Digital-learning in rural schools push forward | Sunday Observer

Digital-learning in rural schools push forward

25 February, 2018

The ‘Smart Schools’ project is a sustained long term program to raise IT literacy levels of schoolchildren in Sri Lanka, and augment their learning via digital education. The project seeks to expose traditional classroom teachers and students to the latest digital learning technology and systems, stimulating wider use of IT in schools.

The Sunday Observer team visited two rural schools in the Horana and Moronthuduwa areas recently, together with officials of the Commercial Bank to observe how successfully they have adapted to digital learning. The first school we visited, was Taxila Central College in Horana. We walked into the IT lab donated by Commercial Bank Ltd where Science and Math were taught using Learning Management System (LMS) through interactive boards. We spoke to some teachers and students to find out how beneficial it was, and how it has changed the learning and teaching methods.

Jeevan Perera

Physics teacher, Deepika Karunarathna explained that interactive boards are now used in teaching and how effective it is. She said: “The Learning Management System, funded by the Commercial Bank is quite popular with the students. They enjoy the lessons through this system and grasp things easily. They have also done a lot of innovation through Microbit which is a device used to code. The Commercial Bank has given us the tools for the Computer Maintenance Unit. The students repair the computers themselves when there is a break down. These children were trained by CISCO and the University of Colombo. We are very grateful to the Commercial Bank for donating us interactive boards for the smart classroom which is a national project.”

Principal,Taxila Central College, Horana, K. K. P. M. Jayatilake said: “The students created new software such as, an Identity Card for the teachers which can be used instead of the traditional method of signing the attendance register. The name and details of the staff is registered and monitored in the software system. Our students are very talented. At present, we use interactive boards to teach students from Grades 6 – 13 and we hope to introduce it to the whole school.”

An Advanced Level student in the Englishmedium Mathematics Stream at Taxila, Pasindu Imesh said, he trains the juniors in his school to do innovations with coding and IOT. “We were given a training at the University of Moratuwa on Information Technology and Computer Science. It is an internationally recognized qualification. We repair computers by ourselves. We are thankful to the Commercial Bank for giving us the necessary tools to maintain our computers.”

Next, we visited Dhammananda Maha Vidyalaya in Moronthuduwa. It was a Sinhala medium school situated in a beautiful rural landscape, enclosed by paddy fields and hills. Projectors were used to teach students from Grades one to 13. The Principal of the School, A.Y.P. Perera took us on a tour around the school to show us how the students learnt through projectors. She said, “The Commercial Bank donated us the Information Technology Labs. We are happy to train our students who have adapted themselves to a digitalized classroom. The future of the classrooms are changing from blackboards to interactive boards and from books to tabs. For students from Grade five onwards we teach coding through Microbit. They are very interested in coding. Even though we are a rural school, our students are talented in grasping technology speedily. ”

Junior Executive Officer, Operations Department at the Commercial Bank, Jeevan Perera said, “The use of IT in schools is aligned with one of the principal elements of the corporate social responsibility agenda of the Commercial Bank of Ceylon. Under its IT education program, the Bank has donated computers, printers, furniture and other equipment to set up IT labs in 175schools across Sri Lanka.”

“These IT labs has benefitted more than 160,000 students, most of them from rural areas. This program dovetails with the government’s initiative to promote IT literacy and digital education, including the proposed donation of tablet computers to students. The Commercial Bank has also launched an innovative online education program, initially for 20,000 students from 20 schools, and provided with facilities to access carefully-selected Mathematics and Science lessons via a specially created web platform, to supplement their regular lessons in these subjects,” he said.

He said, in 2015 the Bank launched the new educational website ‘Sipnena’ in partnership with Microsoft Sri Lanka, the University of Colombo and H-One, a leading full service IT solutions vendor. “This website offers students free access to content carefully selected to support their educational needs, in line with local curricula.

Phase 1 of the ‘Smart Schools’ project spanned a period of 10 months and involved the collaboration of Headstart (Pvt) Ltd, Commercial Bank, Microsoft Sri Lanka and Dialog Axiata, under the supervision of the Department of Education, Western Province to complete the transformation of 65 schools for digital learning,” he said.

“This phase included training and helping teachers to embrace technology for the use of the hardware and software required for digital format education. During this phase, schools were provided with content to use on computers, a learning management system, Microsoft Office 365 licences, technical support and training on working with technology for education. Headstart deployed 195 trained ‘ambassador teachers’ to train more teachers to ensure the smooth functioning of this e-learning project,” Jeewan explained.

At the start of Phase 2 there were 65 schools which are digital-learning enabled. Each school has approximately 1,500 students and employs teachers trained to digitally impart the curriculum and facilitate digital learning. Of these 65 schools, 25 were provided LMS free of charge by Headstart(Pvt) Ltd. Mandatory projects to be undertaken in schools with LMS include monthly online quizzes and digital assignments that require to be uploaded on the system. Around 100,000 students, between Grades 6 - 13 currently benefit from the Smart Schools project.

Currently there are 6,500 trained teachers spread across the 65 schools with ability to guide digitized learning. Digital learning is facilitated and the curriculum digitised by these trained teachers through the process of uploading close to 35,000 files to OneDrives and LMS. The responsibility of Smart School principals include guiding and supporting e-learning teacher ambassadors and learning communities through training, monitoring the progress of the school, motivating and enabling all parties involved to work with technology, and finally, ensure that the expected transformation occurs in the school.

Responsibilities of ambassador teachers include distributing knowledge gained from training among other teachers and students, encourage teachers to develop their own e-learning material, and be innovative with new education solutions. All new ambassador teachers would earn at least two training badges from the Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) within the first two months.

Most schools have now taken steps to purchase needed devices for themselves, with the aid of Past Pupils’ Associations, well-wishers and by writing to the Ministry of Education.

Taxila Central College, Horana and Moronthuduwa Dammananda Central College are considered examples of schools that have successfully adapted to digital learning.