As part of its commitment to delivering accessible technology and transforming education for citizens across the Asia Pacific region, Microsoft Corp Chairman Bill Gates announced some new programmes and partnerships at the Government Leaders Forum – Asia (GLF Asia) in Jakarta, Indonesia recently.
Tell us about your role in the Unlimited Potential Group.
As Corporate Vice President, Unlimited Potential Group of Microsoft, my responsibility spans education worldwide, product solutions, strategies and new business models for spreading the reach of technology.
Our group is committed to making technology more affordable, relevant and accessible for the five billion people around the world untouched by technology and thereby help bridge the Digital Divide.
By working with governments, inter-governmental organisations, ngos and industry players, Microsoft hopes to attain its first major milestone, of reaching the next one billion people who have been untouched by the benefits of technology, by 2015.
It is a great opportunity to address the need for education, which is the fundamental pillar for people to move ahead. The job requires lot of creativity, innovation and is very fulfilling as a mission.
How does Microsoft plan to further its commitment on delivering accessible technology?
Microsoft believes that technology can play an important role in enabling access to quality education for everyone. Access has two dimensions: access to education itself and accessibility for people with special needs. We are very excited about our new partnerships with New Zealand-based Weta Workshop and Australian software developer
Northern Territory Institute for Community Education and Development (NTICED). Weta is an Oscar winning animation studio that has done animation for major movies like Lord
of the Rings.
The focus of these partnerships is to develop resources and tools based on Partners in Learning Curriculum that will be available on a portal delivering audio, written text, images and video through rich animation-based content. This will help the estimated 10% of the world’s population living with special needs acquire skills and knowledge through technology.
Please share with us details of the e-Learning initiative in Philippines.
An important concept that drives us is that learning is a life-long endeavour and not something that you can do only up to the age of 18 or 21. Although computer literacy has become a vital workplace skill in today’s knowledge-based economy, millions of people worldwide still lack this skill. We are looking at Internet cafes as a venue for delivering basic IT education in Philippines.
Under this innovative programme, 16 IT courses, free certif-ications through Microsoft IT Academy Learning Portal and free ‘digital literacy’ courses will be made available in more than 169 iCafes owned by local internet cafe operator Netopia.
Although questions have been raised about internet cafes being used for gaming and entertainment, we believe cafes are a compelling way in which education gets delivered. We are really excited as this will allow millions of people first time access to some of the best skill sets developed by Microsoft.
Chairman Gates announced the expansion of Microsoft Innovation Centres (MICs) in Indonesia. What are Innovation Centres and how do they function?
MICs help develop local software economies through partnerships with universities around the world. Since the first Innovation Center in 2006, a network of 110 centers in 60 countries, including more than 30 across 13 countries in Asia Pacific, have come up. These centers offer software development courses, business skills and employment programmes for students; fosters software quality certification and technology labs; and support the Microsoft Imagine Cup, the world’s largest student software development competition.
In Indonesia, we are collaborating with Pelita Harapan University, Jakarta, to open a new Innovation Center. This is apart from the four centers already running there in partnerships with leading universities.
Imagine Cup is an important aspect of MIC. The Bandung Institute of Technology Innovation Center has for the last three years fielded the winning team representing Indonesia. This years winning entry, Team Butterfly, showed how technology can help promote environmental cause by creating a tool that allows people to report environmental abuse to government.
The finals are to be held in Paris in July where more than 42,000 students from across the Asia-Pacific region have registered for the competition.
Partners in Learning initiative by Microsoft has been in operation for the past five years. Would you like to share some of its high points and future plans?
Partners in Learning is our flagship K-12 education initiative. This year marks a special landmark for us. We have touched an estimated hundred million students and four million teachers globally through this programme! We take a holistic view on how we believe ICT in education will have a true impact in education learning and that means right devices, right curriculum and right training for the teachers and students.
Earlier this year, we announced a recommitment of USD235.5 million to the programme, which will bring Microsoft’s total 10-year investment to nearly USD500 million. This will enable the programme to significantly expand its impact by reaching more students and teachers around the world in the next five years.
One such example is Korea’s Ubiquitous Learning
(U-Learning) project, developed in collaboration with the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. Using technological tools like Tablet PCs and mobile devices, students access, share and present content; while school curriculum has also been digitised. Starting with nine schools, the programme has since expanded to 20 and the government aims to fully digitise all curriculum by 2020.
What is the Peer-to-Peer coaching model?
This concept is based on the premise that teachers look to their colleagues first when they need assistance in integrating technology into their classrooms. By training teachers to serve as coaches for colleagues, they are able to assist their peers develop necessary skills to integrate technology into classroom teaching and learning. This will in turn help improve students’ academic achievement. Through this programme, the coaches act as facilitators in the local environment.
From the feedback we have received so far, we have gathered that the peer-to-peer model has been successful in facilitating use of ICT in education, the percentage of which has gone up from 20% to 80%