There is nothing “micro” about Microsoft. As of July 2006, The Microsoft Corporation, a multinational computer technology corporation which develops manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of software products for computing devices, had global annual revenue of $44.28 billion and employed more than 71,000. Owing its success to the community it serves, Microsoft went “macro” with an educational concept aimed at establishing a connected learning community with IT knowledge at its core.
We’re intimately attached to our personal computer whether it being a desktop, laptop, palmtop (or PDA) or wearable computers – the latest trend in computing where common computer applications (e-mail, database, multimedia, calendar/scheduler) are integrated into watches, cell phones, visors and even clothing! e challenge lies in giving everyone of us the opportunity to tap into this technology and this is where Microsoft comes in. “We don’t look at education as a profit driver, but rather as a vehicle to deliver on our corporate citizenship mission as a way of paying back to the societies the company is working with, and we think the best way is through education,” Microsoft Education Sector Manager Ahmad Al Komi said. Microsoft’s website says the company enables people and businesses to realize their full potential. “Our mission for education is to enable students, educators and educational institutions to realize their full potential, as these are the main pillars supporting the education process,” Al Komi said. He added that the company’s goal is to have a connected learning community that includes students in K-12 schools and higher education institutions, educators, government employees, business leaders and companies.
One important segment of the society Microsoft is targeting are those underserved by technology, like women, the elderly, and the handicapped. Extensive work with NGOs, governments and concerned ministries enabled Microsoft to meet a number of candidates in this target group, which the company empowers by starting technology learning centers. “We have lots of activities in many parts of the world and we donate the software and find partners to donate the hardware,” Al Komi said. After the ICT components are provided and installed, Microsoft covers the cost of training master trainers with the idea of having a sustainable model. “We don’t want them to come to us every time they need to train a portion of their community; we need to empower them to do things on their own,” Al Komi explained. Under the training master trainers program, Microsoft is ambitiously looking to directly or indirectly train 250 million people worldwide within five years, an endeavor covering all its activities including K-12 and higher education. Regionally, and working with ministries of education, the company has trained around 1600 master trainers, which benefited a combination of 100,000 students and teachers. Microsoft has very strict guidelines not to link business with philanthropic community services. In many parts of Africa where Microsoft doesn’t have licensing agreements, Microsoft still engages in several community affairs and this is partly due to a company culture that measures employees by how many community services activities they had participated in.
Partners in Learning
Partners in Learning is Microsoft’s global K-12 initiative that the company believes will enable students, educators and the institutions rise to their full potential and has so far spent $253 million towards that goal. Regionally, the company goes to ministries of education and asks them what they required to empower the educational process in those countries. This could be in areas pertaining to teacher development, teacher training, help in curriculum, curriculum development, help in integrating ICT into teaching and learning, or help on starting an e-learning system. Microsoft covers the whole spectrum of education talking with policy and decision makers at seminars and forums, where the company gets them communicating with each other to collaborate and exchange experiences on educational initiatives. “Some people believe that we pitch our software but we don’t! We talk about the importance of ICT in education and learning and the role of ICT in educational reform,” Al Komi said. Under Partners in Learning, Microsoft has created ‘the innovative teacher’ network. When teachers acquire some IT skills, not more than 10-15% will use those IT skills in teaching and learning. If they are then trained to integrate ICT in teaching and learning, that percentage will perhaps increase to 30 or 40%. “What about the rest? We believe we need to integrate some system of motivation by creating communities where teachers communicate, collaborate, compete and recognize the innovative teacher,” Al Komi said. In addition to having trained master trainers and teachers from different ministries of education in the region on Integrating ICT into teaching & learning, Microsoft also organized the “Arab Innovative Teachers Forum” twice (Sharjah 2005, & Cairo 2006), where teachers and curriculum developers from the entire Arab world came to exchange ideas, discuss integration of ICT into education and compete on the forum awards. In 2007, Microsoft will create the innovative teacher’s portal as a way for continuous collaboration for the teachers.
