I was impressed a man could move so easily in 95°F of heat and high humidity. We had been standing in a line, as if to attention, waiting for him. Neatly dressed. Pressed white shirts, top buttons done up, and ties tight and wet on our necks. And the women? Radiant in their vibrant baju kurungs. Willows moving with expectation.
His entourage swept into the school grounds dead on 10:00am. A black Mercedes followed by three or four other cars, and a Maserati.
After a pause that only increased our anticipation, a security guard sprung the passenger door and the man was suddenly among us. He just expanded instantaneously into the gap between the vehicle and our principal, who was standing there with her hands together, ready to greet him.
There was a momentary exchange of pleasantries and then he was off, sweeping down corridors in his white Arabian robes—billowing sails, spinnakers, hinting at his passion and his energy.
The vice principal signalled us anxiously. Get on into the hall.
The school was already assembled, with a 1000 students and more sitting on the floor. They were clustered in groups fanning themselves, chatting, playing games, beating time until the speaker arrived.
A row of chairs put out in front of the stage beneath the podium was waiting for staff. I sat down beside two New Zealand colleagues. We were straining to be respectful—to show interest. But having experienced similar events we were finding it hard. For we were about to be subjected an extended oration in a language we did not speak.
The maestro began, and he was impressive. His eye contact was exceptional: from the podium he would latch onto you, and speak to you personally for several seconds, before turning to someone else. His voice dipped and soared. One moment he was angry and impassioned; the next measured, reflective and softly spoken. His arms and hands mirrored his convictions. I was captivated even though I understood nothing he said.
There were expatriates from many nations present. All of us, squeezed into that front row, with a birds eye view of the speaker. All of us were impressed.
Then to our surprise, he did something remarkable: he switched to English; and we became recipients—at full volume— of his ‘special message’.
He had come to the school, he told us, to exhort staff and teachers alike to lead a fruitful life, particularly during this month of fasting. He had drawn the conclusion, whether on his own or in discussion with others (we weren’t told), that the way to do this was to 1) expel all expatriates from the country, and 2) cut down on listening to music. In fact, to just turn the radio off. For good.
His biggest bugbear, the mother (or was it the father?) of all evils was Capital Radio, beamed by satellite from London, UK across continents to Asia. We shuffled in our seats. And students clumped on the floor, bent lower, studying it intensely as though it held secrets.
And then the very worst (not admitting he might have already described it), the apotheosis of every known wickedness: Mike Osman and the Naughty Boys. Doyen to all DJs. My favourite morning show. The comfort to every commuter!
I must have looked like a possum caught in headlights, because our venerable speaker fixed his eyes on me. The lower part of my body squirmed in my chair. But I managed to keep my poise—a straight face and accommodating gaze. And all the while I was asking myself what life would be like without Mike. Together with the Naughty Boys, he had made me laugh so much I had developed cramp in my jaw while driving to school.
Of course, the staff were impressed. The kids were meek, giving off the false impression they knew nothing of Capital Radio or Mike. None of them looked up. The posture of everyone in the hall was of submission, acquiescence or agreement. No one murmured a word of dissent. A lone member of staff from the Da’wah Centre applauded.
Having expended himself on his crescendo—his exposition of degeneracy, our speaker drew himself up, eyed the auditorium defiantly and then swept off the stage. None of us moved. D.—looked at me and rolled his eyes.
A little while later, having worked my way through a sea of muted students to an exit, I saw our speaker’s train of luxury vehicles race away from the school grounds in perfect harmony.
I walked slowly along corridors with their polished concrete and aerated bricking. It was even hotter than usual. And no aircon. The climb to the third floor saw spots of sweat developing on my shirt. In the classroom the students were beginning to relax, the normal banter and smiles returning.
One girl, daughter to a senior official, asked me what I thought. Before I could answer her something astonishing happened.
The entire school was rigged with a network of speakers. It was used for announcements. 40 classrooms, the library, walkways and halls all connected. Suddenly the classrooms and corridors reverberated with the witty banter of Mike Osman and the Naughty Boys. The principal or members of the senior staff had obviously decided enough was enough!
Despite the heat I got down to the admin block quickly. In the principal’s office I found a battery of women glorious in their baju kurungs holding up a small portable radio to the microphone on the school’s intercom system. So much for the best laid plans of mice and men. So much for a fruitful life without international radio.
At that moment two things stood out for me: firstly, people do vote with their feet (indicating preference); and secondly, technology has a tremendous and positive power to be used in surprising and disruptive ways! Put something good in someone’s hands and more often than not they will use it. I saw this literally as Y.— with her delicate hands put the radio to the mike. Talk about globalization!
Mike Osman was not the mother of all evils. Nor was Capital Radio. And local staff of this particular school knew it. They had a sense of proportion. They used technology to make a point. The announcement system was there for precisely just that: for making announcements. But that day it did something unexpected: it broadcast music and repartee throughout the school.
I think the same principles apply in education. When given a chance people will vote with their feet. They will choose curricula, try to get into the best teacher’s classes, move to a better school district (if they can), etc.—. And if they think something is unhelpful, and can see a better way of doing it they usually do so. They ache for change, choose and then act.
Digital technology, PDAs and social media that have become part of our lives in the last decade are becoming commonplace in education. They are disrupting traditional practices. This is not necessarily a threat; on the contrary it presents parents, teachers and children with very great opportunities. Whether through a ‘flipped classroom’ experience, where students do a lot of pre-reading or ‘pre-watching’ online out of class, and then use class time for explanation, practice and discussion. Or whether for assessing how well we are teaching and how effectively our kids are learning, EdTech is a boon.
EdTech offers speed, accuracy, variety and an interest factor that is welcome.
So, for instance, libraries have their place, but researching a topic online or getting a PDF from a chapter in a book as an attached file more often than not leads to fuller, quicker and better results. Searching and learning in the digital environment is fun, too. Indeed it seems to reignite a love of learning that many educators feared was lost among kids.
Teaching in Asia was a marvellous experience. Full of sunlight, colour, humour and friendship. I wish, however, I had had the type of resources and technology available to me that teachers and kids enjoy today. I could have done much more, much more quickly and probably more effectively. We could even have streamed Mike Osman and the Naughty Boys for English lessons!
Take away points: Teaching and learning should be marvellous fun as well as being content and concept rich. Parents, children and many educators look for ways for making it so. Choice around who teaches our children, what they are taught and where they study matters to parents. When given opportunities to make educational decisions they take them. Digital technology and EdTech are here to stay. They will provide efficiencies in acquiring information, and aid in analysis, evaluation, application and creativity in learning. They will sharpen assessment, too. Mobile learning will become an ordinary habit as the world comes to our fingertips.
Not great watching but thought-provoking content. Lord David Puttnam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ax-DFOq2xiM
The potential use of data for learning and assessment
5 Steps for Formative Assessment in a Flipped Classroom: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/five-steps-formative-assessment-jon-bergmann?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=blog-steps-formative-assessment-image