A meeting place for Asia’s ed-tech community

Teachers, school leaders and other education professionals  gather at the summit at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

Teachers, school leaders and other education professionals gather at the summit at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

MANILA, Philippines–No one at the first Bett Asia Leadership Summit in Singapore, which was held very early in December, said technology would be the answer to all the educational woes of the developing nations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Instead, the most innovative minds that Bett brought together to share their expertise and experience told education professionals and government officials who attended the international gathering that technology was a transformer, an enabler, a facilitator, a maximizer—but teachers still held the future of education in their hands.

Envisioned as a means to discuss the challenges and successes in education and technology, the two-day summit gave teachers free access to discussions on school leadership and interactive classrooms, plus the opportunity to personally try the latest educational apps and gadgets at the networking and demo area.

According to the organizers, the summit based its agenda on market research on the most pertinent issues in technology and what is influencing education in Asia today.

“The exceptional work that teachers have undertaken to embrace this educational revolution,” says event director Katy Fryatt, “is reflected in the performance of students in the region: Seven of the 10 top-scoring countries in the most recent Pisa tests were from Asia (OECD).”

The expo of latest educational technologies from giant and start-up brands is also a networking site.

The expo of latest educational technologies from giant and start-up brands is also a networking site.

Microsoft’s vice president of worldwide education Anthony Salcito, a seasoned and serious speaker who knew his material by heart, keynoted the conference with ideas on how technology could transform learning.

He also graced the School Leaders Academy (SLA), an interactive workshop within the conference, and talked about teaching and learning innovative practices he had observed from his travels around the world.

Microsoft is a founding partner of Bett Asia Leadership Summit along with Hewlett-Packard and Intel.

Executives of the three companies played key roles at the summit, including Intel’s John Galvin, vice president of sales and marketing as well as general manager of Intel Education, who keynoted Day 2 with his thoughts on why it takes more than technology to modernize, and Eileen Lento, director of advocacy and marketing, who chaired a panel discussion on how to accelerate literacy and numeracy for all.

Beth Watson, Microsoft’s education director for public sector in the Asia-Pacific region, spoke on technology as an enabler in the “Increasing access to education” stream on the second day.

The speakers and panel members for the different sessions came from diverse experiences, as school headmasters, university presidents, teacher educators, education researchers and information technology directors.

Government leaders responsible for education or information or both—from Australia, South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei and Pakistan—presented their countries’ education policies and reforms relative to learning outcomes in the Information Age. International agencies like the British Council, Asian Development Bank and Unesco were represented in panel discussions such as developing a work-ready population in Asia.

Stream sessions

In addition to the plenary, the SLA and the Interactive Classroom (IC), there were stream sessions on international pedagogical innovations, excellence in practice in Asia and world-class, 21st-century education. Networking champagne round tables for attendees from each country capped the first day.

Many of the delegates had a hard time deciding which of the concurrent sessions to attend. The impact of technology in special education or comparing ways in which countries at different stages of development are building new opportunities for the next generation? Distance education and mobile learning or real-world learning? How about the flipped classroom method?

Presentation of 23 Microsoft Showcase Schools in the Asia-Pacific region PHOTOS COURTESY OF BETT ASIA

The SLA sessions alone were worth the price of a plane ticket. Conference topics included: making the most of your time at the summit by designing your learning journey; the promise, pitfalls and possibilities of technology for learning or what the latest research says about what technology can best support how students learn; lessons from global leaders on leading effective change and shifting organizational cultures; designing a change strategy to shift pedagogy at scale; and building networks of leaders across Asia for future collaboration and learning.

The IC agenda gave the participants an update on the modern classroom—engagement through design, online resources, apps, hybrid learning environments and team-based learning. There were discussions on how to create an environment that promotes self-regulated learning and supports blended learning; how the staff can keep pace with the changing technologies; why international schools are adding vocational aspects to their curriculum; how to improve STEM through programming, robotics and digital making; how to use equipment to full capacity; and digital publishing or learning with e-books (Vibal Group did the honors).

Along with the three founding partners and the associate sponsors Blackboard, Pearson, Adobe and SingTel, the proudly Filipino Vibal Group had a booth at the expo site. The other exhibitors were Impartus, AsiaPac, Campus Management, Corinth, Dell, languagenut.com, Mosaic, Teacher Dashboard and Microsoft IT Academy.

On the eve of the summit, Microsoft took the opportunity to present its 2014-2015 Showcase Schools in the region. At the impressively designed and equipped Stamford American International School, 23 schools received the honors for their use of Microsoft technology in educating “the work force of the future.”

Showcase Schools, of which Microsoft has 160 globally, do not only envision and implement educational change for their own benefit but will also be teaming up with Microsoft experts so they can host and mentor other schools in the community on teaching and learning practices using technology.

According to a Microsoft blog, Showcase Schools “also get connected to an international group of thought leaders, as part of the Microsoft in Education community for further collaboration; Microsoft IT Academy membership, access to professional development for educators and support to drive innovation among staff, peers and students.”

Much of the credit for the transformations that have occurred at these elite schools should go to their leaders, who appeared proud and enthused as they were called to the stage during the ceremony, for creating an environment where students and teachers alike can thrive, “by placing the former at the center of their own learning and giving the latter opportunities to embrace innovation in the classroom.”

Six schools in Australia made it to the list, as did four schools in Korea, three in Singapore, three in Malaysia and two in New Zealand. Vietnam has two schools. Brunei, Indonesia and Bangladesh had one each. Unfortunately, there is no Microsoft Showcase School in the Philippines.

Bett Asia, with cosponsor Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, also handed out the EdTech Excellence Award for “the most innovative technology solutions for education across Asia from small- to medium-sized companies” during the summit.

The next Bett Asia Leadership Summit is slated to be held in October 2015 in Malaysia.

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