GIVE AND TECH
It takes something special to impress Jaime Acosta. Asked whether St George’s School in Colombia – of which he is Head Teacher – uses technology to track academic performance, he replies: “Of course! That’s almost universal in good schools.” His institution – which educates boys and girls aged four to 18 – goes several steps further. “Everything is tailored,” he says, “considering each child’s individual cognitive, spiritual, emotional, recreational and social interests. Every teacher, psychologist, doctor and nutritionist at St George’s is required to input and share information. We’ve worked hard to design systems that benefit our parents, our employees and every one of our 1,400 students.”
Academically, this means that needs can be identified quickly and, if necessary, small-group support offered. However, the systems are also of practical, day-to-day value. “Around 98 per cent of our children travel on school buses,” says Deputy Head, Myriam Copete. “Many of them stay behind to play football, basketball, volleyball or chess. Some might practise their musical instruments, others might have additional academic support. Our system identifies precisely where our students are, and bus routes are adjusted accordingly.” Parents can even map their child’s bus route in real time.
With health a firmly established priority for the school, each child’s growth and weight is measured twice a year. Good nutrition is important. “Some students were running off to play at lunchtime and forgetting to eat,” says Acosta. “We care about that. So now, as they come into the cafeteria, students register their hand print on a sensor pad. If they don’t, they and their parents will receive an email inviting them to validate what happened, since we have a commitment to provide a daily, healthy lunch.” Similarly, every student carries an ID card, which is used for identification and to borrow library books – but parents can also add credit, enabling children to visit the tuck shop without carrying cash. “These technologies strengthen our relationships with parents,” says Acosta.
From the students’ perspective, innovation supports their studies. The smart boards used in classrooms are particularly valuable given the school’s hilltop location. “If a child has broken his leg, we can teach him from a special room at the foot of the hill or even from home, connecting through Skype or Lync,” says Acosta. “Homework is easier too. We lend the children a laptop in school. They upload their work to the Cloud and later download it to their home computer, so they don’t have to carry laptops from here to there.”
An enterprising approach
Technology is part of the fabric of St George’s, and innovation is a way of life. “We have projects from pre-kindergarten upwards to help children create enterprise ideas,” says Copete. “When they reach the top grades, some of them set up businesses.” One group developed an application for plotting cycle routes, another established a tutoring company.
The school’s latest innovation is the digital portfolio. “Every student will be able to keep important pieces of work, building a digital folder of text, images and video throughout their school life,” says Copete. “This can become part of a university or job application, but it also helps build confidence. They can show footage of themselves playing in the symphonic orchestra, or share an image of a painting they’re proud of.” Who could fail to be impressed by that?