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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Pupils need to learn creativity and humour, not just hard facts, Microsoft boss says

The role of a teacher has never been more vital, Anthony Salcito told Bett Middle East in Dubai

Anthony Salcito, vice president of education for Microsoft Corporation's Worldwide Public Sector, speaks during the Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Dubai in 2015i. Sarah Dea / The National
Anthony Salcito, vice president of education for Microsoft Corporation's Worldwide Public Sector, speaks during the Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Dubai in 2015i. Sarah Dea / The National

Teachers need to be given the scope to educate pupils about how to think for themselves with creativity and humour, Microsoft's top education official has said.

Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice president of Worldwide Education, outlined Microsoft's new programme to an Abu Dhabi audience to help teachers develop a skill-focused curriculum. He said teachers have all the technological tools they need, they now just need the time and space to develop pupil's "soft skills".

As hundreds of educators piled into conference rooms to hear how pupils could build their own satellites or get ahead in the job market with quantum computing skills, Mr Salcito stressed the importance of soft skills like leadership, creativity and humour.

He was speaking on the sidelines of Bett Middle East, a two day educational technology conference at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre that opened on Monday.

The dialogue around future jobs has shifted from a focus on the device to the human – educators must prioritize soft skills to prepare children for a future where many jobs that today’s schools children will have, do not yet exist.

“The question that many school leaders asked before was, how do I get more computers into the classroom?” said Mr Salcito. “Now over a relatively small period of time, what school leaders are asking is how do I help best prepare my students for the future?”

In a world where information is always at our fingertips, the teacher’s role has changed from one who imparts knowledge to someone who develops these skills. This will mean an end to learning for learning’s sake.

This corresponds with a shift in Abu Dhabi education policies to prioritise critical thinking over rote-learning.

“Before, the curriculum depended on the teacher,” said Alia Salem, a secondary school teacher at the Al Murijib public school in Al Ain. "Now, it depends on the student. Before, the teacher was the main source of information. Now students participate in the learning process.”

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Traditional measurements of student development are becoming obsolete. However, there is no way to measure soft skills set development in traditional curriculums, said Mr Salcito.

“I would argue that the role of a teacher has never been more vital and never been more necessary for education outcomes,” he said.

In a country where even the elderly are active on Instagram and Snapchat, teachers and parents in local schools have welcomed classroom technology. Arabic teaching resources are limited, however.

“There are translations but the name of the boy or girl in the story is an English name and it’s a different culture,” said Alkhansa Al Ketbi, the department head of Arabic at Al Afa, a government school in Abu Dhabi city.

Her colleague, Mariam Al Malki agreed.

“We’ve raised this issue many times,” said Ms Al Malki, the head of an Arabic department at government school in Tawila, Abu Dhabi. “There are many resources in English. Nobody thinks of the Arabic language.

“It causes an Arabic teacher to work harder. English teachers can stay in the classroom and the resources will come to them.”

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