Irish schools to spearhead Bill Gates’ ‘Schools of the Future’ drive

4 Nov 2009

Just two years after Dunshaughlin Community College became one of Bill Gates’ 12 ‘Schools of the Future’, it will become one of 12 mentor schools while a school in Kilkenny has been picked as one of 30 global pathfinder schools.

Leaders from all 42 schools are gathering in Salvador, Brazil, for a four-day workshop to begin a journey of transformation in their school communities. Over the next 12 months, these school leaders will go back to their home communities with a mission to transform the way their schools operate.

They will be encouraged to rethink all aspects of school life, from the structure of the day and the use of technology in the curriculum to ensuring teachers have the space and time to bring innovative practices to the classroom.

Irish schools

Scoil Naomh Fiachra, a primary school from Freshford, Co Kilkenny, will become pathfinder school, while County Meath VEC will now become a mentor school. Dunshaughlin Community College (part of Meath VEC) was one of the 12 original ‘Schools of the Future’ announced by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in 2007.

Scoil Naomh Fiachra was chosen to participate in the Pathfinder Programme from more than 110 applicants from around the world. It was chosen to participate in the programme because it has demonstrated strong school leadership with a proven record of innovation and successful change implementation.

The pathfinder schools have been chosen because of their vision for learning and have already started on the road to reform and improvement.

“By working hand in hand with Microsoft Innovative Schools Programme, the education community can gain an improved understanding of what students need to advance in a Smart Economy,” said Tommy Maher, principal of Scoil Naomh Fiachra, speaking from Brazil.

“The Innovative Schools Programme gives us the resources we need to provide the best education available and we look forward to working with Microsoft and other schools in the programme to identify the ways in which we can equip our students with knowledge, a drive for innovation, and a passion for technological discovery.”

Pathfinder schools

The pathfinder schools will work with 12 regional mentor schools, one of which is County Meath VEC, chosen primarily among participants in the Innovative Schools Pilot Programme, which ran over the last two years.

The mentor schools will be honoured at the event because they have achieved a level of change within their education systems and are viewed as leaders in their countries and regions. Their innovations have a global interest and are replicable models that other schools can follow. Some pathfinder schools will have the opportunity to share the knowledge they gain as mentor schools in the future.

“The past two years, working with the company, since we became a school of the future, has given us access to some of the best education minds in the world and we’ve been able to tap into a global network,” said Seamus Ryan, Meath VEC, speaking from Brazil.

“We are delighted that we can now share those learnings with innovative schools around the world to help them achieve what we have.”

Ireland as education leader

Dr Kevin Marshall, head of Education, Microsoft Ireland, said Ireland has now established itself as a leader in education excellence within the Microsoft Innovative Schools Programme.

“Today, we can not only announce that Scoil Naomh Fiachra will become one of only 30 schools worldwide to enter the programme, but that County Meath VEC will become a mentor school to teachers around the globe. What Scoil Naomh Fiachra and County Meath VEC have in common is that they are both committed to leveraging the use of technology to equip their students with skills they need to survive in the 21st-century economy.”

In addition, Microsoft announced the launch one of the world’s largest networks for educators. The network underscores Microsoft’s commitment to expand the power of education for all through personalised learning by connecting millions of teachers and school leaders around the world in a community of professional development.

Network for teachers, school leaders

The launch of the ‘Partners in Learning Network’ is the next generation of the ‘Innovative Teachers Network’ (ITN), a global network expected to serve more than 2 million teachers and school leaders by next year. The network has evolved to include advances in social-networking technology that will help teachers and school leaders do their jobs better by connecting them with one another in professional development communities.

The site is available in English and Ukrainian, with more in the coming months. As new languages become available for the ‘Partners in Learning Network’, existing ITN users will automatically have access to the new, more powerful features that this version of the network provides.

At its core, the ‘Partners in Learning Network’ helps promote practices that school leaders and teachers can use to improve students’ 21st-century skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, communication, contextual learning, creativity, and information and media literacy.

“The ‘Partners in Learning Network’ provides a unique and powerful way to connect with educators around the world and offers them an accessible forum dedicated to the exchange of ideas, educational tools and collaboration,” said Michael Golden, corporate vice- president of the Education Products Group at Microsoft.

“The network demonstrates our continued focus on empowering educators to engage their students more deeply,” said Golden.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years