This week, I attended another international education conference — the first annual Nassau Educational Technology Conference (NET.1). It was the first of its kind to be held in the Bahamas. There were over 200 educators from the Bahamas and several other surrounding island nations. Often, as American educators, we are faced with the day-to-day problems of our own system and are unaware of the challenges and real obstacles faced by other countries as they also strive to educate their youth. Many of the things that we take for granted are almost non-existent in other countries.
Poverty in any country seems to be the biggest obstacle to a proper education, but the problems of poverty in a poor country seem to compound the issues almost beyond solution. There was an evident commonality, however, that could be found in the passion for education in the hearts of all of the educators in attendance. They gave freely of their time to attend an educational conference that offered glimmers of direction, and possible advances in the face of almost daily defeats metered out by problems of distance, isolation and infrastructure, — too much of the first two and not enough of the third.
The Net.1 Conference took place at a premiere school in Nassau — Lyford Cay International School. It is a K12 school comprised of various freestanding Caribbean-colored buildings. It was situated within a gated community of multi-million dollar homes. It was most definitely not typical of the schools most of the educator attendees represented. Gaynell Ellis, our Bahamian ambassador of good will, a technology visionary, and now a dear friend, guided our tour of the community. The school was the obvious beneficiary of the opulence and wealth surrounding it through generous contributions and an active and involved PTA.
I found the faculty members of this school to be most proud of their school and their students. The entire conference was a result of the efforts of that staff and foresight of their administrator, Stacey Bobo. Most notably among the organizers was a husband and wife team of educators from the school, technology director Oscar Brinson and technology coordinator Mindy Brinson. The conference was built around networking time in order to stimulate collaboration amongst the attending educators. The vision of using instructional technology to advance education in the Bahamas was set during the keynote by none other than the Honorable Jerome Fitzgerald, Minister of Education, Science and Technology.
Five 15-year-old students from the Lyford Cay International School — made up of 40% Bahamian and 60% international students — presented two of the conference presentations, . This group chose social media from a student’s perspective as their first presentation. These kids texted, tweeted, tumbled, and blogged with some of the best examples of their work out there for all to see. They answered questions, and offered opinions like pros. Of course spell checking a PowerPoint presentation is almost a universal mistake even among seasoned educators that was overlooked by the audience in light of the quality and effort put out by these kids. I loved it.
I invited these students to join me at my presentation on how educators are using social media for collaboration and professional development. Not only did they offer a great model on connected life-long learning, they offered questions and opinions that enlightened the adults in the room. Again, I loved it.
As students’ needs merge with the educators’ ability to provide solutions it is becoming very evident that a change is essential. With the way that the world at large curates, communicates, collaborates, and creates in a technology-driven environment while reaching out globally, choices need to be made. An educator’s choice is to get on board, or get out of the way. Relevance comes with life long learning. Looking to the past to not repeat our mistakes is a fine practice. Living in the past to develop minds for the future may be one of those very mistakes we are looking to avoid.
The steps taken by this small island nation to provide its educators with the tools to enter and compete in a modern world of collaboration is a sign of the times. Of course that brings to mind, especially to the old folk out there, those visionary words of Bob Dylan… “And the times they are a change’n.”
Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He previously spent 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.