Putting the “i” into Singapore Schooling

With top rankings in PISA and TIMMS, Singapore is the envy of many schooling systems around the world. Whilst ICT is just one of a range of factors that affect learning outcomes, it is a key tool for meeting at least two of the four key desired outcomes of the Singapore schooling system – for all students to become self-directed and collaborative learners.

Singapore was one of the first countries in the world to have a national strategy for ICT in Schools. A succession of well-planned, funded and executed programmes focussing initially on infrastructure and training, and more recently focussing on self-directed learning – has driven effective use of ICT. For details of Singapore’s main ICT projects, see http://wp.me/P16Iyp-46

A great showcase for the effectiveness of this investment is Crescent Girls’ School, a member of the “Future School” programme, and recently awarded the status of Mentor School by Microsoft. Crescent also hosted the CRADLE conference on 1st – 3rd August.

On the surface, Crescent could be any other Secondary School, but a quick glance at the trophy cabinet next to the reception makes it clear that this school is totally committed to high performance. Crescent’s aim is to be at the forefront of harnessing technology to enhance learning outcomes. ICT is used extensively in both delivery and assessment and the school’s 1300 students each have their own Tablet PC. The goal of using ICT is to give students a degree of choice over what they learn and how they learn.

The students engage in a wide range of activities including 2D, 3D animation and robotics; multimedia production; photo-shooting and editing; and development and use of e-books. Particularly impressive is the use of Tablet PCs’ “inking” features for a range of activities including highly impressive manga artwork.

Crescent is moving towards project based learning with a series of “Integrated Secondary Curricula” programmes.

Virtual Reality is used at the school too. For example, in Geography, students experience immersive content showing erosion in a river – a concept that is much easier to grasp when viewing 3d animated rocks being swept along by the current from the perspective of the river bed.

Particularly impressive at Crescent is the way that teachers engage in the content creation process. For example, a complete suite of applications and content have been developed for the Tablet PC that not only exploits the pen and inking technologies but also address a range of different learning styles.

Taking this process further, teachers specified collaborative games to take advantage of the MultiTouch features in Windows 7 and HueLabs’ “Heumi” multitouch (Surface) devices. This means that students can now engage in a wide range of collaborative learning experiences, such as learning to write Chinese. As impressive as the technology itself is the way in which the room in which the Heumi devices are deployed. Here, in the “iCove”, strong colour coding of the devices and the seating, enable teachers to group learners according to their learning objectives.

More recently the school has introduced a biometric system that not only automatically records the students as present but takes their temperatures as they come into the school in the morning, enabling their health to be monitored.

The infrastructure that sits behind Crescent’s ICT provision is highly impressive. The infrastructure foundation is a Campus-wide wireless network with 100 Mbps Broadband. Tablet PCs are stored in steel lockers, and batteries are charged at charging stations.

Approximately 30 on-premises servers perform a range of essential back-end functions from authentication to content management. The Server infrastructure – based on a Microsoft platform – supports a rich tapestry of capabilities including:

  • i-Connect Learning Space – a role based portal for organising student’s learning and activities
  • Pearson’s Write to Learn – a system that helps “automate” the marking of essays
  • HeuX – Huelabs Classroom Management System – with lesson management, digital book library, real-time Communication and Collaboration include notes-sharing and social media; screen monitoring and broadcasting; Presence awareness; attendance; Video Conferencing
  • i-Media – content management system.
  • Interactive books

These solutions are supported by Windows Server; SQL Server; Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server; System Center; Live Communications Manager; Hyper-V and Live@Edu. Much of the learning that takes place at Crescent happens after school hours, and the Virtual Private Network enables students to have 24×7 access. It’s not uncommon to see the portal being used by students at home at 2.00AM.

Singapore schools benefit from very high quality teachers (only 10% of applicants get admitted into teacher training). This is reflected in the staff at Crescent. Principal, Mrs Eugenia Lim, supported by Chief Technology Architect for Learning, Mr Lee Boon Keng, have a highly structured and team orientated approach, underpinned by a strong focus on continuous professional development.

