Transforming education to improve student skills

Across Europe, youth unemployment remains at a stubbornly high average of almost 20%. Education leaders are responding to this challenge with major policy reforms designed to modernize education and skills development. Microsoft partners with the European Commission and governments across the EU to support this. We believe in leveraging the power of technology to personalize learning, increase students’ employability and improve learning outcomes. Technology can also play a key role in helping countries achieve the goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 for Education and the European Commission’s new Skills Agenda for Europe; namely increasing all students’ literacy, numeracy and digital competence.

Microsoft’s approach to improving education and skills focuses on bringing together the formal and informal education sectors to address issues end-to-end; from primary education all the way through to on-the-job training.

When it comes to formal education, for instance, Microsoft recently partnered with the Finnish National Board of Education to bring together education leaders from 33 countries at the International Summer Institute in Helsinki, giving them an overview of Finland’s recent shift towards a competency-driven curriculum, which is supported by technology. The leaders also visited four schools across the Helsinki region, meeting educators and pupils to understand how the changes are being implemented.

In Finland, Microsoft Showcase Schools are using Office 365 to personalize learning, and partnering with Microsoft as part of the New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning (NPDL) initiative, which aims to develop new pedagogical approaches and tools for teachers to foster students’ skills and competences. Municipalities like the City of Helsinki are also partnering with Microsoft to implement new approaches to increasing student success in vocational programs by applying advanced learning analytics.

Microsoft is committed to ensuring all students have access to computer science education. To this end, we’ve developed teacher support tools, training materials and engaging activities which encourage primary and secondary-level students alike to become creators and makers in virtual environments. Introductory tools such as Kodu, the Minecraft Hour of Code and the brand new Minecraft Education Edition have all been deployed during regional skills campaigns such as Europe Code Week and the eSkills for Jobs Campaign. And once students have mastered the basics of computational thinking, they can move on to our Imagine Academy program, progressively building skills that can lead to a future career in ICT.

Unfortunately, computer science is still left off the formal curricula of many European countries. Informal educational programs play a vital role in plugging the gap, which is why Microsoft supports initiatives such as CoderDojo, the global network of programming clubs for young people run entirely by volunteers, where kids can explore and create technology in a safe environment. It’s also essential that we encourage more young women to become involved in computer science and pursue careers in ICT – otherwise we are missing out on a whole host of potential. That’s why we launched the #MakeWhatsNext campaign to engage girls around the world in STEM subjects, hosting 56 events across 27 countries for over 8,600 young women.

But we can’t do this alone. Partnerships are essential if we are to make real progress in driving forward young people’s digital competence. In Europe, the new Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition will establish national and EU level partnerships to promote student skills and employability, and we welcome its launch. Building on the success of the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, Microsoft commits to offering apprenticeships – a key tool for training young people on the job – as part of this new initiative.

All of our efforts outlined above, and those of partners, educators and governments across Europe, are focused on making a real difference to young people’s future prospects. Together we can ensure that our education and training systems meet the needs of Europe’s current students. Those who are learners today will be leaders tomorrow – and it’s up to us to equip them with the skills for success, wherever the future may lead them.

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Alexa Joyce
Director, Education Policy, Teaching & Learning

As Director, Education System Leaders at Microsoft Corp, Alexa Joyce supports national and regional governments and other education bodies in transforming education. She has worked in more than 60 countries across the globe in re-designing national and regional strategies for education transformation, including policy models, teacher training and IT infrastructure for schools. Prior to joining Microsoft, Alexa worked with European Schoolnet (a network of 30 Ministries of Education in Europe), UNESCO and OECD.