Conference #2

The former APEID unit (I say former as APEID is now EISD, see this blog) holds a biannual international conference that brings together people from all over the World in a bid to facilitate discussions around education. I was lucky that the conference was scheduled for when I was working there! So come October 26-28th and some 150 people from about 40 countries arrived in Bangkok for the 18th UNESCO-APEID International Conference. The three-day conference featured several plenary and concurrent sessions. Needless to say, months of hard work and planning had gone into its execution.

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Arranging conference materials

As an intern I was providing support where needed. This meant work like cutting out name badges and putting them in ID card holders and clipping lanyards (yes, these are those strings that go around your neck) to them. We – me, other interns and staff, also had to prepare conference materials for the participants. Special stationery had been ordered so we were making sure that each bag had promotional material, the conference program and so on. We had a nice assembly line figured out, we put on some music (this tune had us in fits for a while) and Jonghwi ordered us some pizza so the task was much less tedious than I had expected. It was actually fun!

The next day, morning of the conference, I was running late so I caught a taxi to the hotel. I thought this was a good idea as changing lines at the BTS and walking between the stations and the hotel would take quite long. How wrong I was! Bangkok traffic is never to be trusted especially when one is in a time crunch. I did get to the hotel in time but just barely.

I stationed myself at the registration table and welcomed participants as they started coming in after breakfast. Once the welcome address began, I quickly surveyed the concurrent session hall I was going to manage. Four halls were assigned for the concurrent sessions and each hall was to be managed by a pair of interns. This meant that we were to setup the laptop and sound system, make sure that the presentations were running and generally be on hand to make sure everything ran smoothly.

The first day was uneventful, except two out of three presenters were not able to make it to the concurrent session I was managing. However, the chair, Edizon Fermin more than made up for it by giving one of his own presentations. This half-hour presentation was by far the best presentation I attended not only at the APEID conference but throughout my stint as an intern at UNESCO Bangkok. He talked about 21st century demands and how Philippines was trying to meet these. Teachers are, of course, an important part of this conversation. In this regard, creating career tracks for teachers is imperative. Philippines is introducing specialized Bachelors in education programs (for e.g. B.Ed. for physical education, B.Ed. for Mathematics). This allows somebody studying say, biology to decide later that they want to be a teacher and not enter the medical field. The two years that the student spent learning content does not go to waste and they can enter the education track. Such an ingenious introduction! Further, Philippines recently made the move from K-10 to K-12. This means that the first Filipino K-12 teacher will be graduating in 2024. Mr. Fermin, recognized that the country must employ a number of band-aid solutions before the change completely kicks-in.

I was completely amazed by this presentation. Not only because Philippines’ progress in teacher education is exemplary but also that the speaker was incredibly engaging and broke down the content so that it was easily relatable. His account was filled with humor, anecdotes and inspiration. All this, when he wasn’t even in the session program! Granted he must have given the same presentation dozens of times but there aren’t many people who can launch into a thirty minute presentation without prior notice. I hope to captivate an audience the same way some day!

The second and third days, while no less of a learning experience, were dampened by, well, let’s just say unavoidable personal circumstances. On the second day I had to make a quick trip home and back (that’s 40 minutes one way). Thankfully, my partner intern covered the room while I was gone. On the third day I became unwell and had to rest in the conference HQ. However, I was back on my feet by the evening and helped the team pack up the publications, standees and other materials.

With this the three days of learning, networking and buffet meals came to a close. The conference team congratulated each other on a job well done and celebrated with group photos.

Thank you, APEID! I appreciate the opportunity!

Happy Teachers’ Day!

On 5th October 1966, at a special intergovernmental conference, UNESCO, in cooperation with the International Labor Organization (ILO), proposed a set of recommendations concerning the status of teachers. This document set the parameters of the rights and responsibilities of teachers including such aspects as teacher salaries’, hours of work, the school infrastructure and so on. This was a momentous day in recognition of teachers’ status. 28 years later, the same day, 5th October, was designated as World Teachers’ Day.

