental sustainability and global healthcare…we hope to create a unique learning scenario. We have seen interest and excitement increase when students see how their work can make a difference in the world. Students who want to compete don’t have to choose a project from this list, the only real requirement Imagine Cup projects must adhere to is to create technology that helps solve the world’s toughest problems.
As I’ve blogged about many times before, there is tremendous potential with programs like Imagine Cup to help students not only make a difference, but get real-world experience and build marketable skills that can help them get a job and sustain a career. It's not just about programming in C++ or Visual Studio. Participating in Imagine Cup builds some very fundamental core skills that I think students will take away from the contest, regardless of the technology back-end…skills such as learning how to build a business, develop a marketing plan, and how to better collaborate and work on a team-based project.
Kids typically get excited about technology as a social tool or gaming tool, but I think we need to do a better job of actually exposing kids to the power of technology…to get them interested in technology as an entry point to become an entrepreneur so they can form career options and choices down the road. Imagine Cup is a great platform for exposing the possibilities of the future to students in high school and college. I think it inspires and motivates students…and shows our faith in students to deliver big ideas for the world.
Sharing my blog post on accessibility published today on the Microsoft On The Issues blog here...
Thirty-five years ago this week, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was signed into law, and the U.S. government committed to “ensuring that children with disabilities have opportunities to develop their talents, share their gifts and contribute to their communities.” For more than 20 years, Microsoft has focused on making computers easier to use for individuals disabilities. During that time, we’ve seen many students with disabilities integrated into general classrooms and technology has become an essential part of learning for students of all abilities. Today, educators are trying new ways of integrating technology into the classroom and looking for ways to help students of all learning styles and abilities. Microsoft’s education mission is to help students and educators throughout the world realize their full potential. We recognize that nearly every classroom has a student who has difficulty seeing the board, concentrating on their homework, or expressing their ideas. Those are some of the reasons that Microsoft builds accessibility features into our products, ensuring that all students have access to the best learning available and that can be enhanced through technology. I have long believed in the power of technology to make a profound impact in education and I’ve been fortunate enough to see some amazing examples around the world where teachers are truly making magic happen for their students. The examples that often most standout and illustrate the transformative potential of technology are those that use accessibility technology integration to empower and enrich the world of students that otherwise might have had an extremely difficult time communicating, collaborating or socializing with their peers. Early in my career at Microsoft I supported work in hospitals and schools and saw the potential of this work first hand and it has long fueled my passion and recognition of this importance of this work. All students benefit from being able to personalize the PC to suit their own learning styles and special needs. And, all students want to fit in and use the same technology their peers use. Today’s PCs have accessibility features built in that enable students to use technology to enhance their learning but still fit in with their peers. At Microsoft we published Accessibility: A Guide for Educators, which explains how students with disabilities can adjust the PC to enhance or enable learning. For those new to accessibility and working with a student with a disability, it can seem overwhelming. The guide explains types of disabilities and shows how to use the accessibility features in Microsoft Windows or how to find the right specialty assistive technology for a student with special needs. Consider a student who has a great story idea but struggles to type – that student can tell their short story and have it captured in text using Speech Recognition. Or, a student who struggles to see their PC can magnify the screen with Magnifier or zoom in on a Web page when working on a research project. I’m inspired when I see educators throughout the world using technology in innovative ways to enhance learning for students with disabilities. For example, a school in Thailand for students who are deaf is using a technology called Mouse Mischief, which lets the teacher share files with a group of students who each have their own personalized computing account. The students can interact with the presentation the teacher is showing, share files with one another, and collaborate in a whole new way. We are also seeing students with learning impairments and dyslexia who have found that OneNote helps them stay organized, take audio and text notes and check their spelling and grammar. At Microsoft we understand our role and responsibility in helping ensure students of all abilities have equal access to learning. Too few people know how to use the accessibility features on their Windows PCs. In the spirit of the anniversary of the IDEA, I encourage you to help a student or educator you know by sharing information about accessibility. After all, every classroom has students of different abilities who can benefit from personalizing their PC to making it easier to see, hear, and learn.