Let’s make teachers the champions of education in the Middle East

Mark East, General Manager Operations - Microsoft WW Education

Earlier this month, I visited Egypt to meet with government and school leaders to discuss the future of education in the country, and how to solve some of the current challenges - focusing on equipping today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs.

I learnt that the government currently has a strong focus on education transformation, with technology an integral part to its success.

As part of this, I was pleased to uncover some of the great examples of how educators are using technology to improve learning outcomes - be it Skype for Business to extend the school day by reaching students at home, Yammer to build teacher communities, or OneNote to get students organized. These tools have a huge part to play in helping young people fulfil their potential and get them ready for the future workplace.

At the heart of this, however, will always be the teachers. Visiting individual countries like Egypt means I get to experience first-hand what’s happening in schools, to see where Microsoft can contribute and use this to guide how we can simplify technology to match what’s needed in the classroom.

What came over loud and clear during this visit is that focussing on the champions and empowering teachers to use the technology should be our first priority. This then means they’re in a position to pass on their knowledge to the students and manage the move to more complex scenarios when everyone is ready. There are too many examples of governments empowering students with technology before the teachers have been given the chance to feel comfortable using the technology let alone using it for enhanced teaching and learning.

The enthusiasm is certainly there throughout Egypt to secure technology, with parents, educators and the public sector committed to improving the infrastructure. Teachers certainly want to embrace whatever they can, not least to see the faces of their students when they realize what they can achieve.

Teachers are expert at making do with whatever resources they have available, however limited. With this in mind, three scenarios came to mind during my visit:

  1. Labs: Most schools have a computer lab of some sort, however outdated. Using technology such as Windows MultiPoint Server, we can refresh and manage the hardware so that even if the PCs are old, students can benefit from the latest software. These technology labs become an invaluable resource centre when schools move to 1:1 computing - especially in association with the Microsoft IT Academy program promoting core technology skills and certification that employers across the world demand today.

  2. 1:1 devices: Whilst the ultimate goal is to have every student using their own device, the first step should be ensuring everyone understands how to use the technology - beginning with the teacher.

  3. Create your own interactive whiteboard: For the many schools with a limited budget, a good starting point is simply a teacher equipped with a Windows tablet, an “active” pen and a low-cost projector to turn any wall into an interactive whiteboard.  By investing in this way governments can claim that they are bring technology to every classroom and in reality is the first step towards 1:1 computing.

I visited a great school in the governorate of Port Said. The ‘Port Said International’ school was closed for several weeks during the unrest in 2012, so teachers used cloud technology (such as Office 365 and Skype for Business) to remain in contact with their students and continue teaching them in their homes. There are great things going on in this school, not least that the community is helping to fund devices for the students.

Countries, such as Egypt, need to develop a strategy of sustainability in the use of technology in teaching and learning. For primary schools I advocated the consideration of the use of refurbished PC’s which if managed within the policy guidance set out in the Microsoft Authorised Refurbisher program helps with providing digital access technology for lab use and creates a process for the final recycling of technology. 

Now is a great opportunity to enhance and accelerate learning through the power of information communications technology. Today’s youth are proficient English speakers, highly efficient in IT, offering vast possibilities to build a better future for Egypt. Politicians are committed, parents, educators and students are all on board and there is a willingness throughout this most populated of the Arab countries to invest in young people.

This huge potential for reform will allow technology to empower the public schools to match what’s on offer in private education and narrow the gap. I’ve come away truly believing good things will happen. Teachers are the priority. 

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