Stuart and I split up on Tuesday; he joined the teachers on educational excursions all over Hong Kong that I'm sure he'll explain, and I sat in meetings in a hotel ballroom for most of the day. (Not that I'm bitter. Or jealous. Hotel ballrooms are lovely.)
I did have one opportunity to leave the hotel today, on an organised visit to a school in Hong Kong. As I've mentioned before, visiting schools in other countries is one of my favourite things to do on my travels. I learn more from sitting in classrooms and talking to school leaders, teachers and students than I do anywhere else.
Today we visited a school called Fung Kai, which is one of the 12 schools in Microsoft's Innovative Schools Programme. (There's one in the UK as well...click here for more information.) Fung Kai is a conglomeration of schools on one campus, with 5000 students in all. It's in the New Territories of Hong Kong, just over the border from mainland China. In fact, many of the students at the school cross the border from China every day to attend school at Fung Kai.
We visited one of the primary schools, which had been undergoing a period of transformation over the last several years. They were just completing work on a huge new building, have a new technology infrastructure, hardware and software, and have developed a new professional development model for teachers.
After some meetings with the school's leadership, we sat in on an English class of 8 year-olds. Each student had an ASUS EEEPC running Microsoft Windows, and the PCs were all closed on their tables. The teacher ran very interactive, well-organised lessons using the interactive whiteboard with students, and then divided the children into groups to complete some in-class work.
This sounds simple, but the context surrounding the activities made it really special. Here's why.
- The students actually own these EEPCs and are able to take them home. The school's leadership had engaged with parents to gain their support for the 1:1 programme, and they offered no-interest payment plans to help those less-fortunate parents purchase computers.
- All of the children's textbooks and classroom materials are on the computers. The school has made agreements with multiple publishing companies to provide electronic content for various subject areas. It also teaches students about IP and copyright to help avoid piracy.
- The classroom management was fantastic. So many times 1:1 implementations fail because parents complain that students are using IM, surfing the net, and not paying attention in class. These students used their computers only when so directed, and boy were they eager to do so!
- The teacher spoke only in English, even when directing students to download and upload files from the class SharePoint. All of the students were able to follow, which was amazing considering that so many of them come from families in mainland China where no English is spoken.
I wish all of you had had the chance to see and hear these kids today. They were so clearly motivated by the technology and were very adept at using it. Plus they were just adorable.
Ok, that's more than enough from me...I'm very excited to hear how Stuart and our teachers enjoyed their visits to some of Hong Kong's most interesting cultural spots today...