Connecting Classrooms to Nurture Global Citizens
By Kang Shin-who
The British Council has long worked to link students and teachers around the world through videoconferencing as part of its ``Connecting Classrooms'' project.
The inter-school project helps teachers share teaching methodologies with their counterparts in other countries and learn their various curricula and school systems. The joint-classroom programs also enables students to meet foreign friends, learn different cultures and discuss global issues. Children from countries where English is not the local tongue can improve their communication skills in English.
To initiate the international project, the British Council held a meeting in 2007, inviting curriculum experts from education ministries from the U.K. and seven East Asian countries. Following the meeting, the British Council hosted the first ``Connecting Classrooms Seminar'' in Kuching, Malaysia in March 2008. Afterward, teachers' and students' Web communities for the joint classroom project were set up in April and June, respectively.
The British Council, an international organization for education and cultural relations, has also organized seminars to connect classrooms in Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Many schools in Asian countries have shown interest in the program and so far, more than 600 classrooms with some 9,000 students and 2,100 teachers have registered for the connecting classrooms Web community.
Currently, East Asian countries including Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are developing programs for joint classrooms with the United Kingdom. As an effort to further promote the project, another seminar took place in Seoul from Feb 25 to 26.
Various ideas and strategies were proposed at the forum, open to teachers and principals, as well as education experts from 60 schools nationwide. During the meeting, David Mathias, the council's East Asia Regional School Projects Manager, said the project was meant to develop world-class teachers and help young students cultivate skills and knowledge to compete in the international workplace. It ultimately aims to foster global citizens.
He also introduced examples of connecting classrooms in Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, the U.K. and Korea. The schools dealt with various themes through the inter-school project, such as global citizenship, tomorrow's world, science and invention, climate change, enterprise, sports and health, and environmental science.
Using Web cam conferencing, students can introduce themselves, their schools and their towns and discuss their viewpoints on various global issues with their counterparts abroad. Teachers and students also have opportunities to visit schools in other countries.
Another presenter, Dr. Tadashi Inagaki, a professor of liberal arts at Tohoku Gakuin University in Japan, said that students can develop communication skills and information literacy as well as cross-cultural understanding through inter-school collaborative learning. He mentioned the project was helpful in improving students' foreign language skills. He also introduced guidelines for designing programs, such as finding partner schools, classrooms, and teachers and promoting interaction.
Kim Jung-sun, a Korean teacher presented her experience of running the connecting classroom program for two years between Munsan High School in Gyonggi Province and Mortimer Comprehensive School in the U.K. The partner schools held monthly videoconferences dealing with geography, math, music and art and shared school information through their Web sites and students exchanged email and had opportunities to visit each other's schools.
Kim said the partnership project helped students and teachers practice everyday English in real life situations and develop intercultural communication competence. She also advised that trust and understanding between Korean and English students/staff was enhanced, promoting further cross-cultural communication and understanding.
``The ideal situation of the project is a `whole school approach' in which the partnership involves all teachers, learners, parents, governors and the local community,'' she said in her presentation material.
``Partnerships can dwindle despite total support from schools and firm foundations. An effective school partnership also needs careful planning, operational management, sufficient resources and a team responsible for its well being,'' she continued.
``Both sides must ensure that their needs and the needs of their partners are met. They should start small and set realistic aims. Partnership projects should be built year by year. Most of all, cultural considerations should be considered. Your sensitivity to the culture of your partner and their sensitivity to yours is part of the lesson and is essential to success.''