Peer Coaching Program
Microsoft’s peer coaching program is aimed at having the senior staff help their colleagues integrate ICT in learning, and to create a peer coaching champion in every school. “If you have a teacher who has basic IT skills but cannot implement these skills into teaching or learning, a trained senior staff will supply this missing link in tandem with another program called integrating ICT in teaching and learning.
School Leadership Program
Microsoft has on its staff a number of university educators from the University of Washington’s college of education in addition to specialized education consultancy groups. “Under this program, we train school principals and their assistants about new management techniques such as the new directions for leading and management while preaching the importance of ICT in education,” Al Komi said.
Future programmer program
Starting in the UAE and soon in the rest of the GCC and the Arab world, the Future Programmer Program is targeted for students, but Microsoft trains trainers who are teachers to roll out the program to students who could become programmers. It takes 160 hours of training for students to become programmers. A related initiative is called the “IT Academy” which helps university students during their early information technology (IT) experience and offers a life-long learning model of continuous improvement and career development. Microsoft gives a university a set of curriculum and training guides which will help them deliver a market-related training program where students can earn a certificate, not only an academic degree. “If you graduate with a Computer Science degree, you may or may not get a job but if you have something that says you are a certified network administrator, or a certified software solution developer, which is something you really need in real life, then your chances are much better,” Al Komi said.
The PC Initiative
With governments thinking about the digital inclusion problem and how to bridge the digital divide, providing a world class education also means providing the means and tools like software and hardware to each and every citizen. “We should help and think of programs which will help governments reach their goals,” Al Komi said. With The PC initiative, Microsoft talks to multinational companies, computer manufacturers and the system builder channels to provide the hardware. Local manufactured brands by computer assembly shops are cheaper than global brands and they benefit the country more. “As part of the company’s citizenship goals, bridging the digital divide has to benefit the local economy; while working with multinationals is fantastic, working with local providers not only helps them get introduced to governments but also do better business and it creates more local PC manufacturers,” Al Komi said . In Egypt, Microsoft’s PC initiative helped create local PC brands through three factories who are now exporting PCs to the entire Arabic region. “Centra, now a famous brand, is a child of this initiative.”
Knowing that we cannot escape technology’s growth or impact on our standards of living, it’s better to be prepared for this eventuality. And while some believe that technology has advanced to such an extent that it has exceeded our humanity, philanthropy has thankfully not escaped the minds of Microsoft founders.
E-learning means a lot of things but basically it is getting your education and learning through an automated computerized system. “E-learning has now become the foundation of any educational reform; it is an integral part to enhance the learning experience of the student and is also the only way to transform the students into autonomous learners,” Microsoft Education Sector Manager Ahmad Al Komi said. In the traditional method of teaching, the teacher is the focus of the educational process. Now the world is changing and the teacher is becoming more of a facilitator. In order to have the students learn by themselves, companies like Microsoft created a system where the students can go, log in and get their knowledge; the teacher can help them use this knowledge. “E-learning is the main driver to have autonomous learners, and if we can create those autonomous learners, then we would have extended the educational process outside the boundaries of the school or university so that once they leave the school or university, they could still learn,” Al Komi explained. The same concept applies to employees who could log into their company’s e-learning system. One of Microsoft’s initiatives is ‘The School of the Future’ concept. This can be achieved when the school has a ratio of one student to one PC and has implemented an E-Learning system. “At that point, we would have empowered teachers, students and administrators with state of the art infrastructure and a collaboration system enabled through our software. The role-based portal like “The Learning Gateway” from Microsoft is an e-learning possibility that allows students, teachers, parents and administrators to log onto the portal- each with different credentials – and access a set of services related to the user. “These services are colorful and interactive and give teachers for example the chance to upload homework and group related activities, which could be done by students from home or during class sessions using a communication software in place like instant messaging,” Al Komi said. During communication with governments, Komi advises that when they create e-learning portals, officials need to take into consideration the lifestyle of students who nowadays like to chat and have blogs, instant message, or play. With Back-Pack.com- a subscription service software that enables the user to manage personal information, create project files, and invite multiple players- and the tablet PC replacing interactive whiteboards, the school of the future is looking more like a reality, at least in the US, Europe and parts of the region.