April 4, 2014

With our experience around the globe, working with educators who use our products, we get to hear stories daily that illustrate how teaching and learning in foreign countries can be very like, and quite unlike education in the U.S.

Recently, a co-worker (Shaun Fagan, Lightspeed Technologies Product Manager) wrote a blog on a visit we made to London to see and hear how our new Flexcat system is being used in a particularly innovative London academy. His blog inspired positive comments from educators in our face-to-face meetings back here in the States. It made me realize how many American educators were interested in the teaching methods of their counterparts in other countries and how and why those professionals are using classroom technology.

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As the International Sales Operations Manager, I have spent years working with distributors in many countries throughout Europe (such as Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and U.K.), Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, and places as far away as Israel, Dubai, India and Russia. I also attend foreign tradeshows and meet foreign educators from time to time. What I find, that you might imagine, is there are, of course, many differences in the educational situations in the countries we serve. But there are also some issues that teachers and administrators deal with in other countries that will seem very familiar to educators here in North America.

Educational Changes in Chile

Classroom Audio in Chile
Benefits of Classroom Audio shared in Chile

For instance, in Chile, we’re proud to have been supplying classroom audio products for teachers and students for about four years, not only in Santiago, but also in remote, rural areas. And while we hear debate in the U.S. over what some people see as the disparity of funding for private schools and public ones here, it has been well documented by the international media that Chile has experienced an even greater disparity between private and public schools.

This is a little ironic, because judged solely in comparison to other Latin American countries; Chile is at the very top statistically (according to the OECD’s PISA tests, which rank educational attainment across nations). And now, things are changing rapidly in Chile. The country’s new President, Michelle Bachelet, is making educational parity one of her priorities. Even before Ms. Bachelet’s victory at the polls, we began seeing a strong uptick in the acquisition and use of our classroom audio products throughout the country.

The “why” of that fact may have something to do with the stories that we are hearing from Chilean educators. They map closely to those we hear back in America: teachers are finding they’re getting more engagement from students who can hear every word than they were before they employed classroom audio. We find that gratifying.

But again, there are surprising differences, too. Because small Chilean towns are even more community oriented than our small U.S. towns. There’s one place in Chile we know of where the school lets a local priest use one of our Redcat (portable classroom audio) systems in the local church so the entire congregation can hear the mass.

Swedish Study Results

In contrast, in Sweden the process by which our sound equipment is evaluated and disseminated is completely different than it is in Latin America. For instance, the Swedish Institute of Assistive Technology purchased 10 of our Redcat units and placed them in a school in the southern city of Linköping (population about 150,000).  The results, while encouraging to us at Lightspeed, were familiar with the kinds of benefits we hear about our products back in America.

The Swedish study found:

  • Teachers observed it was easier to get student attention with sound field amplification
  • Classroom management was easier
  • Students with hearing impairments heard the teacher better
  • Teachers did not have to strain their voices to be heard (By the way, in the Netherlands, reducing teacher vocal strain has became one of the reasons that schools there are getting funding for buying our products: to lessen the load on their school systems’ version of Workman’s Compensation costs.)

One interesting revelation from the Swedish study showed that students with concentration problems such as ADHD were less disruptive when they could hear the teacher better, contributing to an improved learning environment.

Global Diversity in Education

What I see and hear repeatedly in my daily interactions with distributors and educators around the world are the ways they are unlike and like American professionals. My day starts early in the morning with calls and emails to European partners, moves to communicating with Canadian and Latin American contacts in the afternoon, and finishes in the evening with Australians and New Zealanders.

I’ve learned that educators in every country seem to struggle with getting what they believe is adequate funding to do their jobs of teaching future generations.

Every educator, no matter their location, faces the issues of managing classrooms with lots of students representing widely diverse needs. And many of these educators appear to be wearing their voices out frequently without the aid of classroom audio.  My job is to respect all the cultural differences of our partners. In Chile, Spain and other Mediterranean countries, partners prefer talking on Skype (one-on-one communication with voice and visuals), to make the business relationship feel more personal. Canadian, British and Swedish partners seem be fine with phone calls, or emails. Of course, I gladly oblige.

Beyond the interesting aspect of communicating with so many differing cultures every week, what I love most about my job is hearing stories of how we have helped in our way to improve the learning environments.  I like knowing that we are making life a little easier for students and teachers — regardless of what language they speak, or which country they call home.

Teresa Benavides

Teresa Benavides

Teresa Benavides, from Southern Spain, holds a master’s degree and a law degree, speaks four languages fluently, and has worked in international education for nearly a decade.

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