By Emeka Aginam, in Cape Town, South Africa
The global software giant, Microsoft in partnership with Smithsonain Institution and TakingITGlobal have launched Shout initiative , a capacity building program designed to encourage teachers to use technology to help students explore, connect and act to address some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, while gaining important skills including collaboration, critical thinking and  social responsibility.

The program was unveiled this morning by  Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Microsoft Worldwide Education  before an elite gathering of no fewer than 500

World’s most innovative educators and school leaders are participating at the ongoing Microsoft partners in learning Worldwide Innovative Education Forum in Cape Town, South Africa.

The capacity building event holding for the first time in the Africa soil recognizes educators who creatively use technology in their curriculum to help improve the ways students learn.

Nearly 200,000 teachers around the world had earlier participated at country and regional events vying to compete on this global stage, taking place now in Cape Town, South Africa.

Over the partnership’s three years, Microsoft and its partners, according to  Salcito  will make a more than $1 million commitment to engage and empower a global network of millions of teachers and students coming together to address environmental issues affecting land, air and water.

“This partnership is a fantastic way to build connections between teachers and students around the world, and address some of the most critical environmental issues of our time,”  Salcito  told the gathering noting that  “Technology is an amazing tool to reach beyond geographic and cultural boundaries and build meaningful collaborative partnerships.

Each year according to him, the software giant sees what happens when great teachers have access to technology-based tools at the Worldwide Innovative Education Forum. “I am excited to see the Shout program expand these opportunities to teachers throughout the world” he added

Beginning in November, according to him, teachers from around the world will find the first “classroom challenge” and will be encouraged to address issues of deforestation in their classroom.

Each challenge, he said will kick off with an online seminar for teachers, featuring Smithsonian scientists.

He explained that once a teacher starts a project related to the challenge, they will be able to connect with millions of other educators, find the curriculum and best practices they need to incorporate the environmental education projects into their classrooms, and connect their students to others around the globe.

The power of the project will be unveiled as students use their creativity to help address critical global environmental issues.

Educators are encouraged to return to the Shout page for updates, direct links to the partner sites and bi-monthly new challenges.

Excited about the project,  Claudine Brown, Director of Education at Smithsonian Institution  further explained that  when students and teachers are connected with one another using technology, cultural and language barriers disappear, and a space can be created for deep, meaningful collaboration that helps drive positive social change.

“We’re pleased to be a part of the Shout partnership and harness the power of technology to connect our vast research and education resources with education leaders.

“Through Shout, we believe teachers and their students can act as driving force for significant, positive contributions to the environment.”  She added.

For the Australian elementary school teacher, Emmanuelle Blake while commending laudable initiative by Microsoft noted that it will prepare the students for the challenges ahead.

“My sixth grade class has not only been learning how palm oil production is directly linked to the destruction of the rain forests in Indonesia and Malaysia, but they have been collaborating with classes around the world to teach other kids, reach out to their community and even petition their governments to stop deforestation,”

“Our kids are learning how they can work together to make a real difference and technology is breaking down borders to help them.”

Similarly, Michael Furdyk, founder of TakingITGlobal who was also excited about the project said that,  “Shout is driven by the concept that students can and should drive their own learning both inside and outside the classroom, with teachers collaborating as guides during classroom time,” adding that,  “Looking at DeforestAction, for example, shows the positive results that can come from this partnership.

“Through efforts like this, students can be leaders in driving positive change and can learn the skills they need to be productive leaders in other industries and organizations” he said.

Shout grew out of a pilot program launched at the Partners in Learning Regional Innovative Education Forum in Singapore earlier this year. Called “DeforestAction,” the pilot connected students across multiple countries including the Philippines, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and Australia.

Students are combining fundraising efforts, working on collaborative projects to build awareness, and developing social action campaigns to support the protection of rainforests in the Asia-Pacific region.

They even helped create a public service announcement that is playing on national television in Sri Lanka, and worked with a documentarian in Australia to expose the problem of deforestation across the region. The first global challenge to educators in the Shout program will focus on DeforestAction.

For keen observers, Shout will combine action with science to provide a very real learning experience for students around the world.

Educators attending the Worldwide Innovative Education Forum in Cape Town  on Tuesday  saw this in action  during a visit to two  local schools.

Smithsonian researchers had demonstrated how they use small aluminum bands to measure the growth of trees over time – an indicator of climate change.

The schools – St. Cyprians and TBD School  will be the first schools in the world to participate in this global scientific research project.

Teachers and school leaders attending received free tree-banding kits and will also contribute to this research. In January, the Shout partnership will issue a global challenge to engage thousands of schools around the world in tree banding experiments.

The Worldwide Innovative Education Forum is the signature program of Microsoft Partners in Learning, to honor innovative teachers and schools, and to showcase how technology can further educational transformation by being appropriately incorporated into curricula, pedagogy and classrooms.

Partners in Learning are the 10-year, nearly $500 million commitment by Microsoft to transform education systems around the world.

Since its inception in 2003, the Partners in Learning program has reached more than 196 million teachers and students in 114 countries


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