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Gadgets & Home Improvement

3 S'pore schools win praise for tech tack

They are among 33 schools worldwide honoured by Microsoft.
December 1, 2012
By: Stacey Chia
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3 S'pore schools win praise for tech tack (From left) Crescent Girls’ students Chaitanyasre Lenin, Victoria Gan and Tay Yu Jie, all 13, using Samsung tablets on the school’s heritage trail. For innovatively integrating technology into learning, the school made it to Microsoft’s World Tour S

PRAGUE - It can be challenging at times to get students to speak up in class.

But Mr Joseph Tham, who teaches history at Crescent Girls' School, may have found a way to do just that - by tapping on the teenagers' penchant for social media.

Secondary 1 to 3 students are encouraged to use a school-based social networking platform to upload materials, such as text and pictures, related to their subjects but beyond what is found in their school textbooks.

They then start discussions with their classmates, either through the platform's chat or comment function, any time, anywhere. The platform was set up four years ago.

Said Mr Tham, 39: "Sometimes teenagers don't have much confidence in themselves but the online platform allows them to realise that they do have good ideas, and in turn they are more willing to speak in class."

Now, the innovative use of technology in learning by Crescent Girls' and two other Singapore schools has been recognised internationally.

On Thursday, software giant Microsoft named it one of 33 World Tour Schools - its newest and highest level of recognition for schools which successfully incorporate technology into learning.

Nan Chiau Primary and Ngee Ann Secondary also shared the honour.

The three schools are the only candidates from Asia on the list, which featured schools from 19 other countries such as the United States, Australia and South Africa.

From next year, Microsoft will link interested education policymakers and help them organise visits to the World Tour schools. They will also get to try out new Microsoft software.

The announcement came at the annual Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum, held this year in Prague, Czech Republic.

This year, some 500 educators from 80 countries, including 18 teachers and principals from Singapore, took part in the four-day forum which ends today. They discussed topics such as how to use technology to encourage collaboration among teachers, and using technology appropriately.

The three Singapore World Tour schools will show visitors how they introduced mobile learning and One-to-One computing, where every student is given a personal computer for learning.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Microsoft vice-president for worldwide education programmes Anthony Salcito said: "Lots of countries envy Singapore's performance with regard to national standards and test scores... their methods and blueprints reflect results that are actually enviable."

At Nan Chiau, for instance, Primary 3 and 4 pupils are given mobile devices such as tablets and phones to access learning applications.

At Ngee Ann Secondary, reading Shakespeare will soon go high-tech. The school plans to introduce Web-based artificial intelligence "chat bots" or Web robots representing key figures such as Einstein or Shakespeare.

Students can interact with the "chat bots" by asking them questions and engaging in virtual conversations. These bots also collect data on students' learning patterns to help teachers understand their needs.

Mrs Tan Chen Kee, principal of Crescent Girls', said she is looking forward to sharing her school's experience with others. The school is among the first five FutureSchools designated by the Ministry of Education in 2007.

These schools try out innovative teaching approaches that use educational technology, to determine what works and share their know-how with other schools.

Said Mrs Tan, who took part in the forum: "It's an acknowledgement of the strength of Singapore's system, but we don't want to be presumptuous that we are the world's best. There is always something to be gained by interacting with visitors."

staceyc@sph.com.sg

BACKGROUND STORY

Partners in learning

MICROSOFT launched the Partners in Learning scheme in 2003 to improve education by tapping on technology.

As part of the scheme, schools and teachers can join the Partners in Learning network where they can tap on a range of resources, such as Microsoft software, research or get advice from the software giant's education consultants.

Under this scheme, schools are also recognised for incorporating technology into education through three titles: Mentor Schools, Pathfinder Schools and the new, top-tier World Tour Schools launched on Thursday.

This year, 100 schools - including three from Singapore - were named Mentor Schools and Pathfinder Schools. St Hilda's Primary School made the Mentor School list, while Radin Mas Primary School and St Andrew's Junior School were named Pathfinder Schools.

They were picked based on written entries and videos about how they use technology in teaching and learning.

Mentor schools are responsible for mentoring at least one or two Pathfinder schools over a year. Both will receive technology expertise from Microsoft and will get to try new software.

To continue funding the Partners in Learning scheme, Microsoft on Thursday announced that it will pump in US$250 million (S$305 million) over the next five years, starting next year. To date, the company has invested US$500 million in the project.

STACEY CHIA

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