21st century classroom

The nature of teaching and learning has been completely revolutionised, thanks to the availability of new technologies. Long gone are the rows of desks with students ordered to keep their mouths shut and just listen

New thinking is being implemented here in our own Maltese educational system
New thinking is being implemented here in our own Maltese educational system

For the man in the street the typical classroom setup in our primary and secondary schools would take the following shape: a colourful classroom with neat and ordered seating facilities, a teacher’s front desk full of books and copybooks, a big writing board behind the teacher’s desk or an interactive whiteboard with a projector, a small library of books and maybe a few computers in a corner or at the back. Add to this a dedicated teacher and students eager to learn, and you should have the right recipe.

Maybe. Or maybe not. The nature of teaching and learning is being constantly changed by the availability of new technologies. These technologies have not only introduced ever-more powerful computing devices in the hands of our students but also set educators to think how these technologies should fit in the classroom. No more rows of desks with students ordered to keep their mouth shut and just listen. No more learning everything by heart for the exam, or so many a teacher and students wish.

Indeed, technology is making educators review how their classroom should be organised to support the new ways of teaching and learning provided by computers, tablets, smartphones, digital screens and other digital equipment.

I was very pleased to see this new thinking being implemented here in our Maltese educational system when, together with Parliamentary Secretary Aaron Farrugia, I presided over the launch of a model classroom based on the use of tablets and other digital technologies. This classroom has been set-up by the Directorate for Digital Literacy and Transversal Skills (http://www.digital.edu.mt/) at the Ministry for Education and Employment. It is inspired by the Future Classroom Lab of the European Schoolnet and is another link in the One Tablet Per Child initiative that is equipping all students in Malta and Gozo with a tablet as from Year 4 in the Primary Sector

I am confident that this new model classroom - which we will strive to replicate across our Maltese schools - is a much-needed response to the pressures of the 21st Century society that keeps changing the set of skills and competences that our children need to attain to thrive.

I like this classroom’s layout where the traditional notion of “sage on a stage” is thrown out of the window. Instead the room is divided into different activity areas where the focus is on the students and not the teacher at the front.  The different activity hotspots favour the student’s creativity, collaboration, and curiosity. There are spaces where the students themselves share with their mates their research findings, there is a quiet corner for reflection and thinking, there’s a production area where students can record themselves on video presenting their ideas and their work, there’s an area where students can hold experiments such as with robotics, and there are round tables where students form teams to collaborate on specific tasks. Digital technology like tablets and interactive screens facilitate this work but these are simply a means to an end and not an end to itself.

In most hotspots students are not looking at the front of the class where the traditional teacher’s desk used to be. In fact, there isn’t one in this class.

So where does the teacher fit in this set-up? Is this the end of the teacher as we know it? Definitely not. The teacher has a new role - still a very crucial role - in the development of the student. A “sage” no more, the teacher is now a coach, a mentor and a facilitator to the students.

With the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the Directorate for Digital Literacy and the Faculty of Education at the University of Malta we are making sure that pre-service teachers are provided with tablets and the opportunities they need to become inspired coaches, mentors and facilitators.

I would like to invite educators and students from around the Maltese Islands to come over to this digital lab situated at the Ministry for Education and Employment in Floriana to explore the potential of this new concept.

I am sure that educators will see through the nice furniture and fancy technology and become galvanised to try this new approach that has successfully taken root abroad.


Evarist Bartolo is minister for education and employment

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