‘Teachers who inspire students have never been more needed’
Asia’s top decision-makers in education technology will be flying to Singapore next week for the Bett Asia Leadership Summit on Dec. 3 and 4. Scheduled to speak on the transformative power of technology in education is Anthony Salcito, vice president of education for Microsoft Corp.’s Worldwide Public Sector organization.
The position entails helping education institutions and leaders make the leap of faith required to embrace technology “to optimize learning environments and student achievement.” It sounds so academic and impersonal until you meet the man in person and listen to him come to the defense of teachers.
Education editor Chelo Banal-Formoso caught up with Salcito at the recent Imagine Cup in Seattle where he welcomed students from all over the world who were there to either compete for the Cup or meet up with their peers in the Partners in Learning outreach program that is under Salcito’s charge. Here are excerpts from her conversation with Salcito on education, teachers and technology.
What would you consider good quality education?
The most important education is one that is connecting to every student. It’s an education where getting access to information and to a quality learning experience with an educator helps students to expect more from themselves and their future. Students who go into a school and are inspired to raise their expectation of what they can achieve, what they can be and the impact they can make on their community, on the country they live in or the world, I think, are getting a good education.
In many, many parts of the world students don’t have the luxury of going to school expecting that they can achieve everything. Students, because of their economic condition, maybe their gender, feel they have a limited set of choices. Good education doesn’t do that. It opens up opportunities for students. It gives them an inspirational motivation to pursue but also a path to help them get there. The core of good quality education is about connecting to students.
How much of information technology is now in the K to 12 curriculum?
Not enough. Globally, we need to do a better job of not only bringing these tools, development languages and things like that, into the classroom but really raise the subject of computing as a discipline more holistically.
The United Kingdom has been doing some of the best work on actually pushing computer science as a subject to study, like history and mathematics, as a part of the core curriculum, and doing it holistically. Obviously, [teaching about] development tools to create and produce but also looking at computing implications in society: What does that mean to things like data privacy and security, what do we think about large data sets and what we can do in terms of analytics and what implications that has for the world, how the world around us is powered by digital electronics and computers. This is worth studying as a discipline.
Students often are consumers of technology from an early age, but it’s important for us to study what is behind it. We understand the chemical compositions of the world around us and we learn that in chemistry. The same sort of dynamics has to be applied to technology. So while we need to get students involved in programming and coding, etc, we also need to have a much deeper appreciation for the world of computers and computer science in general. I think you start that early, you can create a curriculum path that actually can lead up to students taking advanced computer programming and the like. And I think what we need to do in the US, in the Philippines, everywhere in the world is get more students interested and exposed to that richness.
All jobs, we know, are going to have some dependency on technology in the future. Whether you’re programming or you’re using technology to get your job done or you’re an entrepreneur and you use technology to power your business. So the appreciation and understanding of how to use technology is certainly a necessary element as you grow economies in the Philippines, as you think about entrepreneurship, as you power students to find the jobs that are fastest growing in economies. That dependency is certainly there and, hopefully, things like Imagine Cup give us a foundation and inspire schools and students to use these technologies and tools to get students on a great path.
What about including it in teacher education?
I would think so because teachers are the ones who are kind of resistant.
I think we, Microsoft and school leaders, have some accountability as well. I’ve never met a teacher who doesn’t want to make an impact on the lives of their students. They are in the profession because they want to help. In many cases, these teachers are heroes. I consider the teachers of the world heroes. We often criticize them for not embracing technology but I often think we have to do a better job of explaining why—why technology is going to help, how can it actually help create a new learning environment in the classroom.
What often has happened around the world is technology has been applied on top of the existing infrastructure in the school, and the best case we have when using technology in the classroom is automating a learning model of the past. So they can take everything they were doing in physical form and books and now put it into the computer. And some teachers may resist that, and I will say to those teachers, I get it, I understand.
