The Olympics are opening, but children in London and Sao Paulo couldn't wait
The Olympics came early for pupils at Churchfields Primary School, Redbridge, and Nucleo de Convivencia Menino Jesus School in Sao Paulo and all the other schools that hooked into their pre-games celebration video-conference via the internet.
There were dignitaries, including embassy diplomats and famous paralympians Daniela Bernardes and Dani Brown (MBE), but the real stars were the children. They performed their own songs and dances for each other to make it a thoroughly entertaining and inspiring event.
Former schools minister Lord Jim Knight, now an executive with TES Global and a visiting professor with the London Knowledge Lab, was on hand at the London end to support headteacher Wendy Thomas. He told the Brazilian children: "I'm a huge fan of your country — I've visited a couple of times — of your culture, the dancing and the singing that we have just heard, of your food and in particular of your people and sport.
"I'm really looking forward to the Olympics and Paralympics. London was a wonderful time — it showed how training, hard work and the feeling of becoming better than the last paid off. It's a great honour for me, on behalf of the children of London 2012, to hand over our baton to you, the children of Brazil 2016." And he handed over a virtual baton that mysteriously reappeared within seconds on-screen in Brazil, much to the delight of the children at Menino Jesus.
More than 3,000 people watch the event live-streamed over the internet
It was a great demonstration of how far video-conference technology has come and how global events can bring children together for creative and inspiring work. About 100 children and teachers in the UK and 100 in Brazil took part in the presentations, songs and dances during the VC [video conference] and more than 3,000 other people watched the live stream over the internet, including parents in Brazil and the UK.
It was also a triumph for the event organiser Mina Patel (pictured right), a pioneer of video-conferencing in the UK, and executive director of Video Conferencing for Global Learning (VCfGL). “The Olympics 2016 VC showcased for the first time Global Class HD video-conferencing systems working directly through the JISC [higher education] network," she said. "This event celebrated not only how well the new technology developed by VCfGL works but, more importantly, the potential, VC has to connect children to each other and to experts, no matter where they are located in the world."
Perhaps most inspiring were the question-and-answer sessions staged with the paralympians. Daniela Bernardes explained that she focuses so hard on her training (twice a day) that other things fade away and "I forget all my problems." Such dedication also meant saying "No" to all sorts of social and family invitations, she warned.
Dani Brown explained how her 'compound' bow is "very fast powerful and accurate" up to 70 yards. Why did she take up archery? Because it's a sport she could take part in when seated, because her condition meant that she experienced chronic pain in both her feet so she couldn't run or walk for very long periods.
She said that when she started she wasn't very good, but within three years she made the Great Britain team. From there she went to win gold at the Beijing Olympics and then at London 2012 — "very tough and down to the last arrow". She has also been successful at events for able-bodied participants.
Dani Brown found time outside training to study law and and she gained a first class degree. While her achievements are stellar, she outlined an approach that was clear, logical and replicable for her young audiences who fielded a range of pertinent questions.
"Choose a sport you really enjoy doing because you’ll want to work hard and make sacrifices," she explained. It was crucial to remain positive and dedicate plenty of time for preparation — she trained full time for London 2012. It was also important to make the right choices, like eating well and going to bed on time.
For her the most important aspect was to build confidence. It was crucial to understand that you are capable of achieving, but it's very hard to build confidence, particularly if there is no one to hand to show you how to do it. This was something she focused on carefully adfter the Beijing games. "Realise and celebrate your strengths and achievements," she concluded.
VCfGL is building on its successes and has already run a further Olympic event linking children in three other Redbridge schools – Fairlop Primary, Highlands Primary and Mayespark Primary – with Olympic medalist Heather Fell working in Ireland. Mina Patel is upbeat: "The next steps will be to continue with peer-to-peer English language teaching with Brazilian and UK classrooms, and to start next month with more formal teaching of English conversation to the pupils by remote teachers based in London
"VCfGL is extremely proud of the performances given by the children at Churchfield Juniors and Menino Jesus. We would like to thank JISC (UK), Lord Jim Knight, the British Embassy in Sao Paulo, Brazilian Embassy in London and our paralympian Dani Brown for all their support and inspirational speeches.”