When I was in Cape Town, South Africa for the Worldwide Innovation Education Forum (IEF), I had the opportunity, along with the other 550 teachers and education leaders who participated in the event, to visit two South African schools and to hear about the challenges and successes of the education system there. We got to visit two very different examples of schools…one private school and one well-resourced government schools.
St Cyprian’s School is an Anglican school founded in 1871 and widely recognized as Cape Town’s leading independent girls’ school. It is a very modern facility that serves 805 learners ranging in age from 3-years old to 18-years old, as well as about 80 students who stay in the boarding quarters. The school is a founding member of Round Square Conference of Schools, a prestigious association of 80 international schools which provide students with exceptional opportunities for personal development, leadership and internationalism.
This Catholic school is sort of idyllic. They have many different buildings of newer construction, computer labs…and even a telescope on campus. St Cyprian’s School has a strong emphasis on community partnerships and outreach, as well as a long tradition of teaching for life and students are encouraged and empowered to make a different. This year, St Cyprian School has been selected to become one of our Pathfinder Schools as part of Microsoft’s Innovative Schools Program.
We kicked off our Shout partnership at St Cyprian’s with a tree banding ceremony to learn more about deforestation. We replicated the tree band exercise at Hout Bay High School where the conditions are completely opposite. Hout Bay was built in the apartheid era and was designed to accommodate 250 students, but currently there are 462 students enrolled. There are 15 teachers, 2 groundskeepers and an administrator at the school. Hout Bay serves a disadvantaged community and the school facilities are limited. There is one computer lab primarily used for teaching computer literacy with little ICT integration taking place.
The headmaster at Hout Bay High School has a very positive outlook and tries to instill a cult of hope and enthusiasm at the school. They have an extramural environmental group focused on trying to reduce electricity consumption at the school in addition to helping other environmental issues in the community. They are also working to raise more funding to purchase more computers to provide sufficient access for students and teachers to use in their lessons.
The reality…both schools are amazing. Great people, great students, and great excitement about their education…but they definitely show and prove that it goes back to some core basics in that regardless of the way a school looks like on the outside, it's the inside that matters. It's the people…it's the great committed teachers and students that make the difference.
The other reality is that regardless of how much physical infrastructure that the schools had, and we saw tremendous facilities and computer labs in one, and a school that didn't have a tremendous lab, but could make great things happen. The educators and the dynamic that goes on in the classroom make the core connection to learning.
I definitely speak for myself, but I think the people who visited both schools from the IEF event related more to Hout Bay High School and appreciated the visit because it represented much more of a realistic environment for a lot of these teachers and the realities they face every day. We all have to overcome obstacles, think through how to do more with less, and how to really make a meaningful difference for the students. It was a school that I felt more comfortable in. I felt like it's a place that I understand, that I get what the educators are trying to do.
It’s been just about a year since I first visited Japan (see earlier blog post here). What intrigues me about Japan is that the country has a very technology rich society, but the school systems are technology resistant, especially at the K-12 level. I would put Russia and France in the same category.
These three countries at many points of their history have had very good educational models, but also countrywide educational models that are much more consistent. As a comparison, while schools in the U.S. may physically look the same, there are a lot of things different from school to school, state to state…but Japan, Russia and France have had very consistent models. I think they're all somewhat in the same place, and for a large period of the last 20 years, they have been somewhat resistant or skeptical on technology's role in school…and frankly because of that reason they've fallen behind with regards to technology usage in most cases.
Russia was actually one of the countries that brought computers into schools, and to math and science classes earliest, but because of a lot of changes, including the Cold War, and the economy, that started to decline. I think all three countries are starting to really see the role of technology more aggressively in education, and in all three of those countries technology is a part of everyone else's daily life, and kids and families are using computers and cell phones, etc…but the education systems have been less open to change.
Even in one year since I last visited…I see much more of an open attitude in Japan. The curiosity I felt last year with regards to looking at other school models around the world is still holds true…schools and the leaders I talk to in Japan are definitely looking at best practices on a global basis, the higher ed systems are listening to and valuing the connection with groups like EDUCAUSE, they're looking at other school models and university models beyond just the elites to community college setups, and also thinking about how we can create online learning environments eventually and more.
And where technology has been most resistant to change in the K-12 system, the “School New Deal Plan” in Japan started out last year buying a laptop for every teacher, and that's had a lot of the desired output the country has been looking for. Teachers have done more exploration around technology's role, and it's provided more pressure on school officials to think about how technology can be transformational for their kids. Students are also getting excited about the way in which their classrooms are starting to change.
After visiting Kyoto University, Keio University and Ritsumeikan Primary School, I'm excited about the potential in Japan. Although technology adoption in schools and the classroom may be happening here more slowly…I think in many ways Japan will be best enabled to deliver the innovations of tomorrow, because they'll be able to fuse all the greatest ideas with some of the newer realities. They will almost have a fresher perspective and hopefully be able to use the lessons of the past to avoid making the same mistakes.