Every hour, the chimes of Big Ben ring across the school signifying a change of lesson. As with Cornwallis School in Kent in the UK, I was totally inspired by what I saw at Crescent but couldn’t help wondering whether a shift from time-based to a performance-based model would better fit such a technology rich approach to learning. Nonetheless, Crescent’s use of ICT is without doubt world leading.

Whilst Crescent Girls’ School is clearly a leader amongst leaders, it’s far from unique in Singapore in the way in which it innovates with technology. Singapore schools benefit from long term, consistent policy and investment in ICT in schooling. With their structured approaches, strong management and deep understanding of how ICT can make learning more effective, Singapore schools look set to continue to show the world how it’s done.

Fortunately for us all, Crescent Girls’ School are “giving back” by encouraging people to visit the school – both physically and virtually.

Thanks to Eugenia Lim, Lee Boon Keng and all the staff and students at Crescent Girl’s School.

Spotlight on Jordan

According to Michael Trucano from the World Bank, Jordan is one of a handful of countries to watch. “Efforts have been made in numerous countries to replicate and adapt the model behind the innovative public-private partnership driving the forward-looking Jordan Education Initiative, perhaps the highest profile initiative of its kind among developing countries – and one of the better evaluated ones”.

Not surprising then to see the Jordan Education Initiative winning a UNSECO prize for excellence in the use of ICT in education in 2009.

But what exactly is the Jordan Education Initiative and what can we learn from it?

The Jordan Education Initiative (JEI) is one of several education initiatives run by the World Economic Forum, others being the Egyptian Palestinian and Rajasthan Education initiatives.

The Queen Rania Education Technology Centre from which the JEI is run

The JEI has the following objectives:

  • Improve the development and delivery of education to Jordan’s citizens through public-private partnerships
  • Help the government of Jordan achieve its vision for education as a catalyst for social and economic development
  • Accelerate of educational reforms in developing countries by unleashing the innovation of teachers and students through the effective use of ICT
  • Build the capacity of the local information technology industry in partnership with world class firms
  • Build a model of reform that can be exported to and replicated in other countries.

The JEI has 17 global corporations, 17 Jordanian entities, and 11 governmental and non-governmental organizations all working together to achieve these objectives, in partnership with the Government of Jordan. Commercial partners include Micrsoft, Intel, Cisco, HP, TribaliEARN and World Links.  

This PPP enabled JEI to improve learning for 80,000 students, via 3200 teachers in 100 “Discovery Schools”. Each Discovery School is fully networked; Internet connected and has access to computer labs and online content.

Jordan participated in PISA for the first time in 2006, and found that scores for Maths, Science and Reading were higher in the “Discovery Schools”.  Whilst these differences could potentially be caused by other factors, it’s reasonable to conclude that the initiative is having an overall positive effect.   

JEI Organisation chart

Key learning from the JEI includes:

  • Never lose focus on education
  • Ensure the technology is scalable
  • PPP is the backbone with clear roles and responsibilities for each partner
  • Strong governance and organizational structure
  • Correct scale of program
  • Monitoring and impact assessment is critical
  • Communication and PR plays a role
  • Change management vs. training
  • Continuity

(The World Economic Forum)

McKinsey and Company published an analysis of the JEI in 2005, and concluded that effective global-local, public-private partnerships should have the following key elements:

  • Clear vision and objectives, powerfully articulated in appropriate forums
  • Attractive governmental, social and geo-strategic conditions
  • Motivated partners, whose interests are aligned with initiative, providing sufficient inputs
  • Programme activities that leverage appropriate partner competences
  • Well-supported coordinating mechanisms
  • Consistent monitoring and evaluation
  • Effective governance to set strategic direction and align partners.

(McKinsey & Company, 2005)

Further information:

Jordan Education Initiative homepage

Discovery Schools Network using Point to Point Protocol over Ethernet

Microsoft support for ”New Schools Attitude”

Brazil – Moving Towards World Class Education

 

I had never considered air conditioning such an important classroom technology until I visited Escola Municipal Engenheiro Gastão Rangel in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. The sweltering heat, sparseness of the facilities, 30 teachers between 1000 students and overcrowded classrooms make this a brutal and challenging environment to teach and learn in. Within these tough conditions, however, are clear signs of deep and meaningful progress.

