Having been selected as a Microsoft Innovative Educator for 2015 at the end of last year, I was honoured to be one of four South African educators chosen to represent South Africa at the Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Dubai earlier this year.
I travelled from Cape Town to Johannesburg with fellow MIE Expert, Kathryn Gomes Riva from Micklefield Junior School, and we met up with the rest of the South African contingency at OR Tambo International, from where we all travelled directly to Dubai.
The South African contingency consisted of educators such as Kathryn and I, Lyneth Crighton from Brescia House who travelled with her principal, Benedikta Nott, and Phuti Ragophala, a delightful school principal from Limpopo. There were also a number of delegates from the Department of Education, academics from higher learning institutes, such as the lovely Sarietjie Musgrave from UFS, as well as some of their business partners. All-in-all we made up a large group. We were wonderfully chaperoned by Angela Schaerer from Microsoft South Africa and Megan Rademeyer from Schoolnet.
Upon arrival we were driven to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Dubai, which was also the venue for the forum. What a hotel! From the opulent foyer, to our stunning en-suite rooms with free wi-fi, to the deliciously decadent breakfasts and beautiful gardens surrounding the hotel, we were treated like royalty! What a treat this was for all of us!
Most of us were keen to see as much of Dubai as possible in the short time that was available to us, so we made use of the free time we had for the rest of that day and many of us quickly freshened up and then we hopped into taxis and headed for the Dubai Mall. Oh. My. Word! Who knew you could go to an aquarium while shopping and then quickly stop off for a session of ice- skating too? In a shopping mall? Dubai certainly takes shopping to a new level! After a jaw-dropping walk around the mall and a bite to eat, we returned to our hotel for a little R&R. Not much though, because we returned to the mall again later in the evening for a quick dinner and to see the fountains outside the mall, which put on a display every half hour against a the backdrop of the Burj el Khalifa – the tallest building in the world. And it is tall. Very tall.
Sunday, 22 February was the first day of the forum. The opening keynote by Anthony Salcito, Microsoft Vice President, Worldwide Education, was most engaging. He is an excellent speaker and there were some quotes from his keynote that stuck with me:
He said that while a wothwhile goal would be “a device for every teacher and student in my country,” technology should not be the goal, but enabler of better learning so as to build employable skills for youth preparing them for a stronger future and career.“Technology can help drive student excitement and collaboration in the classroom, something that forms the basics of learning,” he said. “Technology is not the plan, technology can help the plan.” So true.
Anthony also made some exciting announcements about the free availability of Office 365 and Office 365 ProPlus to students, faculty and staff all across the world – with immediate effect!
The Educator track sessions were very interesting, especially the ones on Designing 21st Century Learning Experiences and Concepts and Contexts for Deep Learning, where fellow South Africa, Lyneth Crighton did a sterling job in presenting her project. She certainly gave me food for thought.
That evening we were treated to a wonderful dinner at the Regional Dinner which took place at the Meydan Hotel, a short drive from our hotel. Again it was a feast! A lovelye evening was had by all.
At the Regional Dinner, Meydan Hotel
Back: Phuti Ragophala, Kathryn Riva, Benedikta Nott, Karen Stadler, Lyneth Crighton
Front: Megan Rademeyer, Angela Schaerer, Sarietjie Musgrave
Monday, 23 February was the second and final day of the forum. Once again the Educator’s Track I was privileged to have been asked to participate in a panel discussion called Connecting Educators, Students, Classrooms with educators Sahar Chaer from Lebanon and Manu Mital from India and this was certainly a highlight for me. I was afforded the opportunity to present my Travelling Rhinos Project to the audience, as an example of how such a project can connected classrooms around the world in a meaningful way. What an honour, what an experience!
Presenting my project at the Dubai Forum.
What did I learn from the forum?
As I often find, I learn most from the people I meet and engage with at such conferences and forums. For me it is all about the people and the conversations – the human factor. Through my observations I learnt:
- That passion is the key to great teaching – passion for the students, passion for the content and the delivery of content and a passion for education as a whole.
- Teachers around the world face many of the same challenges, we are united by our profession and dedicated to changing lives. We may speak different languages, but we speak one common educational language.
- I am fortunate to work for a privileged school where we have and use different forms of technology in our classrooms, and we do our best to stay abreast of current trends in education, but South Africa as a whole, is way behind on the technology playing field. As a country we have a long way to go.
- Collaboration across borders, oceans and continents is important in order to foster understanding and tolerance for the many different peoples and cultures of our world. If our children learnt this from a young age, our world could be such a different place!
- That the countries in the world whose education systems are working and are producing top results, treat their teachers with the respect they deserve. However, the selection process to become a teacher is much more stringent, and so it should be. In these countries education is continuously discussed at the highest levels, strategies are developed and plans put in place to educate their children so that they can be the best that they can be, not merely to finish school.
- Cloud technology is the way if the future if it isn’t already. This does, however, exclude a large portion of the world’s children in countries where internet connectivity is poor and bandwidth costs are exorbitant. Our own internet in South Africa is of the slowest and more expensive in the world, and children in rural areas are, in the main, excluded from tapping into this resource that most of us living in a first world situation cannot do without.
- I would have loved to have seen more teacher projects and work on display. I love to learn from other educators who share their ideas and expertise.
- Microsoft has really upped its game and its new offerings are exciting and really innovative. OneNote (on steroids), Office Mix, Sway, the new Surface Pro 3 tablet and Windows 10 are all worth a good look and deeper investigation. Exciting times for educators!
At the closing of the Dubai Forum, the 2015 MIEExperts and Showcase schools were honoured for their achievements. We were called up country by country, and handed a certificate acknowledging the innovation in teaching and learning of these educators. It was a very Proudly South African moment indeed!
On the Monday evening we were treated to an evening dhow cruise and dinner. What an excellent evening of good food, lovely people and great entertainment!
On the day of our departure, 24 February, we had a whole day to explore Dubai, as our plane was only leaving at 11:30pm. Kathryn Riva and I jumped at the chance and we spent the day touring the whole city, hopping on and off one of the Red Bus tours. It was wonderful and gave us an excellent overview of an amazing city – one I would like to visit again in the future.
I am very grateful to Microsoft South Africa and SchoolNet for this wonderful opportunity of a lifetime. It was an incredible experience and we were treated like royalty. Thank you to everyone concerned.