“Most ICT initiatives are about dumping technology in schools,” notes Ian Thomson of USP. “We’re giving teachers powerful tools, but they don’t necessarily know how to use them and are often teaching the same old way.”
Ian joined RCSE this week, to talk about the changing face of e-learning in the Pacific. An Electronic Engineer by training, Ian spent the first several decades of his career working on the hardware side of telecommunications- how technology works. These days, however, he finds he is much more interested in what people DO with technology. He is currently working on an ICT for development program with USP, helping Pacific ministries make plans to gear up their e-learning strategies.
The standard for teaching in the Pacific is the classic ‘talk and chalk’ method, handed down from Western institutions, says Ian. Teachers tell students what they need to know and test them on it. But these days, Western countries are reconsidering this system. For success in our global, technology-driven future, students need to know how to innovate, collaborate and network. They need to learn to become independent learners, and to explore technology via trial and error.
This is the thinking behind the One Laptop Per Child initiative which Ian is spearheading in the Fiji and several other Pacific countries. So far, 1,000 rugged laptops designed for use in dusty, humid environments with limited power, have been distributed throughout 15 schools in the Suva area. At these 15 schools, teachers have undergone several months of intense training to help them develop new methods of integrating the software and tools on the laptops into existing curriculum units. Another 2,000 laptops will be going out to rural schools later this year, and the teachers involved in the initial training will act as trainers for these other schools.
Thomson noted that as technology available in the developing world changes, the design of the laptops is also changing. A tablet is now being considered for the next generation of developing world learning tools through the program.