Microsoft counters downturn with $250m boost for world's largest teacher network, Partners in Learning

As it's massive $500 million 10-year funding for its Partners in Learning (PIL) programme nears its end, and in the depths of recession, Microsoft has made the smart investment – a further $250 million over five years. One of the targets is to grow the network to reach 20 million of the world's 75 million teachers by 2018.

The announcement, in Prague at the annual PIL Global Forum, which celebrates its Innovative Teacher Awards, marks Microsoft's emergence as a leading player in education system change, whether at regional or national level. That's based on educational expertise and leadership, but PILGF also marked a resurgence of Microsoft technology with a new generation of Windows 8 software and devices.

Anthony Salcito and Laura IpsenMicorosft executives Anthony Salcito and Laura Ipsen meet the teachersThe renewal message was delivered from the highest level. Laura Ipsen, corporate vice president, Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector, said, “We see a significant opportunity to invest in the economy of tomorrow by working with educators today to teach 21st century skills.

“Studies have shown the measurable impact that a great teacher has on a student’s potential, future earnings and contribution to a global economy. Our focus on PiL is the cornerstone of Microsoft’s commitment to empower youth, spark innovation in the classroom and improve learning outcomes globally.”

'Education is a fundamental human right' – Bill Gates

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, who set up Partners in Learning, said, “So many of us have a great teacher to thank for our achievements. That’s why I am so proud that Microsoft Partners in Learning continues to support innovative teachers. We started this program nearly 10 years ago based on the belief that education is a fundamental human right and the single most important investment in our collective future. This has never been more true, and I’m really pleased to see the continuing commitment to innovations that can help all students and teachers reach their full potential.”

Announcing the funding as part of education vice president Anthony Salcito's keynote PILGF address, Laura Ibsen said conditions had been "tough": "There's a challenge out there and I meet with governments around the world. I have been working with governments and in technology for more than 20 years. It's been tough because we know that with the global economic downturn there has been a lot of austerity, and budgets have been cut and it's hard to get all the things you want to get done and making investments and creating change and opportunity and innovation.         

"I'm really excited to tell you that, in a downturn, and when things are tough, and monies are scarce, that's the time that Microsoft commits. That's the time that we are going to come through and continue to renew our commitment to PIL. So I am excited to let you know that we are renewing our commitment today for another $250 million for the next five years. I also want to let you know that that investment would not be possible were it not for you, if it weren't for the time you take to innovate, to commit to the schools and the students that you teach."

'Countries are focusing on 1:1 – the wrong one. The device, not the student'

Part of TeamUKPart of Team UK at PILGF: Nicki Maddens and Katie BoothmanAnthony Salcito echoed her sentiments: "I feel great about another $250 million dollars and a further five years of Partners in Learning, partly because we need to continue to innovate and we need the folk in this room to be leaders. We need to embrace realities. Countries around the world are focusing on 1:1 but they are focusing on the wrong 'one'. They are focusing on the device and not the student, and we have got to do a better job to shift the thinking, to hold up you all as leaders and innovators, to challenge the dynamics of technology in the classroom.

Partners in Learning would always be an evolution, he said, but, "Parents across the world want the same things for their kids. Students want to make a difference; they want to have a better future. Government leaders want to drive better education outcomes so they can create economic stability and hope for their community."

True to his word, Anthony Salcito kept the learning ahead of the technology, but at this stage in Microsoft's development he could not leave the stage without showing what its Windows 8 generation of technologies could deliver for education. It was a performance that challenged preconceptions for those who had not already seen Windows 8. He went through the ways in which it could be personalised for different users, and the flexibility and security it offered for managing different users. And then he explored some of the achievements of partner publishers, drilling down through plant surfaces into the internals to explore plant viruses which then emerged in animated 3D like something out of science fiction. At this point many jaws dropped, accompanied by applause.

Educators and visitng journalists were impressed, as they also were with the remarkable new ways of using stalwarts like Word and Excel, and the way these programs could work with other content and communications and sharing. Cue more audible intakes of breath. Then there were the ways Windows phones (and Androids and iPhones) could be used to control an Xbox connected to a large screen. It was an awful lot to assimilate in a relatively short space of time. But for those thinking that iPads had already taken over classrooms there was serious food for thought.

'Few have bridged the gap from theory into true innovative practice'

Microsoft appears confident and assured of its achievements, and the response from its teacher community – many of them users of alternative technologies too – was consistently reassuring. Their professional development activities have already been upgraded by the new curriculum design rubrics developed from Microsoft's own research, and they also have two new developments – Expert Teachers (teachers who are support to help other educators) and World Tour Schools. And there is also YouthSpark which aims to create opportunities for 200 million young people around the world. There is no cap to the ambition and a further announcement is expected tomorrow (Friday).

School leaders will have a key role in these ambitious plans and Jeff Davis, executive principal of Varsity College in Queensland, Australia, was unequivocal in his welcome. “Transformation in educational practice is one of the most difficult things for schools and educators to achieve,”  he said. “Everyone talks of 21st century learning, but few have bridged the gap from theory into true innovative practice where students are actually using the technologies available on a daily basis and pedagogy shifts to a new domain. Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program stands apart. 

"Not only does this program support schools and educators in making great leaps in bridging both the technical and pedagogical gaps, but the Partners in Learning program brings together those who have made this transformation leap and builds in them further capacity to become world leaders. Without the support of Partners in Learning, the innovation, collaboration and achievement levels at this school would not have been realised as they are now. We thank Microsoft for its support and belief in our school.”

More information

Microsoft Partners in Learning is now a 15-year, $750 million commitment by Microsoft to help education systems around the world. Since its inception in 2003, the Partners in Learning program has reached more than 210 million teachers and students in 119 countries. The online Partners in Learning Network is one of the world’s largest global professional networks for educators, connecting millions of teachers and school leaders around the world in a community for professional development.
Partners in Learning  

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