Posted by Lauren Woodman
General Manager of Government and Education Programs, Worldwide Public Sector
This week Microsoft is hosting the Education Leaders Forum in Warsaw, Poland in conjunction with the 2010 Imagine Cup World Finals. Great event – great to bring together education leaders to talk about the role that education plays in building economic competitiveness, and particularly interesting to do so against the backdrop of the Imagine Cup Finals where so many great examples of innovation and the new perspective that students can bring to the world are being celebrated.
While we are inspired by the student projects at Imagine Cup, we can use that inspiration to spark discussion on serious issues with education leaders from all over the world. Nurturing a competitive economy is a challenge that all governments face, and we believe that a combination of information communication technology (ICT) and targeted policy focus will create the best possible environment for education to thrive and improve a country’s economic competitiveness. This morning we all had a chance to hear from President of Microsoft International, Jean-Philippe Courtois about what he believes ICT can do to help people and organizations around the world reach their full potential. One thing that really resonated with me as I think of my work with schools and teachers all over the world as part of Microsoft Partners in Learning is the fact that, in 5 years, more than 90% of all jobs will require ICT skills of some kind. This means that ICT education cannot be just for the traditional Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Design students any more, but for ALL students as they prepare for new careers. You can read a summary of Jean-Philippe’s comments and all of the keynotes from the event at www.ELF2010.org.
Creating the right environment in which innovation and economic growth can occur is challenging and requires that policymakers look broadly at business, research, and workforce development areas. Many times, these discussions are appropriately focused on how to train young people through university or vocational education for productive careers. This is why we are so excited to hear that both in Europe & North America, some of our Microsoft technical certifications are being accredited to count for college credit by HETAC in Ireland and ACE in the US & Canada, as well as the new global availability of some of our most popular stepping stones to these courses, the Microsoft Technology Associate program.
This is important work and cannot be overlooked. But we must also not forget the critically important role of primary and secondary education in laying the best foundation for future success. In my work, I have the privilege of working with teachers from around the world who recognize that their young students need more than just a solid foundation in reading, writing and arithmetic to be prepared for tomorrow. They need new skills, like critical thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to work collaboratively, for example, to be ready for both the workplace and university.
Technology can play an important role in helping these students learn these skills. For instance, one of the Imagine Cup software design semi-finalists from Brazil, Proativa Team has a project called Pro@Edu, a software-plus-services solution for distance learning that integrates the learning process into students’ day-by-day activities. In turning the learning process into a social, fun and ubiquitous experience, this solution brings distance learning one step closer to achieving its true potential.
Technology can help teachers, too. For many teachers, teaching these skills is different than what they learned in their pre-service work; it’s a new and challenging skill that they, too, have to learn. It’s impossible, of course, to retrain every teacher, but technology helps us scale to reach these teachers. Through the Partners in Learning Network, we can support them with ongoing professional development so that they can be well supported in their quest to best educate their students.
It’s clearly an investment worth making. As I visited the presentation booths of some of the Imagine Cup participants with a few policymakers, we were able to see what happens when technology makes it possible for all kids and teachers to have access to a wide variety of education resources that spur innovation and creativity.
And in the end, that innovation will drive economic competitiveness in any country.