14 August, 2011

US rep at Kosrae OLPC handover: "We are your dedicated partner"

In a speech made in July 2011 at the official handover ceremony at Tafunsak Elementary School on the remote island of Kosrae, Ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Peter A. Prahar, declared the United States "a dedicated partner" in the effort to roll out OLPC and improve the quality of education in Micronesia:
"Thank you for inviting me to participate in this event. I can assure you from this day forth, education – or at least educational opportunities – in Kosrae will be changed forever. I certainly don’t need to tell the students this is a momentous day. They are leaning forward towards the pile of computers that will be issued after we stop talking with the biggest smiles imaginable on their faces! But of course with every change, there is anxiety. With every change, there is a need for leaders to explain the rational and value of the change and how it might be best carried out. So let me address some short remarks to this big topic.
"First of all, a good education is rooted in the classroom, the home, the community, and the culture. A good education requires a strong, coherent curriculum, dedicated and professional teachers, students motivated to learn, adequate resources and facilities, and parents and communities that support and value education. A good education requires enormous effort by everyone involved.
"Nothing about the One Laptop Per Child Program changes any of this.
"It is not a miracle cure for what ails you. Just like a fancy textbook, just putting this new tool in a student’s hands won’t guarantee he or she learns anything.
"Dedicated and professional teachers who understand the new tool will still need to see that it becomes part of a strong, coherent, and relevant curriculum. Principals will still need to make sure that the teachers are delivering well-structured, sequential programs in well-managed classes day in and day out – and that they understand this new tool. Students will still need to be motivated to exploit this new tool to advance their educations. Parents will still need to be their child’s first teacher and they still must be meaningfully involved in the formal education process in order to provide support, encouragement, interaction, and stimulus. Communities will still need to support and value the use of this new tool in getting a good education.
"The challenge for the students, teachers, principals, parents, and communities is enormous. The One Laptop Per Child is like a hammer in the hands of a person. The person has a choice. He can either use the hammer to break a building down or use it to build a new structure.
Used ineffectively, this new tool can be used to fritter away considerable amounts of time with Facebook, MyFace online games, and all the frivolous entertainment and other distractions available on the Internet. Used ineffectively, this new tool can become an impediment to learning and personal growth.
"But used effectively, this new tool can open new worlds of information and opportunity. It can link the newly empowered students of this small, island community with the entire global community. It can significantly level the playing field in the highly-competitive 21st century between students on this small, island community and those lucky enough to be able to physically attend the most demanding public and private schools in the world, anywhere in the world.
"But while I’ve pointed out the risks and rewards of this new tool, let me also say that you have no choice but to confront them. We have witnessed in the past ten years an unprecedented growth in information - all of it digital. Digital data now accounts for well in excess of 95 percent of all information. We simply cannot talk about education in the 21st century and somehow ignore 95 percent of the available information. We simply cannot talk about education in the 21st century and somehow decide we’re going to operate at 18th century speeds with 15th century paper and print technology and 19th century thinking.
"By the way - this is also the reason why everyone - not just students - should be online and connected. To not go online and be connected is to shut yourself off from 95 percent of what's happening.
"Some more free advice: Reach out and sell this program – this new tool - to all of your stakeholders.
"Sell it to the students. Tell them that on the Internet they can get the same information as someone in Honolulu, or Los Angeles, or New York, or London. They can share ideas with people anywhere in the world. They can take online courses and even get a college degree in many subjects without leaving Kosrae. I recently had dinner with a group of teachers in Chuuk who had completed bachelor degree courses on line through San Diego State University in California. And it’s not only college-level work: My 15-year-old niece stayed with my wife and me last summer. While living with us on Pohnpei, she was able to take online advanced high school courses from Johns Hopkins University – one of the best universities in the world.
"Sell it to the teachers: Here’s an opportunity to, at long last, get the most up-to-date learning materials into the hands of your students. Here’s an opportunity, at long last, to get learning material most appropriate to an individual student’s ability level and interest into his hands.
"Here’s an opportunity, at long last, for your students to access online courses, such as through the online Khan Academy, that will complement and reinforce classroom work. Here’s an opportunity, at long last, to see test scores soar and their scholarship eligibility potential increase.  "Most importantly, here’s an opportunity, at long last, for the students to explore, to experiment, and to express themselves – in short, to acquire the skills they will need for a lifetime of learning.
"Sell it to the parents: Tell them that research has shown time and again that if used properly, this new tool can significantly increase their children’s knowledge of current and past events, their ability to read and write, their self-confidence, their entrepreneurial abilities, and their motivation to learn. By the way, educators may wish to consider workshops for the parents early in the rollout process to get them involved in a meaningful way in the learning to exploit the power of the Internet.
"Sell it to the community: Skill in exploiting the digital age is the key to Kosrae’s future. You could talk about the growth of the global marketplace for goods and services. You could point to the firm on Pohnpei that is, from an office next to the Embassy, selling millions and millions of dollars of insurance and other financial services to Japanese businesses – all from Pohnpei.
"In short, a well designed One Laptop Per Child program is more—much more—than a plan and a pile of computers. A well designed One Laptop Per Child program involves more than just the department employees and students within a school system. A well designed One Laptop Per Child program will, in fact, embody and win the solid commitment and active participation of all of the stakeholders in the Kosrae education system.
"And, as you roll out this new tool and take other steps to upgrade the quality of the education system here in Kosrae, I can assure you that the U.S. will be your dedicated partner in the effort."
Thank you.

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