In March, I was honoured to be invited to present at the EARCOS 2015 Teachers’ Conference, at Sutera Harbour, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia. This conference hosted over 1100 delegates from international schools from the East Asia Region – including China, Malaysia, Phillippines, Myanmar, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, India and more. It was hosted in collaboration with SENIA (Special Educators Network in Asia), and with the theme of “Language for Life”, there were over 100 workshop sessions to choose from, focusing on literacy, language and learning.
The entire conference was an immense learning experience. The decision by the conference to forgo what are (largely) useless conference bags, instead donating this money to Operation Smile, a private not for profit organisation providing reconstructive surgery to children and young adults born in developing countries with facial deformities told me that this would be a conference different to any other I had attended. I was right. I learnt from keynote speakers John Wood and James Stronge, as well as from a range of presenters from the workshops I attended, from the delegates I met and spoke with, and from the experience of presenting to a truly international audience. In this blog post I will try to capture the flavour of the conference, and some of the key learnings I took away from it. I will also include access to the Storify I have compiled, which captures a range of resources from social media (mostly Twitter), which were shared by delegates and presenters throughout the conference.
Learning 1: Want to change the world? Educate children!
The keynote speaker on the first day was the inspiring John Wood, who founded the Room to Read programme, which focuses on working in collaboration with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the life skills they’ll need to succeed in school and beyond. So far, Room to Read has constructed 1930 schools, established 17 534 libraries and published 1158 books in local languages, as they work with people to develop a sense of ownership and engagement with education and literacy.
Why is this inspiring? Beyond the obvious, it is inspiring because this project doesn’t focus on giving hand outs – it focuses on working with the people on the ground, so that when the ‘outsiders’ walk away, the project doesn’t just crumble; it continues on, driven by the locals who have been involved from the beginning. It also recognises that investing in children can lead to significant change – educated children become educated adults, who can work to make the changes they want for their communities.
It is ironic that in Australia, and in many other Western, 1st world countries, libraries are increasingly being underfunded and understaffed, when so much of Room to Read’s focus is on building libraries up. Why is this so? Are we satisfied with our levels of literacy, and believe that there is no further need for free and open access to information, literature and inquiry? Ironically, in the age of exploding information and multiple literacies, we are letting go of those people and places who are best placed to support us! A challenge indeed for educators and administrators!
To get an idea of the types of work Room to Read does, check out this video, and then check out the website: http://www.roomtoread.org/donotreadthis/
Programming a computer means nothing more or less than communicating to it in a language that it and the human user can both “understand.” And learning languages is one of the things children do best. Every normal child learns to talk. Why then should a child not learn to “talk” to a computer? – Seymour Papert, Mindstorms (Papert, 1980)
The work that Pana Asavavatana and Maria Peters are doing in Early Childhood at the Taipei American School in Taiwan is amazing. Using a wide variety of resources, these inspiring teachers are incorporating robotics and coding into their early childhood curriculum, in creative and engaging ways. With an emphasis on skill development, Pana and Maria emphasised that kids need to ‘unplug’ to learn computational thinking skills long before they get their hands on any type of technology – and with a range of games and activities, they have done just that. Generously sharing their planning as well as the cutest posters and resource ideas, this session brought home the fact that in today’s world, the literate child can do far more than just read and write alphabetic text.
Learning 3: Search is the skill of our era
Ok, so this one wasn’t really a learning so much as a confirmation of my beliefs from someone whom I have followed online for a long time. Jeff Utecht, of The Thinking Stick blog, has been someone that I have learnt from since my earliest days on the web. His work in international schools and beyond has focused on quality pedagogy enhanced by technology; rather than the other way around, and his session of Search brought home to me just how vital librarians, with enhanced skills in information literacy, are to schools and education. Librarians are some of the best qualified to teach what Jeff states is the most vital skill of our age – that of search – and in Jeff’s session, he revealed a plethora of tools and strategies that support the explicit teaching of these skills to students.
Learning 4: “If you can‘t explain it simply, you don‘t understand it well enough.” -Albert Einstein
In preparing my four 90 minute presentations on Content Curation, Infosavvy Students, Makerspaces and Creative Commons, I realised that the best presentations are the ones that convey ideas simply, and which provide many practical take-aways for the participants. In researching, preparing and creating these workshops, I thought I had learnt almost everything I needed to know on these topics. However, through presenting them, responding to questions, discussing with participants and reflecting on how each session went, I learnt so much more. The experience was rewarding as it was a challenge to prepare workshops for an essentially unknown audience, from a wide range of schools in different countries, with different access to technologies and the internet. I learnt that while international schools face unique challenges to those in my Australian experience, educators the world over are united by a desire to connect, to provide access to the highest quality resources, and to instil in students not just content, but the ability to learn, solve problems and navigate a complex, information saturated world. I also learnt that international schools are at the cutting edge with their approach to contemporary learning; and that the work we do here at BCE and in ResourceLink is equally current and of the highest quality!
Below is a small selection of some of the key takeaways from the conference. For a more detailed summary, please read the Storify I created, a compilation of some of the best sharings from social media throughout the conference.