Fast forward to 2016; the SDGs are a year old and 50 years have passed since the status of teachers’ recommendations were adopted. So when UNESCO Bangkok held its very own celebration in commemoration of the day through the World Teachers’ Day (WTD) Forum, it seemed like a pertinent occasion to take stock of our progress. Thus, the Forum was aptly titled “Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status”.

WTD Forum was the first event I attended that was being hosted by UNESCO Bangkok. The two-day event brought together approximately 100 teachers, teacher-trainers, researchers, ministry officials and policy-makers, from 20+ countries. My designated role was that of note-taker for the final plenary session on Day 2, “Dialogue: Next 3-5-10 years towards Education 2030”. Additionally, I, like other team members, was expected to be present and help out wherever need be. This minimal role meant that I had plenty of time for networking. So, out came the business cards (Thank you, Penn GSE) and my introverted self tried its best to connect to the participants around me. I thought I was doing well, until I saw fellow IEDP-er, Deren Temel, planning dinner with some participants. Oh well, I guess I have some catching up to do in the networking game!

So what did I learn over the two day conference? Well more or less, it confirmed the belief that teachers all over the world are saints! Whether the teacher is in a rural village in Africa or an urban slum in Asia, they both are under-resourced, over-worked and invested in the well-being of their students.

An interesting aspect that came up throughout the conference was the need to provide teachers with multi pathway career progression. This meant that several conversations were based around teacher professional development. How do we ensure that what teachers learn in trainings is applied in classrooms? How do we recognize and check for quality, the myriad of ways that teachers augment their professional development?

Personally, the most important insight of the conference was listening to how countries are trying to create career tracks for teachers. Here is the example of Singapore (taken from keynote speaker, Ms. Belinda Charles’ presentation. You can find it here.) :

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This is what the career track looked like for teachers. There was very little opportunity for career progression
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This is what the career tracks look like now. With leadership opportunity across all tracks with potential to switch between tracks.

The idea is so simple: Give teachers more entry points into the career; show them where they can lead and give them a future. But as Ms. Charles herself said, it is easy to create these tracks but much harder to get everyone on board and help them understand what these changes mean. So of course, policies are not enough. We must focus on partnerships, dialogue and consultations for change.

Here’s to wishing a very Happy Teachers’ Day to all my teachers, past and present. You have had a profound influence on development and I am grateful for your guidance.

 

A month in Bangkok

On a Monday morning, a month ago, I reported to work. The first one to arrive, I waited in the lobby sweating profusely due to Bangkok’s humidity. Soon one of my colleagues arrived, spotted me and led me to our office. Slowly, the office filled up with the rest of the team. With each new person I was introduced to, I felt increasingly welcomed and comfortable in my new surroundings.

My supervisor held a team meeting in the morning so that I could be brought up to date on all the ongoing projects. True to what has been reported by fellow IEDPers, acronyms make up a large portion of the development discourse (Rachel, I’m looking at you). RDTC, SERU-ICT, MOE, APCIEU, APMED, APEID, DKAP, KFIT, CN, CASIE and the list went on and on. But luckily, my wonderful team was conscious that I was new and checked to make sure that I wasn’t too overwhelmed. Dr. GK, I thought about you during that meeting. I was able to wrap my head around all the information because I was prepared. The pre-departure report made all the difference. Thank you for asking us to write it!

Spending up to 10 hours in the office each day, the people one works with become an important part of the experience. For me, they are the best part of working here. Being among people who are passionate about what they do, who manage crazy workloads but find the time to answer my questions and who make work fun is infinitely rewarding.

At this one month mark I am ever so grateful for this opportunity to learn about ICT in Education. It has been such an enriching learning experience so far and I look forward to more learning! Special thanks to my wonderful team, especially my supervisor, who invest their time and energy in my training!

 

ICT in Education: What We Do

In my last post I promised to write about how the ICT Team assists member states to “harness the potential of ICT in achieving quality education for all”. Since its inception in 2002, the department has achieved several milestones. They have, among other projects, co-created ICT Competency Standard for Teachers, hosted international conferences, developed guidelines, held workshops and distributed resources. For a more complete list see the image below.

