Macau's St Paul's School biggest in region to fully embrace e-learning

Region's first school set to switch almost entirely from 'chalk and talk' to computers; it couldn't happen in Hong Kong, its head laments

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 4:55am

A school in Macau with more than 3,000 pupils is set to become the largest paperless school in the region, outpacing e-learning efforts in Hong Kong.

St Paul's School principal Alejandro Salcedo said planning for the ambitious project started almost a decade ago and would be fully implemented next year.

That's when every student from Primary Four to Form Six will be learning in an e-classroom, with tablet computers and interactive lessons replacing textbooks and blackboards. Kindergarteners and those in the first three years of primary school will still use textbooks.

"We are the only school like this in Asia and Europe," Salcedo said of the project's scale. He estimated 50 million patacas had been spent on the project since 2009, with 15 million patacas in government funding this year.

While government support for e-learning is strong in Macau, Salcedo believes such a project would have failed in Hong Kong, where he lived for 13 years and worked as a principal for six.

"This would have been impossible in Hong Kong but the education system in Macau is completely different," he said. "Macau is small but the support from the Education Department is huge. Here, principals have the freedom to say how they will develop the school and the system is more school-based."

Salcedo said three Hong Kong principals had approached him for advice on implementing e-learning on a large scale.

In May, a survey of 167 Hong Kong schools by the eLearning Consortium of parents, publishers, educators and IT specialists found that most only had basic digital facilities.

This was the situation Salcedo found 15 years ago when he joined government-run St Paul's. "We were not offering students anything related to the 21st century because we were using the grammar school way of teaching and learning: the talk and chalk," he said.

"So we had to adapt our school to society and, in fact, we should outpace society because we are educating the ones who are going to lead society."

English teacher Sue Tai was one of the first teachers to teach under the new system.

"I was scared but it was a chance to change," she said. "I've been teaching for more than 10 years and I felt exhausted. An e-classroom is more flexible and students like learning on the computer, but the most significant change is the learning attitude."

For mother Diana Ian, the impact on her 12-year-old son Vincent Lo - a Primary Four student, who has reading and writing disabilities - is already obvious.

"Before, he just wasn't interested in studying, but now he is using a computer, learning is fun," she said. "He comes home from school now and opens up his computer to study. Before, he was bored by books. This is already a big change."