Microsoft’s overriding objective is to take IT education to the grassroot to empower students, educators and life long learners, to achieve their fullest potential through access to the latest computer technologies, localized content and skills training. Rohit Kumar, Country Manager-Public Sector, Microsoft India, shares his views and Microsoft’s vision in partnering with the government and civil society to redefine the overall learning process and lead the IT education in India
What is the most pressing challenge for education in the country? Why?
As India moves towards being a knowledge economy, the creation of an IT proficient talent pool will play a critical role in determining success. This will be largely determined by the rate at which IT is integrated in the overall education process.
If we look at IT adoption in education today we realise that access to technology is unevenly distributed with a dismal ratio of 1 PC per 400 children in government schools at present. Surprisingly however it’s not just access to technology that is a challenge but the technology skill gap that exists today. Out of the 5 million teachers in government schools less than 2,50,000 are trained in the usage of IT.
In this context, it becomes increasingly relevant that educators, government and the IT industry work together to help reform the current education process, and ensure that a basic level of digital literacy is acquired by today’s students and teachers.
How do you see public-private partnership as a framework to address the challenges to education?
Partnership of IT companies like ours with the government and the state education departments is a very pertinent way to ensure that the latest advancements in information technology reach the schools in remotest areas.
What is Microsoft’s vision to address the challenges of education and why?
Empowering students and teachers around the world to reach their full potential with technology is a top priority for Microsoft. We have always believed that one of the most important uses for technology is to create an educational experience that connects, removes limitations and creates opportunities today and for the future. We remain committed at all times to work hard every day to deliver the power of technology in ways that are affordable, relevant and accessible for the education community. This becomes very significant from India perspective because unless technology reaches the masses the foundation of the emerging knowledge economy would not be strong.
How does your education programme fit into the national education goals?
In sync with the government’s priorities we are synergizing our efforts with the education departments of the central and state governments for accelerating IT literacy at a national level. Our India education program, Partners in Learning has been designed to deliver on this front by providing innovative IT solutions for the education space which are affordable, relevant and available in the local language. Apart from this we are also working from other perspectives like engineering education where we engage with top engineering institutions at faculty, institute and students through various initiatives; home segment through initiatives like Student Select; continued education through our certification programs; research programs etc.
What is the thrust of Microsoft’s ‘Partners in Learning’ programme?
Our overriding objective remains to take IT education to the grassroot to empower students, educators and life long learners to achieve their fullest potential by getting access to the latest computer technologies, localised content and skills training. Towards delivering on this objective our Partners-in-Learning program is designed to address the critical challenges associated with improving information and communication technology (ICT) access at the school level while improving the quality of education, giving teachers and students the technology and training tools to achieve their fullest potential.
The Partners-in-Learning initiative offers three integrated programsdesigned to deliver teacher and student skills development, tailored curriculum development, technical support and research and enabling access through affordable desktop tools.
Why have you focused on teachers in most of your programmes when the present/emerging education paradigms put the learners/child in the centre of learning?
Student ultimately is the core of all our efforts in education. But for the start we believe we have to get the teachers skilled to enable them to empower the students. So as we see it, training the trainer on IT skills is critical for percolating the benefits of IT to the students. This becomes even more important in a typical instructor-led classroom environment, which is prevalent across most of our schools today.
What innovative approaches have you taken to achieve your objective?
We started with setting up IT Academy centres and an objective to train 80,000 teachers over a period of 5 years. We got feedback on the number and reach hence we decided to work with the respective Governments to reach all the districts in the country. Apart from this scale out, we plan to scale up by launching innovative programs like Leading Change, 21st Century School Leadership, pilot intervention of ICT in 100 schools along with MCIT amongst other things.
We also devised special pricing for the education segment to address the affordability challenge in this space. This is reflected in our School Agreement program under our Partners-in-Learning initiative, which has been specifically created to address the unique needs of primary and secondary schools with limited budgets for technology acquisition. Under the program we are offering a special riced package to enable access to icrosoft’s popular learning tools for schools with special economic needs. Through this
program, participating schools can receive free upgrades to indows XP Professional for both new computers and computers already deployed in the classroom, and can acquire the professional version of the Office productivity software suite at a rate significantly below Microsoft’s already-reduced education pricing.
What has been the extent of Microsoft’s outreach to the educationcommunity in India?
Under Project Shiksha initiative,which is a key program under our Partners-in-Learning initiative, we aim to accelerate IT literacy for over 200,000 school teachers and 10 million students across chools in the next 5 years. For roll-out of the Project Shiksha program at the school level we are working with 9 state governments today including Uttaranchal, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. We have 6 Microsoft IT Academy Centres up and running in Uttaranchal (1), Andhra Pradesh (1), Karnataka (3) and Maharashtra (1).
In addition, we have a MoU ith the Municipal Corporation of New Delhi. The agreement underlines our joint commitment with MCD for extending reach of IT to students and teachers in MCD schools. We also have a tie up with the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS) schools (which comes under the Ministry of HRD) and have onducted training at nine training centers – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Goa, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. Besides this, teacher training has also commenced at Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (JNV) Panchawati, Andaman and Minicoy Islands and Lakshwadeep. So far we have trained 42,000 plus teachers and reached out to over 2.1 million students under Project Shiksha.
What has been Microsoft’s most phenomenal achievement in education in India?
We are the only IT company in India today that seeks to address the needs of the education segment in entirety. Unlike any other player, we have specific programs for schools, colleges, higher education and for the lifelong learners.
Do you see ICT in education as an industry?
If India has to maintain the lead in Knowledge economy, education and most importantly ICT in education is very important. As with countries like the US, UK, Australia, education institutions can become technology innovation centres. There is tremendous scope and future is there for all of us to see.
Are you determining the agenda of education in India?
No, certainly not. We are partnering with state government and the MHRD and MCIT to find ways to use IT as an enabler and accelerate the benefits of an interactive classroom environment to communities, which so far have been underserved. Sustainable development is beyond the capabilities of any one government, business, organisation, or entity.
How do you think Microsoft can facilitate the delivery of a complete and sustainable solution to ICT in education in India?
Yes, I agree. Achieving sustainabledevelopment is about continuous collaboration and bringing together of strengths across various entities. As a long-term partner for India, we are committed to collaborate with the government and state education departments in devising new and innovative ways for taking the benefits of the latest technologies to teachers and students in government schools and establishing new benchmarks in learning.