Education reform can be frustratingly slow, held back by resistance to change, budgetary challenges and, oftentimes, a lack of conviction on the part of governments. So when any country makes a decisive commitment to transform its education system, it’s big news.
On Tuesday, Thailand’s Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC) is announcing a sweeping cloud education partnership with Microsoft, one that will provide 8 million students and 400,000 teachers throughout the country with free access to the world’s best cloud-enabled productivity software, Microsoft Office 365 for Education. The deal will allow students and teachers throughout the country to create, connect and collaborate on a safe and secure platform. This is the largest cloud education initiative ever, and one that promises to foster sustainable growth and raise Thailand’s overall standard of living for generations to come.
Partnerships like this are more critical today than ever before, with a recent IDC study citing skills developed through Microsoft Office among the most in-demand for future jobs. By 2020, according to the report, an astounding 30 percent of skilled jobs will require proficiency in Microsoft Office.
In Thailand today, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 represent the largest unemployed population, a significant barrier to the country’s future prosperity. Through this partnership, Thai youth will develop the 21stcentury skills they need to find productive employment and help lead the country into the future. The agreement builds on Microsoft’s longstanding investment in Thailand’s education system, which in the past 20 years has impacted more than 164,000 teachers and 8 million students across 9,000 schools nationwide.
This is exciting news for Microsoft, following our recent partnership announcements, including a partnership with the Sao Paolo State Department of Education to provide Office 365 to more than 4 million students, a large-scale cloud education partnership of 7.5 million Office 365 seats deployed by the All India Council for Technical Education and the 4.5 million seats deployed by the Catholic International Education Office. But while Tuesday’s announcement demonstrates positive momentum for Microsoft in Education, it is only a single step on a long journey.
That journey, which is taking Microsoft to countries and classrooms in every corner of the world, is helping to create a better future for young people, one that is globally connected and economically sustainable. Cloud technology, and specifically Office 365 for Education, can be a great equalizer, helping under-developed countries catch up to those that enjoy relative prosperity. But even in those more prosperous countries, technology can continue to transform the prospects of young people.
Take Finland, for example. This progressive country is often held up as a model for successful education reform – and rightly so. But even Finland recognizes that its journey to education transformation is ongoing. This week, I’m traveling there to kick off Microsoft’s pilot partnership with more than 100 schools to support teachers and technology. This partnership brings cities, companies and other key education stakeholders together to address the challenges of improving learning environments against a backdrop of shrinking budgets. Microsoft will invest in teacher training, advisory and learning materials so that educators can take full advantage of technology in the pursuit of more effective teaching and learning. As in Thailand, this effort is intended to spark economic and employment opportunities for the country’s youth.
The road to true education transformation – where technology and pedagogy work seamlessly and hand-in-hand – is a long one, full of twists and turns. But this week, Microsoft has taken an important step forward in two countries with very different educational and societal challenges. As we help Thailand address a crisis of youth unemployment and Finland build on an already exemplary foundation, we recognize that wherever we are, our commitment to building a better and more sustainable future compels us forward.