On 10 and 11 March, over 700 attendees from 30 countries attended ninth 21st Century Learning Conference at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The biggest technology conference in the Asia-Pacific region discussed the integration of technology in the classroom, with the themes of Data in Education, STEAM, Student Voice, Leadership & Coaching and Digitally Powered Classrooms.
This year, the conference invited 17 student Digital Leader representatives from leading international schools across Hong Kong and Shanghai to provide a student’s point of view on the discussed topics. West Island School (WIS) was one of the three schools participating, alongside Hong Kong International School and Concordia School from Shanghai. Since this is the first year of the Student Digital leader program at West Island School, this was a great opportunity for the WIS Digital Leaders.
“It was a great honour for us to be invited to the conference,” said the WIS Digital Leader Tanushree Banerjee, “Never before have I been given the platform to express my views to such a vast audience.”
Over two days, over a hundred people gave presentations and speeches on a variety of topics related to technology. All of them were fascinating, especially one dedicated to the VEX robotics workshop, which introduced the VEX IQ robot building system which can be programmed easily using Scratch. The presenter, Mr Rolly Maiquez, explained the connections between robotics and STEM Education & Design, and the benefits of learning using buildable, programmable robots with motors and sensors.
Later on, Digital Leaders were invited to sit on a student panel and participate in a number of discussions. The first one was titled “The Secret Lives of Teenagers” which included a multitude of topics and questions. Adults in the audience asked the panel about the use of profanity on social media, their views on the overuse of social media, preferred social media platforms and other related subjects.
“Everyone contributed insightful observations and justified opinions. The panel only lasted for an hour, but felt much longer. Despite being nervous while it was happening, after the panel ended I realised it was actually a great experience to have, as I can now be more confident in my abilities to speak in front of a large group of people,” says Patsy Ng, a WIS Digital Leaders.
The panel titled: “What Are Schools Not Doing That They Should Be?” was extremely entertaining and action packed. The panels included Sasha Varlamov, a 17 year old entrepreneur who had left HKIS earlier this year. The panel brought up very real issues of regarding the use of technology in schools and how in spite of the advance in technology, students still feel bored and stifled within the confines of a school. They further explained, the use of digital technologies has become mere “box ticking” for schools, but aren’t being used to their full potential. Several students brought up very innovative solutions to the problems discussed on the panel and many creative ideas about the use of technology were also discussed at length. There was a hot debate on the effectiveness of the new grading systems and assessment policies using technology too.
The “Digital Leadership” student panel comprised of seven student Digital Leaders from international schools across Shanghai and Hong Kong. Students firstly explained the structures in their schools for Digital Leadership and then went on to talk about new technologies being introduced to the classroom and how teachers are failing to keep up. This has indeed led to crucial need for schools to have Digital Leaders – student representatives who can guide both teachers and students about the use of technology. Each school’s Digital Leadership team explained how they had a positive impact on the school community by assisting peers and teachers and promoting digital literacy. “The student panels were a huge success. The student representatives were thought provoking and answered questions from the audience honestly and with reason,” organiser Dana Watts added.
This conference was a once in a lifetime experience. Never before had students been exposed to so many ideas and ways in which education could be transformed. The panel discussions were very thought provoking, and challenged students to think about solutions to real life problems. The inclusion of student voice through the three student panels was also very effective – after all, who would understand the problems faced by students better than students? We would love to express our voice through more student panels and even keynotes in the future.