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Research uncovers teachers’ tech challenges

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It can be difficult for educators to remain motivated in the current age. The world is transitioning into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and with this comes the tension between teaching what is advised in the national curriculum, and feeling compelled to introduce learners to the digital future.

Educators from across the Middle East and Africa region agree that the integration of technology into set work can make the teaching experience easier and more interactive, however, infrastructural and socio-economic challenges continue to hinder this process.

Similarly, these teachers believe that current education curricula across the region do not make provision for Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-related teachings.

Studies around the world predict a future where new jobs will almost certainly contain something related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Today, technology jobs make up 50% of the workforce. This number will grow to 77% in the next decade.

As part of Microsoft’s Computer Science Education Week efforts to promote the importance of coding and technology in education, we spoke to a few teachers from across the Middle East and Africa region to uncover some of the challenges they experience:

Phuti Ragophala, former principal of Pula Madibogo Primary School in South Africa, says the country’s school curriculum is still far from preparing learners for careers of the future. “It speaks very little to nothing about coding, web design, programming or technology engineering. There is no free Wi-Fi in schools, let alone using a laptop as a teacher or as learners. We still have many teachers and learners with zero knowledge of basic computing skills.”

Wejdan Mihi, English Teacher at Marran Elementary and Intermediate School in Saudi Arabia says, “Students need technical discipline, teamwork competencies, communication skills, leadership skills, problem-solving competencies and managerial abilities. Our curriculum should, therefore, be expanded to include coding subjects and technology classes, because these subjects train learners on those competencies – which all employers expect graduates of today to have.”

Taking upon themselves

To demonstrate the impact of computer science on future job prospects and economic growth, teachers throughout the Middle East and Africa have begun integrating technology into their everyday teaching methods. These assist learners in gaining a basic understanding of what the digital future holds and brings computer science education to students in the absence of adequate provision being made in national curricula.

Ilker Göler, Information Technology and Software Teacher at Tekirdag AKA College in Turkey, says: “The national curriculum in Turkey for the Information Technology branch is out of date, and I believe it doesn’t add much value to the students. That is why I make my curriculum flexible and in line with today’s technologies. For example, I teach coding, robotics, 3D Design, etc.”

Charmaine Roynon of Edupaths SA in South Africa says: “I work with teachers in many schools across SA to empower them to instil collaboration, skilled communication, Information and Communication Technology use, innovation, self-regulation and other skills in their learners. Sadly, many teachers still use the ‘talk and chalk’ way of teaching, and do not understand the pedagogy of relevant and deep learning. Professional development around problem-based learning and integration of Information and Communication Technology is necessary because it will empower teachers to [train their students in those skills].”

Israeli private school Beta School, teaches coding to kids from the fourth grade. According to Karina Batat, ICT Coordinator and Instructor at the school, “We work collaboratively with Office 365, which allows our learners to express themselves and communicate via Skype around the world. We also use Minecraft and MakeCode to offer the kids experience, creativity and help them prepare for life after school through critical thinking and problem-solving.”

Paula Barnard-Ashton, Lecturer at the School of Therapeutic Science in South Africa uses Sway for student projects, OneNote for work-based learning portfolios and postgraduate course collaboration tasks, Flipgrid and Teams for professional development groups and staff administration groups.

Click here to see how Microsoft makes teaching tools more applicable to students.

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CES: Most useless gadgets

The worst gadgets of CES also deserve their moment of infamy, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s fairly easy to choose the best new gadgets launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Most lists – and there are many – highlight the LG roll-up TV, the Samsung modular TV, the Royole foldable phone, the impossible burger, and the walking car.

But what about the voice assisted bed, the smart baby dining table, the self-driving suitcase and the robot that does nothing? In their current renditions, they sum up what is not only bad about technology, but how technology for its own sake quickly leads us down the rabbit hole of waste and futility.

The following pick of the worst of CES may well be a thinly veneered attempt at mockery, but it is also intended as a caution against getting caught up in hype and justification of pointless technology.

1. DUX voice-assisted bed

The single most useless product launched at CES this year must surely be a bed with Alexa voice control built in. No, not to control the bed itself, but to manage the smart home features with which Alexa and other smart speakers are associated. Or that any smartphone with Siri or Google Assistant could handle. Swedish luxury bedmaker DUX thinks it’s a good idea to manage smart lights, TV, security and air conditioning through the bed itself. Just don’t say Alexa’s “wake word” in your sleep.

2. Smart Baby Dining Table 

Ironically, the runner-up comes from a brand that also makes smart beds: China’s 37 Degree Smart Home. Self-described as “the world’s first smart furniture brand that is transforming technology into furniture”, it outdid itself with a Smart Baby Dining Table. This isa baby feeding table with a removable dining chair that contains a weight detector and adjustable camera, to make children’s weight and temperature visible to parents via the brand’s app. Score one for hands-off parenting.

Click here to read about smart diapers, self-driving suitcases, laundry folders, and bad robot companions.

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CES: Language tech means no more “lost in translation”

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Talking to strangers in foreign countries just got a lot easier with recent advancements in translation technology. Last week, major companies and small startups alike showed the CES technology expo in Las Vegas how well their translation worked at live translation.

Most existing translation apps, like Bixby and Siri Translate, are still in their infancy with live speech translation, which brings about the need for dedicated solutions like these technologies:

Babel’s AIcorrect pocket translator

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The AIcorrect Translator, developed by Beijing-based Babel Technology, attracted attention as the linguistic king of the show. As an advanced application of AI technology in consumer technology, the pocket translator deals with problems in cross-linguistic communication. 

It supports real-time mutual translation in multiple situations between Chinese/English and 30 other languages, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, French, Russian and Spanish. A significant differentiator is that major languages like English being further divided into accents. The translation quality reaches as high as 96%.

It has a touch screen, where transcription and audio translation are shown at the same time. Lei Guan, CEO of Babel Technology, said: “As a Chinese pathfinder in the field of AI, we designed the device in hoping that hundreds of millions of people can have access to it and carry out cross-linguistic communication all barrier-free.” 

Click here to read about the Pilot, Travis, Pocketalk, Google and Zoi translators.

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