 

On the stage of the small assembly hall of the school stands Rafael Parente – a rare example of an Education Technology visionary who can actually “walk the talk”. Rafael works as Deputy Chancellor in charge of strategic projects in Rio’s Municipal Department of Education, where he developed Educopedia – a portal for lessons and content. Educopedia has 32 digital lessons for each curriculum area – one lesson for each week of the year – and provides opportunities for teacher-lead and independent learning. The Rio MoE are now in the midst of acquiring 100k netbooks for students’ use, and projectors, speakers and Wi-Fi connections in more than 400 classrooms so that Educopedia’s lessons can be projected by teachers.

The first phase of the Educopedia project took place with a large group of pilot schools between September and December 2010, and the feedback was very positive. The task for Rafael now is to win over the teachers in all of Rio’s schools. This means visiting as many schools as he possibly can to directly persuade the teachers to use Educopedia in their lessons. As in most Brazilian public schools, air conditioning, electricity, security and connectivity are all high priorities, so Rafael’s task is far from easy.  

What’s happening in Rio is indicative of what is happening across Brazil. There are an increasing number of pockets of innovation across the country, fueled by a growing acceptance for the need to modernize, and sustained support for ICT from the Federal and State Governments.

Brazil’s schooling system has benefited from sustained Government education reform over the past 15 years. According to “Achieving World Class Education in Brazil”, published by the World Bank in December 2010, the 2009 PISA results show substantial progress in education in Brazil. For example, since 2000 students have effectively gained a full academic year of Maths mastery. A key contributory factor to this progress is the increased use of data. A comprehensive index of school performance called IDEB (Indice de Desenvolvimento da Educacao Basica) is now used across the country. With an IDEB score for all but the smallest of Brazil’s 175,000 primary and secondary schools, 5,000-plus municipal school systems, 26 state systems and the federal district systems – every single segment of the Brazilian education system can benchmark how well its students are learning and how efficiently its school or school system is performing. Few other large federal countries in the world have achieved this.

However, Brazil still trails the OECD PISA average so there are no grounds for complacency. In order to sustain progress, Brazil needs to modernize further still – and with 50m in education, modernizing Brazil’s schooling system represents one of the biggest education challenges on the planet.

Taking a direct and comprehensive approach to modernising Brazilian public schools is Planeta Educacao – the education arm of Vitae Futurekids. With 900 staff and headquarters in Sao Paulo, Planeta Educacao recognizes the interconnectedness of everything in schooling systems. Roberta Bento, Vice President, Planeta Educação is a passionate believer in Brazil’s public schools – “Our programmes comprise a series of effective actions that involve students, directors, technicians, teachers and parents, promoting real changes in education. Our goal is the improvement in the performance of the student”. To that end, Planeta Educacao supply a total and integrated set of schooling services – infrastructure, technology (including products such as Office for Kids), programs and learning systems.

Other challenges that Brazil face are extreme distances and difficult-to-reach towns and villages. However, the Roberto Marinho Foundation – partners in the Educopedia project – has educated more than five million young people through high quality courses delivered through a combination of the television network, excellent books and trained teachers. Through the Telecurso project teachers were able to use satellite technology to interact with classrooms in the Amazon Forest.

In Pernambuco – in the north-east of the country – a network of schools called Procentro initiated in 2001 by Marcos Magalhães, president of electronics firm, Philips do Brasil, is proving that Public Private Partnerships can work in Brazil. Procentro has an annual dropout rate of 2%, much lower than the 17%  average for Pernambuco’s regular state schools. Click here for details.  

To underline the growing importance of ICT in the Brazilian Schooling System, Brazil has developed its own version of BETT. This year, Interdidatica will attract approximately 15k people to its tradeshow and 2.5k paying customers to its forum.

This year the theme of Interdidatica is “Innovation” – totally appropriate in a country with a strong tradition of engineering and innovation, e.g. aerospace giant Embraer. According to the World Bank, literally thousands of creative new programs and policies are being tried out at this moment across Brazil by dynamic, results-oriented secretaries of education. Few other countries in the world have the scale, scope and creativity of policy action that can be seen today in Brazil.

