Empower a teacher, and you empower tomorrow’s leaders

A news report from IT Web 

Johannesburg, 6 July 2011 – In today’s challenging classroom contexts, effective education hinges on the vigour and dedication of educators – not their qualifications or number of years spent teaching.

A sense of community – in their education streams and subject areas – is what spurs today’s educators to rise beyond the substantial hurdles presented in their workplace, and technology is providing a bridge to unlocking their potential, and that of their learners, levelling the playing field.

“Given the great need to empower South Africa’s 18 million children – nearly 40 percent of our population – today with the skills they need to enter a workforce characterised by fast-changing technology and skills advances,” says Reza Bardien, Education Lead at Microsoft South Africa, “corporations are increasingly involved in assisting governments achieve this survival task.”

To this end, Microsoft South Africa in partnership with the Department of Basic Education annually hosts a series of Innovative Teacher Forum (ITF) workshops for primary and secondary schools across the country. This culminates in an awards initiative that highlights the unique ways in which teachers and learners collaborate to bring classroom learning to life and into context with their immediate environments.

“By learning to employ modern-day technologies such as mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and desktop computers in their classroom projects, teachers rising to the ITF challenge not only enrich their own pedagogical skills, but they bring subjects to life and practical focus for their learners,” says Phil Mnisi, Director Curriculum Innovation and e-Learning at the National Department of Basic Education and forerunner of technology evangelism.

“The ITF awards each year challenge teachers to enter projects, which employ technology to explore real-world problems, which at the same time bearing relevance to their curriculum requirements.”

By participating in the types of projects these teachers run, learners are given the opportunity to develop critical thinking, collaboration, communication, research and problem solving skills.

The winners, announced last night during an awards ceremony at St Johns College in Johannesburg, are:

§ Louise Clarke and Kim Jackson of St Cyprians College in Cape Town for their class project “Tollbooth Movie Maker”;

§ Natalie Meerholz of Holy Rosary School in Edenvale for her class project “E-Waste Away”;

§ Lyneth Crighton of Brescia House in Bryanston for her class project “DigiGirlz puzzle IT out”;

§ Wessel Theron of Bishops Diocesan College in Cape Town for his class project “School of Rock”;

§ Ryan Galvin of St Nicholas Diocesan School in Pietermaritzburg for his class project “R and J in R and B”.

The five winners will go on to participate in the Middle East Africa Innovative Education Forum in September, with winners of this event afforded the unforgettable opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. in November for the Worldwide awards and a rare networking opportunity with teachers from around the globe. They each also receive a Netbook from Dell.

Dalene Thuynsma, a teacher at Carpe Diem School in George, wins a Sangari portable interactive whiteboard and response system in recognition of the innovative work she is doing in the challenging context of working with special needs learners in an under-resourced school.

“This year is the 6th annual Microsoft Innovative Teacher Forum being held in South Africa,” says Bardien. “In the past, South African and Lesotho teachers have been enormously successful in their participation at the regional and worldwide events and we have had a global award winner each year since the inception of the awards.”

The teachers that have participated regionally and globally have returned to South Africa and each year they run Innovation Workshops in order to share their skills and experiences with other teachers to encourage participation in this Forum.

“The judges were really impressed by the depth of the projects this year, and with the creative and exciting ideas that our teachers have come up with,” adds Bardien.

This year’s local finalists mirrored a renewed focus worldwide on providing learners with a well-rounded education, and entries ranged from computer-aided cover design, creative cinematography, podcasting and Wikipedia entries, to environmental activism and fundraising, responsible e-waste disposal, online learning resource creation and importantly, social entrepreneurship. All finalists receive an Encyclopedia Britannica and digital curriculum content from Learnthings.

“The Department, partnering with Microsoft and SchoolNet SA, annually trains thousands of teachers in the basic integration of ICT in teaching. In fact, since the beginning of the year, 14,000 teachers have been trained,” says Mnisi.

“This does not mean that all trained teachers go on to use this technology in their daily teaching to become what we call innovative teachers. Less than a thousand of these educators enter into the ITF awards following their training. We have to ask ourselves the question: are we providing them with enough support after training?”

ITF information and background can be accessed on www.microsoft.com/presspass/events/wwteachersforum.


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