One of the other things I had a chance to do when I was in Japan was to spend some time with our partners in Japan. Of course, I was excited to see the enthusiasm of the adoption of Microsoft platform technologies, but also encouraged to see how Japan is starting to think about how the cloud can enable solutions for their students and teachers. The cloud conversations were met with significant enthusiasm but also some skepticism of practicality of security and safety…all the product requirements we've been working very closely to optimize for. I also see the potential of Microsoft CRM solutions and Microsoft SharePoint Server making an impact and becoming very much a part of the way in which the partners are thinking about building solutions for schools.
Picture from Kyoto University website:
Picture from Keio University website:
Picture of Ritsumeikan Primary School from school website:
If you haven’t already checked out the new Internet Explorer 9 beta…first off, I encourage you to go to http://www.beautyoftheweb.com/ to explore the potential for the new web browser.
I've often talked about the potential for technology in reading, and we've seen the potential for digital reading on devices like the iPad and Kindle, and even software tools for the PC like Blio. These are great examples of creating convenient and automated views of digital reading, rich pictures, note-taking, etc…but in many ways both the presentation of the information and the experience is not transformational. It provides an online or a technology-based translation of an analog form.
I believe this a great trend and certainly long overdue, but in many ways it's not the future of digital reading. I think the future of digital reading will be much more reflective on the identity of the person reading. It will be much more multimodal in terms of it will include input from others, ability to aggregate a whole host of information sources, as well as authorship, provide experiential and learning activities…and it will learn as you go in terms of it will take feedback and modify text, etc..
Increasingly, reading environments won't be delivered in static electronic book forms, but online experiences that really take advantage of the Web. We're starting to see some of this trend with the IE9 beta, which demonstrates the potential for HTML5 to really create new and innovative Web experiences. One of the things about IE9 is that it creates the ability to run websites and experiences that you visit in an app-like form…so you don't feel like you're in a Web page, you feel like you're in an application.
I think the Associated Press website on IE9 with HTML5 is the coolest of the sites. You can check out their AP News Lab “Timeline Reader” here and see the screen shot on the right. It’s a good example of making content come alive with a very rich navigation experience, multimode coming in, and the ability to drill down and get visualization experiences. Scientific American has built a really good interactive learning environment on the human brain. Another great example is Naver, which is a digital news archive (picture bottom left) for a number of different newspapers in Korea…it is interesting to navigate and select different stories from different papers to put in a scrapbook to read later…all powerful examples of the potential of HTML5.
I think HTML5 represents the future of the way in which publishers will build cross-platform devices, so as opposed to building content or books specific for one device…it also puts the future of the Web back into view. There has been lots of discussion around whether the Web is dead. The answer is I think far from it. The Web is evolving to become much broader and with the ability to create much more rich experiences. So, as opposed to writing applications for specific platforms, folks can use standard HTML5 based tools to build experiences that will run on other browsers.
I'm excited about what the future holds…and if these examples are indication of what's to come, it will become a huge platform for publishers, content providers, and companies to build quality and engaging education experiences that will support a range of technology devices.
What do you think?
I am excited to see what the new year brings to Mendez High School in East Los Angeles. We recently adopted the Engineering & Technology and Math & Science schools on the campus and gave them over $1 million to buy new software and hardware to provide them with the means to create a replicable model for STEM learning. It’s not just a technology donation, Microsoft is partnering with school leaders to provide leadership training and training for the teachers to help them better integrate technology into their classroom instruction and lesson plans.
Mendez is one of 21 schools that are part of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools that was started by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to improve education in the district by turning around the city’s lowest performing schools. In addition to training teachers and staff, Microsoft will also be coaching and mentoring the students at Mendez…not only showing them technology, but also offering opportunities focused on career awareness to help prepare the youth for the competitive Los Angeles and U.S. job market.
When we announced this news, it was great to see the enthusiasm of kids. It just underscores the potential that technology can have to transform and provide a launching path for exploration of careers, as well as exploration of how to use the tools to solve some of the world's toughest challenges. I personally love days like this, because I not only get a chance to see and hear from teachers and see schools directly…but I get a chance to really connect with kids who are excited about their future, and are thinking about ways in which they can not only create a better world for their families and themselves, but also impact society.
It’s great to see kids thinking about the future. Every conversation I had with the students, I asked them what they wanted to do to make a living, where they were planning on going to college, etc. A lot of times you get students who don't have good answers to those questions in high school, and a lot of these kids didn't yet, but the ones that did, I feel like we've got to share their examples with others to say start thinking earlier…start thinking about not only where you want to go to college but how you can connect the quality of your education to the future jobs that are available to you. I had a conversation with one student who was interested in forensic medicine, and she's not interested in forensic medicine because of TV shows like CSI…she wants to help use that science to cure diseases. It is inspiring to see kids who are really thinking about some of these tough issues, and thinking about the world beyond themselves.
The technology here at Mendez, just like in every school, is just part of the solution. So, we're providing a foundation, but it really goes beyond that. Microsoft's hope with Mendez is to incubate innovation and take these examples to help advance the way in which schools think about technology…and the way in which we think about the expectations we set for students. I left the school with a challenge to start an Imagine Cup team.
This is just the first step for Mendez and part of a larger momentum LA has to reform schools. We've seen some great results from the Mayor's innovative schools, and the work that the new LA leadership is thinking about with regards to school reform and technology's usage there. We're excited about the ongoing partnership in LA, and the potential for the future of the students.