If what we’re just doing is move what we’re doing in the past, which was effective and you were comfortable with, to a computer, I don’t see a problem with the resistance teachers are giving us. But if we show the teachers the opportunity to do what they got into teaching for—to inspire students, to connect information to students, to help create new dynamics of interaction, to be able to expand learning outside the classroom in rich ways, to make it more personal—when those teachers understand technology can be a catalyst to do those things, they not only jump in but push the boundaries of what we can do in innovating in the classroom.
I think that’s what we have to do. We have to raise the dynamics of how teachers understand how technology is a tool to fuel this new path for learning as opposed to “this is something you have to do because it landed in your classroom and you got to learn how to use a laptop.”
Teachers often don’t need to know how to use computers because they’re already doing that in their own lives. Whether they’re using technology for banking or entertainment, they’re using computers.
They need to understand how to teach differently, how to embrace new pedagogy models, how to bring new dynamics that are creating opportunities for learning to happen outside the classroom, where the star of the show in the classroom is on skills development, collaboration and communication as opposed to content, which was the focus before. Content can typically be supported by technology outside the classroom and that frees up a teacher’s time to do very different things inside the school.
When school leaders give teachers that support, teachers jump onboard. You don’t have that resistance. But when you do see teacher resistance, I often will point to a project or school leader who has not done a good enough job connecting the dots between the intent of what we are trying to achieve and the role technology can play. So we all have to take accountability to fix that.
Is it valid, the fear of teachers that they are going to be obsolete, that they will be replaced by computers, by online learning and all that?
I will assure teachers that they should not be afraid of that. The role of a quality teacher to inspire students, to help and provide necessary coaching and guidance, has never been more needed, frankly.
Technology is a catalyst to expand in their work. [Let’s say] you need to go to a traditional village in the Philippines to learn about their world, to learn about a certain thing. That work can be done online increasingly, from educators, videos, etc.
The real value of education, in many ways, is going to be about how you provide context for a student to explore the challenge, create project-based work that structures that information you can gather online to actually apply it in real, meaningful ways. How do you get students to understand and challenge themselves because you have deep insight into their own progression? We need great teachers to do that.
In many ways, the world of the teacher is elevated with the power of technology, not diminished. In many ways, you look at this content, chapter by chapter, and the heavy lift that teachers have to do every single day.
Increasingly that burden has been taken out of the classroom by online tools and resources. Now as a teacher I can do real things: I can talk about inspiration, I can talk about personalized learning, I can actually think about how we can create collaborative constructs to grow skills in the classroom that require a high order of teaching.
We’re going to need teachers who are using technology to support learning to actually advance student capability, to globalize the world of learning outside the classroom that never existed before. So I actually think that the fear of replacing people with technology is not the case.
A lot of the teaching profession is elevating. You need new people, teachers who are going to be excited about embracing new pedagogy models, who will create new blended learning constructs and, I think, that’s going to be a new opportunity for educators to advance, to grow and for more people to come into the profession.
Teachers are our biggest workforce in the Philippines and they get blamed for everything. Is it the same in other countries?
We have to do a better job supporting these teachers. I can tell you the teacher community globally, in the US, in the Philippines, [gets a] lot of criticism. They’re not doing this, they’re not doing that. There’s a lot of pressure on applying accountability. We have to pay for performance; we have to fire the worst-performing teachers. There’s a lot of pressure for training. We have to train these teachers; we have get them to use technology, etc.
I will say, first, on pressure. I think teachers need to be supported and celebrated. Everyone in the Philippines should thank their teachers as they walk down the street. We should reward teachers not only with money but with prestige and value in society.
On accountability, my opinion is we should shift the accountability from teachers to students. I will tell you, in all the world I have traveled, when we expect more from students and hold them more accountable for growing and give them the support and confidence that they can achieve what they want, they always exceed our expectations.
And then, training. In my opinion, we need to train teachers and support them for sure, but the real training has to go into the school leadership. Train leaders to understand the culture of change, to embrace an opportunity to grow dynamic schools where new concepts and ideas are welcome, to look at failure as a learning opportunity, to build collaborative environments where teachers are working with each other and are supporting each other. Those dynamics, I think, are where we need to put training.
I have a very different approach. Too often these three things get bundled on top of the teacher and I say we have to spread them out and share the work that we have to do to change.
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