SA schools kick off groundbreaking project

St Cyprians School and Hout Bay High School in the Western Cape became the first two schools in the world to participate in a project aimed at encouraging teachers and learners to use technology to address some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues.

The project was launched on Wednesday at the sixth annual Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Education Forum being held in Cape Town. The event has drawn more than 500 educationists and technology experts from around the world and 125 teacher finalists are showcasing their innovative teaching practices.

The new project, called ‘Shout’ is a partnership between the American national museum and research organisation, the Smithsonian Institution, advocacy organisation Taking ITGlobal, and Microsoft’s Partners in Learning programme.

It intends combining action with science to provide a real learning experience for learners around the world.
A website, was also launched and learners from all over the world will have free access to participation in projects.

The first project, in which learners will be invited to participate in, in January 2011, is a tree banding initiative which was started on Tuesday when learners from St Cyprians School and Hout Bay High were given a kit that will be used to measure the growth and development of trees at their schools. The data they collect will be sent to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre in Maryland, United States.

According to Anthony Salcito, vice-president of Worldwide Public Sector Education at Microsoft, over the next three years Microsoft and its partners will make more than R7-million available to engage and empower teachers and learners globally to address issues affecting land, air, and water.

“Technology is an amazing tool to reach beyond geographic and cultural boundaries and build meaningful, collaborative partnerships,” he said.

Teachers and learners will access the website where challenges will be set by Smithsonian scientists. Once a teacher starts a challenge he or she will be able to connect with millions of others, will access related curricula and best practices, and will connect learners with others around the world.

Learners will have to use their creativity to help address critical global issues and teachers may use the Shout website for updates, direct links to partner sites and new challenges.

In January 2011 the aim is for participants to get involved in tree banding. About 500 tree banding kits will be given away and participants will also be taught how to make their own kits.

Claudine Brown, assistant secretary for Education and Access at the Smithsonian Institution said “if learning is experiential, students will learn. We are encouraging young people to live with the land.”

Referring to the tree banding project, she said: “The trees belong to students. They have to monitor its life. “This project is about citizenry. Some school students say what they learn at school has got nothing to do with the real world. ...The initiative is about “encouraging stewardship of the earth. We are giving young people concrete things to make a difference”.

According to Michael Furdyk, co-founder of TakingITGlobal, learners from 35 schools in Sri Lanka, Australia, Philippines and Singapore were involved in a pilot project, DeforestACTION, which developed social action campaigns to support the protection of rain forests in the Asia Pacific region.

The learners are trying to raise $10-million to build a sanctuary for orangutans in Borneo and acquired fundraising and advocacy skills and are working with some of the best known experts. The pilot initiative gave rise to the Shout project.

“Shout is driven by the concept that students can and should direct their own learning both inside and outside the classroom, with teachers collaborating along the way.”

For Brown, “the American Civil Rights Movement was a youth movement. High school kids have passion. We need to allow activism now as they will make policies for the future”.

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