Teacher geeks to gather in Cape Town

More than 500 teachers, education leaders and technology experts will converge at the Cape Town International Convention Centre next week, where 110 teachers from all over the world will compete in the finals of Microsoft’s Sixth Worldwide Innovative Education Forum.

The participating teachers have made it through national and regional finals and have been judged for their effective use of technology as a tool for innovative teaching and learning.

The event will allow the finalists to showcase their projects and for the sharing of ideas and best practices around the use of technology to improve teaching and learning.

This is the first time that this event is being held in Africa and forms part of the Microsoft Partners in Learning network, a global initiative designed to increase teachers’ access to technology and improve its use in learning.

According to Angela Schaerer, Microsoft South Africa’s Academic Programme Manager, “our goal is to help schools gain better access to technology, foster innovative approaches to pedagogy and teacher professional development and provide education leaders with the tools to envision, implement and manage change.”

In South Africa the company has already trained over 25 000 teachers and school leaders on the use of ICT. Through the Partners in Learning network, free access has been provided to online training resources and professional support. Participants may join communities and discussions as well as find lesson plans and projects as well as share their own resources. Participants have access to a free CD containing the Microsoft Learning Suite, which includes tools like moviemaker, songsmith (song-making software), and worldwide telescope (which allows users to zoom into outerspace), and allows for “effective administration, innovative teaching and engaging learning,” Schaerer told the Mail & Guardian Online.

Finalists in the competition have already been through training within the Partners in Learning network and their technological projects have to be contextualized within their teaching methodology.

The South African finalists are: Linda Bradfield (St John’s College, Johannesburg); Chris Gantsi (General Smuts High, Vereeniging); Warren Sparrow (Rondebosch Boys Preparatory School, Cape Town); and Sunia Dokter of Dr Blok High School, Shireen Persens of Heatherdale High School, Ngaka Ralekoala of St Bernard’s High School and Lehentse Seekoei of Lereko Secondary School in Bloemfontein.

Referring to next week’s event, Schaerer said: “South Africa’s entries were very good but you often get the same teacher entering every year. The challenge is how can we ensure that more teachers submit entries.”

She explained that while the standard of projects improves each year “this is not a quick one-month programme” where teachers become experts. “It takes years of professional training and ... it is a long journey.”

Schaerer said this training programme is an important one for Microsoft and something it does not “intend doing on our own. We are able to support schools with tools for teachers” but the supply of electricity as well as internet connectivity at schools remains a problem. “Public-private partnerships are the way to go.”

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