By Mark Chaban, Area Education Director, Microsoft Middle East and Africa
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to take part of the Microsoft in Education Global Forum - held, for the first time, in the Middle East. In the midst of a youth bulge, education is more critical than ever for the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region. As elsewhere in the world, future economic stability will depend on workers with the right skills to meet the needs of modern business, preparing young people now to become the innovators and leaders of the future.
According to His Excellency Marwan Ahmad Al Sawaleh, the Undersecretary for Education, UAE, and a guest speaker at the event, meeting this challenge will depend on a change in mind-set in the region to embrace technology as the catalyst for progress. Other keynotes included inspiration from best practice in other regions, including transforming education in Finland, the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence and a session on commitment and collaboration from St Louis, Argentina.
More than 500 participants from 40 countries across the Middle East, Africa and India took part in the Forum and, from conversations I had, it was clear that these challenges and, innovative examples of how to solve them, are what inspires them to take new ideas and technical capabilities back to their classrooms and start to make the changes required.
Shafaque Riaz, head of computing and ICT at the Cambridge International School in Dubai and part of Microsoft’s Innovative Educator Expert program, shared some great examples, in particular of using games in her classroom to relate to children’s popular culture. This helps make learning relevant to her students by creating fantasy to build “both cognitive and emotional advantages in designing instructional environments”.
Shafaque is also a big fan of OneNote to encourage students to coordinate their learning more efficiently. Being able to take work home to finish, then synchronize with the school network through the cloud makes it easier for them to organize pages and use tags to sort and consolidate their notes, which ultimately enables them to complete their projects and assignments on time.
“Receiving synchronous feedback through OneNote dramatically shortens the learning cycle, allowing students to correct any misunderstandings immediately and move forward,” Shafaque added.
We were both lucky to listen to Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s Vice President, Worldwide Education, deliver the Forum’s keynote, where he announced that millions of eligible students would be able to sign up to Office 365 ProPlus - allowing installation of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote on up to five personal devices. This move gives more students the tools to improve the way they learn and, importantly, helps close the opportunity gap between those who have access and those who do not.
So how can technology help educators to solve the issues being faced across the region? Shafaque summed it up: “For me, these technology tools provide a platform to bring the outside world into my classroom and to create an environment that promotes cross-cultural interaction and real-life context for collaborative learning. Going forward, it’s vital to leverage technology to build employable skills for young people and prepare them for a career and a stronger future.”
Later this week, educators from around the world - including many from the MEA region - will have another chance to discuss these challenges and how they can be solved at our E2 Global Educator Exchange event in Redmond, Washington (USA). We’ll report back on their stories and share some great examples of best practices in the classroom. For now, we’ll leave you with some of the highlights from day one of the Microsoft in Education Global Forum.