An inspiring example of innovation is Nave in Rio – a new high tech high school built out of a PPP between a Oi Futuro Fnd the State Government of Rio, aiming to prepare young people for careers in digital, entertainment and creative industries.

   

Not surprisingly, Brazil has a growing Education Technology Industry and a spectrum of innovative companies serve a growing education market. Gestar, for example, a Sao Paulo firm who developed the concept of “SRM” – Student Relationship Management built on CRM.

Then there is Grupo Positivo, the tenth largest computer manufacturer in the world who focus on education. They produce education software; run education portals; provide teacher training and educational and technical support for partner schools. Positivo even has its own university near its headquarters in Curitiba.

A significant success story coming out of Brazil is CDI – the Centre for Digital Inclusion founded by Rodrigo Baggio.  Brazil’s first campaign for donated computers was founded by Baggio, who then opened the first “Information Technology and Citizens Rights School” (ITCRS) in Dona Marta, a slum area in Rio De Janeiro. From these beginnings CDI grew to provide access to ICT to 1.3 million people 13 countries.

Right at the heart of ICT innovation in Brazil and with a string of successful implementations is Microsoft Brazil’s Education team, lead by Emilio Munaro. Working with all the major players, and innovative customers such as Instituto Ayrton Senna, SENAC, SENAI, SESC, Anhanguera, FIA, USP, Porto Seguro, Colégio São Luis, Microsoft is pushing the boundaries of using technology for maximum effectiveness in education helping deliver increasingly personalized learning services.

A concern raised by the World Bank in Achieving World Class Education in Brazil is that education spending is outpacing results. Brazil spends more on education than Mexico, Chile, India and Indonesia, which have similar demographic profiles. This means that there is a lot of scope for increased effectiveness from spending, and ICT, of  course, can play a major role in this.

With the advent of Cloud computing, the prospect of providing anytime anywhere learning for all is becoming realistic. It’s now time to consider how massive, cheap, and highly available computing services can be combined with a range of access technologies and high quality learning content, to open up learning opportunities for those in Brazil who are in the greatest need of it. Proof that access to ICT works for the poorest in society comes from some of CDIs case studies. With the prospect of the 2016 Olympics and the World Cup going to Rio; the discovery of oil off the coast of Brazil; a booming economy; and determined and innovative people pushing hard; there is every reason to believe that the next decade will see Brazil make significant progress towards achieving world class education for all.

Spotlight on Russia

Russia has a long and proud tradition of World-class Maths, Science, Engineering and Computing education. So it’s not surprising that Russia was one of original innovators in implementing Computers and Computer Science into schools. “Computational Mathematics & Programming”, for example, was certified at national level as far back as 1961. For an interesting perspective on the development of the curriculum in a Russian school, click here.

Under the 1985 National Computer Literacy Program, Computer Science was included in the school curricula as a compulsory subject, alongside Mathematics, Physics and other Scientific disciplines. Schools were also supplied with computer facilities. The Computers for rural school initiative (2002-2003) ensured that each rural school in the country had a minimum of three computers in the building. Taking this to the next level, Intel partnered with Volnoe Delo to further provide access to technology across all regions in Russia.

The Internet for every school (2006-2008) program further improved access to Information Technology across all of Russia, and today every school in the country has access to ICT devices and the Internet. ICT literacy is also now compulsory in all teaching training courses. To support this the World Bank implemented their largest free-standing ICT/education project – the eLearning Support Project. This enabling 60,ooo teachers to be trained through 42 different training programs; 1100 distance learning courses; and digital learning resources made availalbe in 14 subjects.

Schools now make good use of a range of software including Microsoft, Adobe, and also “home grown” software from firms like ABBYY and 1C. As part of the Digital Education Resources Program (2008-2010), a number of free digital education resources are made available for students on a variety of school subjects.  

Leading the way in the use of ICT in Russia are a number of Innovative Schools. Given Russia’s track record in computer science, we can expect to see plenty of innovation coming out of the country in years to come.