CEO and Co-Founder
Rasala Publications, Pakistan
Education does not always have to comprise of the passing of information from educator to student, with the only objective being to make sure that the student has been informed of all that a certain syllabus has to offer. True education, in the real sense of the word, can only be achieved when the educator, comprehending the needs of the student, passes on true understanding of the subject at hand, with there being a transfer of knowledge rather than information. This idea of bringing together students and teachers on to one ‘thought platform’ is the primary idea behind Think.com, an online community developed by the Oracle Education Foundation to engage and inspire students. Think.com provides a web-based application for school aged students globally, providing its users with an online opportunity to utilise basic technology skills to reach out to a global audience for their thoughts and ideas, and thus enabling a more diversified form of education. This article will address not only the success that Think.Com has had in Pakistan over the past few months, but also discuss possible technology platforms, that will be beneficial for the school communities to make use of, to bring the greatest benefit of the same, to the future generations that lead countries such as India and Pakistan.
The role of the teacher has changed more in the past two years than in the past 50 years. For years, futurists and industry professionals have been talking about how technology will change the traditional classroom as we know it, but only now has the software technology been made available through open source and community development, for those changes to actually take place.
For years, teachers have struggled to get students to be creative and original. One of the main reasons students find it difficult to exercise their creativity is they feel constrained in the school environment. After all, our schools have come around to focus more on discipline and rote learning to brainwash the mind to follow pre-defined patterns.
But now we have access to the most exciting technologies. There is an endless list of technical platforms available to be used for teaching purposes. Webcasts, Wikis, Online Community Groups, Podcasting and Blogs are already out there, just waiting to be customised and used. You want original content? There is no way to supersede the originality of an idea than to have them capture it.
Now that we have leaped across the technological challenges to increase the interactivity of software, we are now able to focus back on the education part of the challenge. Are our schools and educators flexible and creative enough to utilise the power of the Internet to its full teaching capacity? Education 2.0 isn’t about the technology at all – it is about looking at the quality of what is being taught and how it is being sent out to the students. Today’s version of education and technology is about networking and bringing different disciplines together. Even ten years ago, could you really have imagined how critical it would have been for the science teacher to coordinate her syllabus with the computer teacher, so that the students would be able to work on a project using the Internet or Powerpoint?
Children love to talk with their friends about one thing or another. Why can’t they be inspired to develop plays or talk into a small recorder so they can put it up online as a podcast? Their stories. Their voices. Their productions. Teach someone else their dialect or something about their culture. For kids that like film, arm a team of students with a topic and let them videotape it as a webcast.
These concepts aren’t as far off into the making as you would imagine. Technology companies have been investing in expanding these platforms into the education curriculum for a number of years already. The Oracle Education Foundation took over the global collaborative web development competition from Advanced Networks a few years ago and went ahead to launch an exclusive educational community for schools around the world. In more than 40 countries, the programme uses Web 2.0 to allow teachers to use the password protected community to interact with their students and integrate their teaching in the classroom with that in the virtual world.
The Oracle Education Foundation, with the assistance of Pakistan’s Oracle office and personal endorsement of the regional country manager, Samina Rizwan, took off in Pakistan in September of 2006. The response was infectious. Even in developing countries in the South Asian region, the willingness to use the computer as a tool is great, however the hesitation lies in the fact that the integration of technology will add another element of dependency on an outsider to train, advise and deploy.
Schools run on lean budgets and limited resources, however the fact that so many of the private and even public schools are looking at technology with such an open mind, just confirms the fact that all this advancement is categorised as a necessity rather than a luxury. School heads realise that with an initial investment into becoming more technology savvy, they will be able to make the quality of their education higher.
Think.Com caught on like a raging fire with the students and surprisingly enough, even teachers who had little experience using computers, were thrilled to be able to publish material on their forums so easily. All of a sudden, members in Pakistan could visit Think.Com members from Australia, India, Malaysia or the United States, and interact with them.
Children want to be online in the various platforms that are made available to them. Whether it is social networking communities or sports and entertainment blogs, website development or reporting, there is literally something for everyone because everyone is in charge of executing their ideas and creating massive amounts of content.
With the increased access to information, there is an inherent problem that we are soon going to be faced with. For the past several years, the focus of IT has been trying to increase the access to information. Companies have created and perfected the means to warehouse and mine information and paths to those storage areas. Beginning with urban, governments and corporations realised that the rural areas would also need access to the information so that a wider population could be served.
eBanking and virtual learning is making its way into the rural areas and organisations such as Unicef and the World Bank are pushing for projects that use efficient and simple technology to allow millions of consumers to engage in simple and instant online activities. It is also interesting to point out the debate that the unfortunate October 8, 2005 earthquake in Northern Pakistan and India triggered off. When the governments insisted on building the structures of schools again in a lot of the effected parts, educators and technology professionals argued back to allow the investment to be re-routed in the actual restarting of the education rather than the physical school buildings. That just pushes the point home that education happens everywhere, not necessarily only in the confines of a classroom.
The Oracle Education Foundation, with the assistance of Pakistan’s Oracle office and personal endorsement of the regional country manager, Samina Rizwan, took off in Pakistan in September of 2006. The response was infectious. Think.Com caught on like a raging fire with the students and surprisingly enough, even teachers who had little experience using computers, were thrilled to be able to publish material on their forums so easily. All of a sudden, members in Pakistan could visit Think.Com members from Australia, India, Malaysia or the United States, and interact with them.
The question on everyone’s minds is whether all this virtual interactivity that makes it something like Education-on-Demand, will it ever rid the concept of the actual school. That is the same misconception as the fact that automation gets rid of the need for factories or skilled human resource. If anything, the integration of technological innovation has only impressed the need for a higher quality of labor and more emphasis for the creation of jobs that previously had no position. Teachers will just need to pull up their socks and become a lot more proactive and assertive than they have been. The only change I see happening in our education system, will be that being a teacher will be more fun and challenging than before, therefore the quality of the teacher will have to be just that much more superior.
With increased network infrastructure, more powerful hardware and high speed bandwidth, teaching can be moved from within the confines of an institution, to individual workstations or mobile devices. From mainframes to computer workstations, laptops now down to PDAs and cellphones. As long as communication can be enabled through all of these devices, teaching and learning can also be deployed on the same platforms. Who cares what the technology is anymore, as long as the right kind of person can use it for the right kind of work.
Don’t blame for the teacher for being lost to these nouveau concepts. Right now it just seems overwhelming because it is new. But everyone will realise sooner than later that if the teaching doesn’t catch up with the speed of learning, schools will be out of business very quickly. The impact that technology and the Internet and mobile devices will have on the education process is just beginning. The future is here and now. It is upto us to make the maximum benefit out of it.