Hello Australia, Ipoh Is Ready For the Next Class


By James Gough

SMJK Poi Lam, Ipoh did itself proud when it received certificates signed by the Minister of Education for the Victorian State of Australia to honour the Poi Lam students who participated in the video-conference linkup which was part of the Victorian Education Innovations and Next Practise Showcase held in Melbourne earlier this year.

Ever Improving Technology Now Shrinking The World To Create The Global Classroom

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has advanced so drastically in the last 20 years, leapfrogging from fixed landlines to the smartphone that everyone now carries one in their pocket. Similarly the computer which originally took up a whole room has shrunk down to 10.1 inches and for many people is an all-in-one office.

While the majority of us use this new technology individually there is a group of teachers that have been utilizing this ever improving technology religiously to enable the structuring of a global classroom.

Video Conferencing

In early September, I received a text message from Veronica Woo, the English teacher with SMJK Poi Lam at Jalan Panglima Bukit Wahab, inviting me to witness a Skype video-conferencing session with an Austrian school HLW St. Veit a.d. Glan, Austria.

The Austrian teacher, Katherine Zablatnik, who teaches English and History had invited a photographer and reporter along to report on its activities, hence I too was similarly invited.

The video conference was held at Poi Lam language room which had the usual trappings of computers, monitors and printers. However, on the wall were clocks with different times for different world capitals similar to what you see at the check-in counter at an airport.

While waiting for Austria to get linked up, Veronica got in touch with Anne Mirtschin an ICT Teacher with Hawkesdale P12 College, Victoria Australia. When connected, Woo introduced me to Anne, explaining about Ipoh Echo’s profile and that it was publishing Tourism Perak’s monthly newsletter. Woo then flipped through Ipoh Echo’s July 16 edition which featured a report about Visit Perak Year 2012 and briefly gave an account of the coming event to Mirtschin.

When Austria was connected the video streaming was intermittent. So Veronica switched off the video but communicated using just the audio. All the while the Poi Lam students in the room had been attentive to what was being communicated between Australia, Austria and us in Malaysia.

How It Started

The idea of a global classroom took off in 2005 during a ‘Celcom Youth Ambassador’ project titled, “Tomorrow’s School Project”. While other schools focused on charity, Woo focused on communication and found a partner with a New Zealand school. At that time, the mode of communication was to record their activities on a CD and exchange via conventional mail.

Friendship Group photo. Lau holding the Malaysia flag while Mirthschin holds the Australian flag

Later, Hawkesdale College came into the picture when an Australian exchange student, who was based in Poi Lam, informed Anne Mirtschin whose first question to Woo was, “Do you speak English?” When Woo answered in the affirmative the exchange of ideas began or as Woo described it “we started with baby steps first”.

Hawkesdale College: A Small Rural School

Anne Mirtschin has been a teacher for 25 years and is currently the Information and Communications Technology teacher at Hawkesdale P12 College, SW Victoria, Australia. This is a small, rural school of 250 students and approximately 30 staff. The majority of students come to school on a bus and are culturally and geographically isolated. There is no mobile phone service at the school or where she lives. She is married to a local farmer and can be seen after school and during holidays, helping her husband with sheep work.

However, she is passionate about applying technology to learning and eLearning, rural education and global education. Her activities with education and ICT have been recognised by winning the ICTEV (ICT Education Victoria) Leader of the Year 2009 as well as being named joint winner of Microsoft Innovative Teacher for Victoria 2008-09 among others.

Communication Tools: Language

SMJK Poi Lam is a Chinese-medium school. However, its English Language Section under Woo has been very active. During the recent launch of Visit Perak Year 2012, its Choral Speaking group gave an a cappella performance expounding the various tourist attractions found throughout the state.

Earlier in May, the school participated in the Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) Innovation Showcase held at the Melbourne Convention Centre Australia. Anne Mirtschin who did a presentation there had called Woo to participate at one of the live video conferences.

In September 2011, two of its students created a Book Trailer to participate in the Globalstorytelling Project as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival in Melbourne. The 1-2 minute trailer had to be produced using computer software and could include text, images, voice and music. The stories were then shared using computer software over a shared wikispace. The purpose of the project is to learn about different cultures in different countries. The Book Trailers were projected on the big screen during the festival.

Communication Tool: Skype

As mentioned earlier, technology, specifically the improvements made by Skype, the software application that allows users to make voice calls and video conferencing over the Internet simpler, has enabled the proliferation of the global classroom.

In early October when Mirtschin visited Poi Lam School together with her husband Bruce, the school held an event during the morning assembly to honour all the participants who took part in the Victorian Education Innovations and Next Practise Showcase.

In appreciation...Lau presenting the certificate to Mirtschin; from right is Evon Yew followed by Woo

During the event Mirtschin presented Certificates of Appreciation signed by the Victorian Minister of Education to all the participants of the May Showcase. SMJK Poi Lam Principal Mr Lau Swee Min reciprocated similarly by presenting Certificates of Appreciation signed by the Perak State Director of Education to the guests.

The event held during the morning assembly greeted the guests with lion dances, martial arts demonstrations and students dressed in national costumes carrying the flags of both countries. Additionally, the English language Choral Speaking and Choral Reading groups rendered their presentations.

Principal Lau, in his speech, acknowledged that the advancement of the internet has brought a new dimension to the way students acquire knowledge saying, “global learning is not confined to just books and the classroom but through an exchange of ideas and experiences from people around the world.”

Lau hoped that the linkups with Hawkesdale and other colleges would bring a positive impact and change to the students of Poi Lam. Lau also indicated that the school planned to pursue linkups with a school in China and Bulgaria and all would communicate using the English medium.

When asked if there were any issues with the setup of international links the team unanimously agreed that it would be the different time zones and the different accents although both were just initial issues that can be resolved.

The morning’s event concluded with the usual group photograph which saw Lau and Mirtschin crossing their country flags in a show of friendship and comradeship between Australia and Malaysia.

Without a doubt due to the effort and passion pursued by Veronica Woo and with the support from her school SMJK Poi Lam, the proliferation of the global classroom is here to stay. Most of the procedures to enable a smooth global classroom have been tried, tested and ironed out.

Woo had made this statement several times over the last 5 years, “the classroom is my world and the world is my classroom.”

Thanks to Woo the global classroom can be found in Ipoh.