The Egypt revolution in 2010 has brought about a revolution in youth and educators in their own way. Atif Hussain, an ICT specialist who teaches grades 6 to 12 at Hayah International Academy in Cairo, details his school’s transformation in the new Egypt in his column, the Cairo Diaries.
Challenge 20/20 Project
This is the second year that our school Hayah International Academy in Cairo is participating in the challenge 20/20 collaborative project, which is organized by the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) in the U.S.
As stated on their website, “Challenge 20/20 is an Internet-based program that pairs class at any grade level (K-12) from schools in the U.S with their counterpart classes in schools in other countries; together the teams (of two or three schools) tackle real global problems to find solutions that can be implemented at the local level and their own communities.”
It’s a program that is, “Recognized by the U.S Summit and initiative for Global Citizen Diplomacy as one of its 10 best programs for K-12 education.”
The program has such potential, especially when it encourages young minds from around the world to study, research, evaluate and find solutions for real-life problems. It’s a concept taken from High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them by Jean Francois Rischard.
A Limited Experience
However, our experiences with the projects have been a little less exciting. Many schools that we have collaborated with have restricted so much of the Web 2.0 technologies to the extent that it actually limits and hinders creativity and 21st-century skills. The problems are mostly with the school districts that control the policies of schools in their respective areas. I am sure the intentions of such districts are good, just as is the case in the UK, where local councils have greater role in policies of the schools than the school management.
As an example, some schools have limited their students with no access to school email, Web 2.0 collaborative tools such as Twitter, and Google Apps for Education are blocked from the school/district firewalls. Each school or district has decided how and what online apps or skills their students will be allowed to develop.
Positive Views On Student Technologies
Such policies not only restrict the development of the 21st-century skills but also fail to address and educate young minds on how to utilize such technologies in a positive manner. Restricting access to such technologies not only alienates students from technologies, which they are most probably using already or thinking about using, but also makes learning outdated, especially the technology classes.
Rather than shy away from such technologies, I believe schools and districts need to have a positive view to adopting such technologies. Surely monitoring is better than restriction and educating is better than restriction.
Open Collaborations For Unique Circumstances
During our challenge 20/20 projects, the students from the U.S and Egypt working together in teams not only live in different countries but also have over seven hours of time difference. Surely in such situations the best tools for such circumstances should be used, rather than having to make do with restrictive polices set by districts, which will only restrict the collaboration and learning of the students.
Applications such Google Apps for Education are a fantastic set of tools that in many schools are restricted for access. Google Apps for Education allow the teacher to assign emails, documents, and websites to students, as well as assign classes to work collaboratively on the same document or site. It allows the teacher the full control to see what each student is doing and review the full history of each work from start to finish. To top it all off, all this is within a secure school domain, which the teacher can have full control over.
The end result is that students will be engaged, learning and solving real-life problems while connecting with their global community at the same time.
Opening Communication in Schools
At district level, schools should be allowed to decide on which 21st-century skills that they would like their students to obtain by the time they leave school. Surely schools are better placed at a local level to decide their individual needs for their own students. The one-policy-fits-all is an outdated view regarding the use of technologies in education.
At the school level, the teachers should have greater say in what happens in their classrooms. Just as other teachers are allowed greater control in their classrooms, ICT/Computer teachers should have greater say. The IT departments either at school or district level should be there to ensure that ICT in education facilities are there to facilitate the teaching and learning of students rather than play a role of police officer.
At Hayah International Academy, our relationship between the ICT/Computer department and the IT support department is beginning to be one of a team, rather than one of opposite sides of a legal battle where each side has to try and convince each other who should have rights where. Although it was not smooth sailing at the beginning, we as a department have a say in what applications are installed on the machines and which websites we need access to. The choice of installing Open Source Software was a tricky compromise. All ICT/Computer teachers are made admins to the local machines to allow further freedom in our classrooms. This is a relationship that is still a work in progress and we are working for greater rights for ICT/Computer/Technology teachers within their classrooms.
Open Policy in Technology
In conclusion, schools need to have a more open policy when it comes to technologies in education. A simple black-and-white approach does not work in a time where Web 2.0 technologies allow the teachers to have a more individual approach to teaching and learning. Schools should adopt a more open and flexible policy. Schools should be open and should go open.
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Do you think your school or schools in general should adopt an open policy when it comes to technology? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.