January 13, 2017 was the beginning of the first Cloud Smart Classroom in Sri Lanka when the Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer at Codegen, Dr Harsha Subasinghe together with Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs, Dr Harsha de Silva launched this interesting initiative at the Sri Jayawardenepura Maha Vidyalaya, Kotte.
Backed by the Education Ministry, the Smart Classroom was set up with ssuming the role of technology solution provider for both software and hardware. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe accompanied by the Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and several other officials paid a visit to the Cloud Smart Classroom recently. The purpose of this visit was to see the progress of both the system and the students and to scrutinize how this learning concept can be successfully applied to the rest of the country.
The Sunday Observer visited the Smart Classroom at Kotte to see the progress the smart classroom had made todate. The students seemed very happy and energetic. They were studying Civics Education and their concentration and engagement in the lesson was outstanding. A student from Grade Seven Smart Classroom, Ruvin Rashintha said that when he is free, he looks for educational related material on Google. “We do not need to buy exercise books and stationery now. It is very easy for us. Last year when our teacher told us to find pictures to paste, we needed to search in shops or cut from newspapers but now we can easily download from Google and paste it on the page in the tab. I like this system a lot. It encourages and motivates me to learn. I like coming to school every day now rather than before. We can download and read story books too during our leisure time,” he said.
The Principal of Sri Jayawardenepura Maha Vidyalaya Kotte, Major D.A.D. Wanaguru said, “The idea of the Smart Classroom was first initiated by Deputy Minister, Harsha de Silva. The Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer at Codegen, Dr. Harsha Subasinghe gave us the knowledge about Smart Classrooms. The smart board which represents a blackboard and the tab system concept was introduced to us by Dr. Subasinghe. He always coordinates with us to make things easy. The tabs were provided to us by the Codegen Company. After we started the Smart Classrooms, we monitored the progress of the students.”
“Students can now read and learn, while taking handwritten notes on the same screen. It is a unified learning solution for students with smart content delivery and unlimited content availability in multi-media form. After implementing this new education concept, we have seen a tremendous progress of children in the 7E Smart Classroom. This pilot project has proved that students are now much more enthusiastic to learn in the classroom or even at home with minimal supervision; increasing student attendance up to 92.5 percent, and an average 24 percent performance increase in subjects, and the highest individual average of 87 percent at the term examination was from the Smart Classroom,” he said.
Principal Wanaguru said, “We have blocked all unnecessary sites and applications. There is a control panel through which the Codegen company, teachers of the Smart Classroom and myself monitor and manage. We cannot hide from new technologies, but instead we must get used to it and get along with it. Technology is sometimes misused by children but here they cannot, as we manage it. We should not make technology our slave, instead we should be the managers of it. Today children have made technology their slaves. They go to unnecessary websites and search for things and think that it is something great.”
“I got an opportunity to visit Australia recently with the support of Minister Harsha de Silva. I saw that the students in Australia take smart phones, tablets and laptops to school. We visited three schools and saw that teachers teach through smart phones. The students check the routes and destinations to go to a place through Google maps. We cannot match the standard of Australia but we cannot escape from the technology. So many people commented negatively and criticised on social media after the introduction of Cloud Smart Classroom at Sri Jayawardenepura Maha Vidyalaya, Kotte. When the trains were introduced to Sri Lanka, some people signed petitions against it saying that the cows are afraid of it. Likewise, when a new technology is introduced there is a lot of barriers but we need to get along with it,” he said.
He further added that this year the Grade Seven English Medium Class is only included in the Smart Classroom, but next year they are planning to make the whole Grade Seven classes Smart Classes. “Minister de Silva’s plan is to make the whole school a smart classroom by 2020. At the beginning we thought to start a smart classroom from Grade Six as it is the first upper grade but later we thought to start from Grade Seven as that is the ideal age to face a huge change in the teaching/learning process. We can see that it is a success today. Even though Minister Harsha de Silva is not an educationist, he showed us the right path. The funds, advice and guidance to start this smart classroom is really appreciated,” he said.
Mathematics and Health Education teacher and teacher in charge of Cloud Smart Classroom, Punsandani Chanika Rathnayake said, “These 17 students were selected for the smart classroom from the Grade Six English Medium class and from a written and oral test. When comparing with the other students in school, the smart classroom students are performing well. They are very active and interested in studies. They come to school every day and they concentrate well on studies and extra-curricular activities. They take their tabs home for recharging every day. It is easy for us as we prepare for the lessons through presentations.”
“We make videos as well to conduct the lessons. The students download the lessons that we prepare through their tabs. The Codegen Company trained us for about two weeks before starting the smart classroom. They gave us laptops to prepare lessons. The textbooks are uploaded to the tabs. At the moment the students are doing exams through papers and not online. The school dialog wifi is filtered and students cannot access unnecessary websites. The Google search engine is also filtered. We sometimes face problems in this system such as the tabs or the smart board gets stuck and the wifi Internet connection is slow often. Then it is difficult for us to continue the lesson. This system is not risky as some think as we have a backup system as well,” she said.
Civics Education teacher at Cloud Smart Classroom, Chandrika Kahandawala Arachchi said, “The children like this system because it is the new technology. They can download the lessons that we prepare through their tabs from anywhere if they have access to Internet. Students can participate in the day’s lesson even from home if they get absent to school. Assignments are done through the tabs. Some of these children got low marks last year in Grade six but now they have improved. I can see a huge change. If this system is introduced to all schools in Sri Lanka, it would be really great. We do a lot of homework after the introduction of this system. I go home after school and prepare the presentations through laptops. We do hard work but finally we are happy to see the outcome. These students get high marks. Compared to the previous years these children are also interested in doing the homework. The classroom management is easy now because all are attentive.”
An official from the ICT branch of the Ministry of Education said, “The first Cloud Smart Classroom was initiated at Sri Jayawardenepura Maha Vidyalaya, Kotte by Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva who represents the area in parliament. The Ministry of Education is also planning to start smart classrooms soon in all district National Schools. At present 32 National Schools are nominated. The number of schools are not yet confirmed as we may include more in future. We are planning to select two classrooms from each school. The project is not implemented yet and we need to inform the principals of the selected schools as well. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure are coordinating the project.”
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during his visit to the Cloud Smart Classroom at Sri Jayawardenepura Maha Vidyalaya in Kotte said that plans are afoot to introduce the Smart Classroom system for vocational education in the future. The pilot project shows that the Cloud Smart Classroom is indeed working well for these students. It would very well revolutionize Sri Lanka’s education system if implemented across multiple schools as planned by the Education Ministry and Digital Infrastructure Ministry.
pix Saman Sri Wedage