In September last year I entered a competition run by the Independent Eduacation magazine, by writing an article about how ICT is implemented at our school and how it has impacted on learning. I was very fortunate to win the competition!
My competition prize was a trip to BETT 2010 in London. The show ran from 13 – 16 Jan and my visit to London was from 11 – 18 January.
I was part of a delegation from all over the world and we were accommodated in a hotel for 5 days and were escorted around London during our stay. Other than attending the BETT show, we also visited a school to see ICT in practice. A highlight was definitely attending the BETT Awards Dinner at the Hilton, Park Lane – exciting stuff!
or simply click on the image below:
BETT 2010 – Experience of a Lifetime!
I had the privilege of a lifetime to attend BETT 2010, the biggest technology in education event in the world – and that is no lie!
I left South Africa on 11 January, travelling with Fiona de Villiers, editor of the Independent Education Magazine (ISASA Publications had sponsored my trip in conjunction with UK Trade & Investment). We arrived in a snowy, freezing London early on the morning of 12 January. After dropping my luggage at my hotel, I was immediately whisked away to visit a school in Westminster. (No rest for the wicked!) The Westminster Academy at the Naim Dangoor Centre is a business and enterprise school catering for 11 to 19 years olds – essentially Key Stage 3 to 6th Form. It is a new school in a new, award winning building which, even though it might not be to everyone’s taste, was certainly a talking point. What was very interesting is that the school is built in a huge rectangle with the classrooms all facing an internal atrium. All the classrooms had floor to ceiling high windows facing inwards. This was specifically done so that the teachers could stand on the landings or in the passages and have a clear view into all the classrooms, and so that the pupils would have no hidden areas in which they could get up to mischief. This is part of an initiative to alleviate and prevent bullying at the school. A wealthy Iraqi family donated £2 million to build the school and members of the family still serve on the school board, but the running of the school is funded by the state. We were shown the state of the art music rooms with the most amazing technology and equipment, we visited the impressive canteen which serves three course meals daily, as well as breakfast, and we were taken to their sports academy which has stunning gym facilities and a dance hall. We also sat in on a few lessons, one of which was a Maths lesson. It was immediately clear that technology is totally integrated into the daily running of this school. I have never seen so many computers in a school in my life! Many of the computers were Apple iMacs and interactive whiteboards or tablets were to be found in most of the classrooms. This school is in a low-income area of Westminster and 98% of the pupils who attend the school are of Middle Eastern origin and English is their second language. Up to 60% of the pupils were on the school-feeding scheme, which means that they are provided free meals at school. Despite their home circumstances, these children are receiving top-notch education. This was a truly amazing experience – I would have loved to visit another school just to see a contrast.
The next morning it was off to the BETT Show. WOW! At first I felt like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car! I had been warned that BETT was huge, but it was only once I was inside the exhibition venue, that I realised how huge it really was. The sheer size and numbers of visitors were a little overwhelming at first, but once I had sat down and looked at the map to get my bearings, I decided to use the first day to get a general overview and walk up and down the rows and rows of stands, and just take it all in. This didn’t really work too well, because I kept being held up at stands when I saw something interesting, so I don’t think I even made it around the whole Grand Hall on that first day! At the end of the day I was exhausted – I am sure I had walked miles and was suffering from information overload! I am certain that, even if you used every minute of the four days that the BETT show runs, it would not be possible to visit each exhibitor. In the three days I spent there, there were many stands that I missed out on!
As I was not at BETT as a buyer, specifically, I went back to my hotel and looked at the pamphlets I had collected on that first day and sorted out the information I wanted to keep and then I marked off any stands I wanted to visit again on my map. I then also decided to visit all the stands of the BETT Awards nominees, which were marked on the map with gold stars. This is what I ended up doing the next day and it proved to be a good tactic, since these stands were spread out all over the exhibition and I ended up seeing many of the various areas of the show, albeit briefly. Whenever I came upon something that interested me, I simply introduced myself to the exhibitors and asked them to demonstrate their product to me. This would often lead to lengthy conversations, especially since many people I met either had been to or were planning to visit South Africa, or they had friends or family who live here!
I was blown away by all the technology I saw. It is all about interactivity! The stands that promoted products such as interactive whiteboards, interactive tables, touch screen technology and personal response systems were really impressive. There were many similar products, but each one had its own merits and special features. It was all quite mind-boggling, but oh-so exciting and something I would like to see more of at our school. We do have interactive whiteboards, but more would be wonderful, especially at our Senior Primary campus. With most children being visual learners, surely this is the way forward?
