At this week’s BETT show In London, I’m among policy-makers, school leaders, and other education innovators, all with a common goal: choosing a long-term technology solution that will maximize limited budgets and learning impacts and do the right thing for students and their communities.
They must also consider the ultimate objective: preparing students to be contributors and leaders in the 21st century workplace. As the challenges facing our youth increase, with youth unemployment projected at nearly 13 percent by 2018, prioritizing workforce readiness is now a societal imperative and a top priority for educators around the world.
All of this requires a thoughtful and holistic approach: understanding teaching and learning objectives, preparing teachers for the change, and adding the right content and services to create a productive and sustainable learning environment. Success starts with students and educators first; technology second. How will teachers and students use technology in – and outside of – the classroom? And how will that technology translate to jobs in the 21st century?
Devices are the biggest piece of any classroom technology investment. Students need to consume and create, all while staying on task and away from distractions in a safe and secure environment. At Microsoft, we help school leaders meet the evolving needs of education by offering cost-effective devices and technologies that help secure and manage the business of education. Whether they are tablets, laptops or desktop PCs, we have devices to meet every need. They integrate with existing classroom technology, are robust, easy-to-implement and offer guaranteed reliability.
But even with the right devices in place, education technology implementations can fail because of lack of preparation and training for teachers and school leaders. Getting ready for new technology takes a shift in pedagogy, and a new way of thinking about sparking curiosity, collaborating with peers and expert educators, interacting with rich content and opening doors to engaging learning experiences.
Microsoft has invested $750 million in training and professional development over the last 15 years to ensure that educators are equipped to make the most of classroom technology, and that school leaders and policy-makers are equipped to guide this transformation successfully. And our commitment doesn’t stop after the purchase — it continues throughout each educator’s professional journey, and adapts to the constantly changing environment of education today. We make professional development available free of charge because we know it’s the foundation to scalable improvements in teaching and learning.
Perhaps even more important in the development of educators and school leaders is the professional learning network available through Microsoft’s educator network. This global network, now over 800,000 members strong, provides mentoring, feedback and inspiration from education innovators throughout the world.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to content: the right platform, programs, apps and tools that will truly transform learning and prepare students for the workforce.
According to a recent IDC White Paper, sponsored by Microsoft, Skills Requirements for Tomorrow's Best Jobs: Helping Educators Provide Students with Skills and Tools They Need, on skills requirements for tomorrow’s best jobs, the skills most required across all occupations are "soft" — communication, attention to detail, customer service focus, organization and problem-solving. Proficiency in Microsoft Office was commonly found in the top 20 skills required for most of the high-growth/high salary positions globally. In fact, by 2020, nearly 30 percent of all of these occupations will require Microsoft Office or Microsoft Office-related skills. Microsoft Office is the only software package called out within the top 20 skills across all high-growth/high-salary occupations, and is third on the list of most required skills. The complete study is posted below.
Since December 1, when we launched the Microsoft Student Advantage program to give students no-cost access to Office 365, we have issued millions of new seats to qualifying institutions, suggesting that schools are already well aware of the connection between proficiency in Microsoft Office and success in the workforce.
Of course, all of this must live on a platform that’s tailor-made for the needs of teachers and students. Windows 8 apps for education are being developed quickly in the Windows Store. Additionally, Windows 8’s split screens are ideal for content creation, consumption and multi-tasking – all within an anywhere/anytime learning environment. And Windows 8 takes full advantage of the cloud, with powerful and proven education apps built specifically for the classroom.
Great examples of how Microsoft’s products and services are showing up in schools can be found in Surface, with more institutions choosing these Windows-based devices for their students, teachers and administrators. You can read about how Surface is changing the way St. Patrick’s College in London and Williston Northamption School in Massachusetts are approaching technology in the classroom on the Surface Blog.
When it comes to creating meaningful change in education and preparing students for the workforce, there is no silver bullet. It’s a combination of things: a solid plan built around learning objectives, the right device for the long-run, educators and school leaders who are prepared for change, and content that brings all of these other elements to life in the classroom and beyond.
Microsoft's legacy of focusing on teachers and school leaders is without equal, and no other company offers Microsoft’s broad portfolio of familiar, robust and secure devices, software and services. Our commitment to students and youth around the world, as seen through our work in schools and our company-wide YouthSpark initiative, is unwavering. With the right plan and tools in place today, Microsoft is committed to ensuring that students are fully engaged in learning, and prepared to meet the changing demands of the job market, readying them to lead in the 21st century economy.
Anthony Salcito, Worldwide Vice President, Education