Now more than ever, technology is at the forefront of innovation in education. While it can be difficult for schools to stay on top of the latest developments, Singapore's Global Indian International School (GIIS) has cemented its place as an industry leader in utilising technology in a school environment.
Melissa Maria, principal of GIIS, has over 25 years of experience in the field of education and administration in reputed schools in Mumbai, Oman and Singapore. Presently, she is heading GIIS SMART Campus in Singapore. In this interview with Expat Arrivals, she shares her insights on the role of technology in learning and explains how GIIS uses technology throughout its campus, from smartboards and facial recognition to making use of data to optimise students' experiences.
Q: What technological facilities does your school have, and how are these used to enhance learning?
A: GIIS SMART Campus is a NextGen learning campus crafted for 21st-century learning. The campus is a great amalgamation of learning tools and spaces for learning best practices. Students are focused on learning outcomes rather than just acquiring knowledge, and practise how to use this knowledge in their journey ahead.
The campus is equipped with the following hi-tech features:
- 92 digitally connected SMART classrooms with 180 interactive touchscreen displays
- Expandable classrooms – each classroom is designed to expand by deploying the foldable partition walls between classrooms, allowing two or three classroom spaces to be merged into a single space, which can be used to conduct large-scale collaborative activities between students
- Over 40 skill-based studios such as the TV studio, radio studio, ceramic lab, maker lab, computer lab, culinary studio, language lab and so on
- The use of Sports Data Analytics (SPEDAS). Extending data analytics to sports areas, GIIS is one of the first schools in the world to offer SPEDAS, which is the NextGen data analytics used by NBA teams in sports like basketball
- 6,000 digital lockers for storing books, notepads and sports gear
- 170 facial recognition devices for students and staff to get access to all classrooms and studios, and mark their attendance at all places. This provides a highly safe and secure environment for all campus users
- Special areas called Learning Commons combine open classroom spaces with informal seating arrangements, giving students a stress-free and free-thinking learning environment
- The campus is deployed with high performing WiFi with 2GB broadband connection speeds. The network is large enough to provide WiFi to over 6,000 wireless devices
We have created a concept of learning that is more interactive, engaging, collaborative and a community exercise rather than just classroom learning. This is why we have carefully selected and cautiously implemented technology to ensure that it becomes a catalyst and not a distraction in a student’s educational journey. Features such as digital classrooms, virtual classrooms, smartboards, interactive TVs, iPads for teachers, MacBooks and iPads for students, WiFi connection, projectors, collar microphones, Apple TV, etc., make the classroom an interactive space giving maximum learning outcomes to the students.
Q: How has the use of technology as a teaching tool in your school impacted the learners?
A: The NextGen facilities at GIIS SMART Campus benefit the learning outcomes of the students in multiple ways.
The top-notch digital classrooms result in highly effective learning. The smartboards in classrooms allow students to share their assignments with the rest of the cohort. The extensive exchange of knowledge leads to deeper leaning.
The digital classrooms can be transformed into virtual classrooms where students can join the class remotely without being physically present in the school. This immensely helped in uninterrupted learning during the Covid-19 pandemic when students could not attend school. Without losing a single day, the entire GIIS SMART Campus transformed into a virtual school and teachers could continue giving virtual lessons.
The high-speed internet and WiFi enable the students to search for information and knowledge anywhere and any time in the campus. Students stay connected with the learning community at large resulting in effective and greater collaboration.
The skill-based studios ensure that students learn innovation and creativity. Students get to learn futuristic skills such as radio production, coding, artificial intelligence, TV production, culinary art and other unique skills at a school level. As a result, they emerge as competent and confident individuals as they step out into the world.
Outside of academics and sport, we use technology effectively for health-and-safety purposes. For instance, ours is probably the only school that has facial recognition machines outside every classroom which is an additional layer of safety, since it not only captures attendance but also points to where a particular student will be found during class hours.
Our school ID card serves as a one-tap solution for everything from attendance to buying food in the cafeteria.
All this comes with a sustainable and green environment. Our facilities are designed such that they do not waste or use more electricity than necessary. Motion-sensor lights, water-conserving flushes in the toilets, sunlight-absorbing facades and so on have been put in place to make the building as green as possible.
Q: How has the use of technology as a teaching tool in your school impacted the teachers?
A: Technology helps teachers save time and effort in various ways. At GIIS SMART Campus, expandable classrooms help the teachers teach to share content with a large cohort at the same time. Facial recognition devices help the teacher save time that they would otherwise spend in marking their attendance. Teachers can share richer content and add more value to the lessons by using interactive boards in classrooms, making the lessons more fun and engaging. Collar mics in the digital classrooms help teachers to be clearer and more audible while delivering lecture or lessons.
On top of all this, the greatest way that teachers at GIIS have benefited from technology is by efficiently using data analytics to transform learning into SMART learning. This ensures that no child is left behind and learning is monitored and carefully balanced to match the uniqueness of each child. It is an individualistic approach rather than one size fits all. Technology helps to make the learning more personalised where each and every student's strengths and weaknesses are analysed and programmes are implemented to maximise their learning.
Teachers are able to foster a collaborative spirit among students when projects are added in Google Classrooms. At the same time, teachers are able to provide individual study plans and programmes.
Q: Has your school ever encountered difficulties or challenges in the implementation or use of technology in the school?
A: One challenge that we do encounter is the rapid rate at which new technology emerges and the need to stay updated and relevant. Another area that can pose a challenge is the misuse of a wide range of apps and programmes that become available to students. However, since students are permitted to use only school-enabled devices with a strong firewall and access controls, it does help us combat any misuse.
Q: What role do you think technology has in teaching and learning today?
A: Technology has a vital role to play in teaching and learning today. As most of the schools in the present times are catering to Generation Z that was born in a world surrounded by technology, it is meaningless to confine these students in traditional classrooms with chalk and board. Technology has trained their brain to a different pattern of thinking and educators need to comply with this new way in order to deliver effective learning.
Use of technology in education is crucial to make our students future ready and adept in 21st-century skills such as innovation, creativity, communication and critical thinking. When the world is growing towards new and unexplored fields like artificial intelligence and cloning, schools also need to evolve and embrace new technology so that they can prepare the students for a future full of change.
Having said this, what is important is to teach children discernment and the right attitude to the use of technology for their own well-being and that of others. What is critical is that students never lose sight of being kind, demonstrating empathy and respect for everyone and everything around them.
Q: Any last thoughts on the use of technology in an educational context?
A: Technology in education helps the students expand the horizons of their minds, be innovative, entrepreneurial, creative and think out of the box. Digital-age students need digital stimuli to learn and retain knowledge. Technology can be used very effectively to build connections, which is fundamental to our existence. Leveraging technology to find solutions for a better world becomes the cornerstone to learning and the purpose of education.