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Milestones of the ICT in Education Team at Asia-Pacific’s Regional Bureau of Education

The ICT Team is generally involved in high level policy work that requires collaboration with local governments to adopt and adapt ICT best practices in national curricula and education systems. I am lucky to be interning here at this time as this is the busiest period of the year for the Bureau. In the three months that I am here. Lots of interesting work is in the pipeline. Several conferences and seminars are scheduled in the coming months and a few publications are coming out soon.

The project that I am focusing my energies on is Policy Guidelines for “Building Digital Citizenship in Asia-Pacific through Safe, Effective, Responsible Use of ICTs”.  We call it SERU-ICT. The project initiated two years ago with a desk review of the status of SERU-ICT in 2014. Several mapping exercises, an expert meeting, a regional consultation and a policy review (in press) later, the team is now working on developing Policy Guidelines.

It is an exciting new arena, one that is especially relevant today. The opportunities are endless. ICTs have reduced barriers to information access, transformed communication media, and supported innovations in education, health, agriculture and finance. However, with each of these opportunities, the risks have also become more apparent. As recent events have shown us, cyberbullying and terrorism (both cyber and otherwise) are issues that must be urgently addressed. The balance of opportunities and risks is essentially the idea behind SERU-ICT.

An important concept in this discourse is Digital Citizenship. It is not yet universally defined and means different things to different people in different contexts. However, UNESCO BKK’s Expert Meeting agreed upon the following definition:

Being able to find, access, use and create information effectively; engage with other users and with content in an active, critical, sensitive and ethical manner; and navigate the online and ICT environment safely and responsibly, being aware of one’s own rights.

The definition reflects a critical intersection between 21st century skills (including Media and Information Literacy), and being ethical and responsible in ICT spaces. This is important both for our safety and security and for ensuring equitable access to information and knowledge.

In the near future expect publications and conferences around these themes. In fact, UNESCO’s international conference on the Prevention of Violent Extremism through Education is being held in Delhi next week. Also, the Global Media and Information Literacy Week is being celebrated on 31 October – 5 November 2016.

To stay updated about developments in this field like the ICT in Education Facebook page (which I happen to managing this month!)

 

UNESCO BKK, APEID and ICT in Ed

As most of you know I am interning with UNESCO Bangkok. But what exactly is UNESCO Bangkok and what is its mandate?

It turns out that UNESCO has three kinds of offices: Regional Bureaus, Cluster Offices and National Offices. The office in Bangkok is all three.

UNESCO organizes member states in five regional groups – AfricaArab StatesAsia and the Pacific (AP), Europe and North America and Latin America and the Caribbean. Their office in Bangkok is Asia and the Pacific’s Regional Bureau for Education. It also serves as a Cluster Office for the Mekong region (Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Lao PRD, Vietnam, and Singapore). And since it manages activities in Thailand, it can also be seen as the National Office.

Within the Bureau there are two units EISD (Educational Innovation and Skills Development, formerly APEID) and IQE (Inclusive Quality Eduction). EISD works in several areas including Higher Education, Teacher Education and ICT in Education.  So when I say that I am interning with UNESCO Bangkok, I am specifically working with the ICT team within EISD and the Bureau. Here’s a little visual that describes my placement in the organization.
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The AP region consists of 48 Member States all the way from Afghanistan to Australia! The Bangkok Office is tasked with providing these Member States strategic expertise through advising, and monitoring and evaluation. Specifically, the ICT team assists Member States “to harness the potential of ICT in achieving quality education for all”. How exactly they do this is reserved for the next post!

Stay tuned!

Scratch Map

Before leaving Philly, my wonderful friend and fellow IEDP-er, Melanie, invited us to her home. On a tour of the house by my behen and another awesome IEDP-er, Pritha, we were introduced to the scratch map. Melanie and her husband log their travels all over the world by scratching the gold on the map. The aim is to ultimately scratch the entire map.

I immediately fell in love with the idea of having a visual record of the places one has travelled to. So, I went home, found a map on Amazon, got it framed and hung it in my room. As you can see in the picture below, I am far from having travelled the world but it is a start!

Thank you, Melanie, for introducing me to this map! Here’s to a lifetime of globetrotting and exploring the cultures of the world!