I was also very interested in the companies offering clip banks and video libraries. The number of visual resources these companies make available to teachers is unbelievable! With the high cost of connectivity and bandwidth in South Africa, especially when downloading images and videos, it might be worth looking into accessing some of what these companies have to offer. What better way to liven up a boring lesson, than to be able to show a video clip or play a sound recording? Naturally, these services are not free, but from what I saw, it might be worth some investigation.
Something that I did not know was that every school in the UK and Wales has a learning platform or VLE (Virtual Learning Environment). These are web-based whole-school management systems incorporating all aspects of a school, such as administration, the curriculum with online access for the pupils, teacher areas, pupil areas and parent portals where parents can track their children’s progress by logging into the school’s VLE, from home. There were quite a few companies offering this software and it looked most impressive. Most of what I saw was, naturally, geared at the UK market, but the concept is excellent. Some South African independent schools have developed their own in-house school management systems in a similar vein, but I personally have not seen anything on this level, locally. These companies made it all look so seamless and professional. I know that such a school management system is of interest to Elkanah.
As mentioned earlier, I was co-hosted by UK Trade & Investment. They were fantastic! I was accommodated at the plush Kensington Hotel in Kensington South, London and was treated so well by everyone involved. I was part of a delegation of foreign visitors on an inward bound mission to BETT, and we were transported by coach to and from the show each day. They also arranged the school visit for us and accompanied us to the BETT Awards dinner. Simon, Barrie and the team from UK Trade & Investment treated us with warmth and friendliness and their organisation was superb. I felt like a celebrity!
Being part of a delegation, I met the most interesting people from Canada, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Slovenia, China, Malaysia, Spain, Colombia and more. It was a wonderful privilege for me. I was the only teacher – most of the delegates worked for the education departments of their respective countries, or for private companies, but many of them had teaching backgrounds. There were also some principals and even the owner of a school amongst the delegates. I learnt that a teacher is a teacher – regardless of where you are in the world. You face the same trials and tribulations, failures and successes. I was also made aware of how advanced some countries are – like the US and Britain. We, as South Africans, should not try to compare ourselves with them since it is impossible to measure ourselves against them, especially when it comes to technology and the resources they have made available to their teachers. We can, however, learn a lot from them and aspire to reach great heights. On the other hand, I met a wonderful young woman from Brazil and in listening to her, I realised that her country faces many of the same issues as we do in education as a whole in South Africa. That made me feel a whole lot better!
Another highlight was the BETT Awards Dinner at the Hilton Park Lane, which I attended. The dinner was like a mini Oscars ceremony – complete with comedian host and all! As guests of UK Trade & Investment, we attended a pre-dinner drinks party and then moved on into the venue where the Awards were being held. The tables were beautifully decorated and there was an air of glitz and glamour, since it was a black-tie affair. Each guest was also given a small gift at your seat. The meal, which preceded the actual awards, was a superb three-course dinner. I was also very pleased to find a bottle of South African wine, from the Western Cape, on the table! The awards were presented in true Oscars-style, with guest presenters reading out all the nominees per category and then announcing the winner. After the awards there was a disco and many of the guests partied on into the early hours of the morning! It was very interesting to see which companies won in each particular category, and who they were up against.
Other than a quick Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour of London, I did not get to see too much of the city, but I was treated to a trip in the countryside by host, Mike Carvalho of ISASA (Independent Schools Association of South Africa). Early on Saturday the 15th of January I travelled by train with Fiona de Villiers, Editor of the Indepen… to Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, which is Mike’s home town. There he put us up in a Holiday Inn for the night and proceeded to take us on a tour of all the country roads and treated us to a pint in a few of the local pubs and dinner. We also got to attend his brother-in-law’s 80th birthday lunch! It was really very special. The next day we took a long route to the airport, once again along country roads and had a super sandwich for lunch at another quaint pub. It was really a treat and I am very grateful to Mike for affording me this opportunity.
I returned to South Africa on Monday, 18 January – exhausted, but on a natural high from a wonderful experience, as I’m sure you can see from my photos!
Read all about my experience in this article from the Autumn edition of the Independent Education magazine (click on the image below):
Here is the presentation I gave to our staff at a recent whole school meeting: