Around the Globe, Innovating to Improve Education

Posted by L. Michael Golden 
Corporate Vice President, Education Products Group

I’ve been on the road for three weeks speaking at a series of education events, and it was clear from each one that student-centric, innovative approaches to education can help solve critical social and economic challenges while transforming the learning process.

The events included the National Education Computing Conference and the Global Educational Competitiveness Summit in Washington, D.C.;  the Education Leaders Forum, a joint UNESCO and Microsoft event in Paris that attracted over 190 ministers of education or their designees; and the Cairo finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, one of the world’s premier technology competitions for students.

Despite having different audiences – students, educators, and government leaders - there was a shared belief at each event about the crucial role that information and communications technology (ICT) can play to transform education.  And at each event I heard several themes repeated that all of us – businesses, educational institutions, governments and non-governmental agencies– should keep in mind as we work to improve and expand access to education.

Among the most salient points:

1) There is urgency for change.  Compelled by global economic challenges and funding constraints, historically slow-moving education institutions need to adapt quickly to meet the needs of a diverse and growing student population.

2) Universities must become engines for innovation. Colleges and universities have always played an important role in teaching, community involvement and research.  Now they must play a larger role as catalysts for education at all levels.   Preparing all children to attend universities, and providing universal access to higher education, are crucial to meet the economic and workforce requirements of today and tomorrow.

3) Best practices must be fostered and shared among government leaders, administrators, educators and students throughout the education continuum and across regions.

4) Quality at scale.  In many industries, quality suffers at scale.  In the case of education, however, information and communications technology can raise quality while also extending educational opportunities to more students.

5) Effective teachers throughout a student’s academic career are critical.  Good teachers not only provide academic instruction but also act as role models.  They help students build 21st century skills and competencies such as creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.  Even two or three years of poor teaching can have a lasting impact on a student’s progress, so quality instruction must be maintained over time.

6) Leadership must be cultivated at all levels.  Leading peers and colleagues is a very different skill than teaching.  We need to develop and supplement leadership capabilities at all levels of our educational institutions. 

7) Strong collaboration and partnerships are essential.  No one can “go it alone” when it comes to improving education.   Whether schools, students, teachers, parents, governments or NGOsthere has to be strong collaboration and partnering to ensure educators can better instruct the world’s 1.4 billion students. 

8) Expanding access.   Access to education can be improved by expanding broadband Internet connections or ensuring at least a “sometimes-connected” condition for students.  Internet connectivity can connect children with meager local education resources to online learning programs and skilled teachers in other locales.

9) Short-term priorities and long-term planning are equally important.  Only with a systematic and comprehensive approach can we make fundamental long-term improvements to education, while also achieving incremental goals.

10) We must respect and listen to the voices of the students.  Educators, administrators, governments and business leaders must shape, unleash and amplify students’ voices.  We must create innovative learning environments that are relevant, authentic and results-oriented, but also maintain our focus on the student.   

Looking back, it would be easy for such a concentrated series of events to blur together.  Instead, for me, each is crystal clear and distinct.  Underlying the themes above, three conclusions emerged: ICT is a clear driver of change; now is the time to act; and technology can help improve education through scale, skills, innovation and access.

At each of these events, a call to action was defined or executed by the respective group.  For example, at GECS, nine states plus ISTE, ECS and Microsoft created a working group to define best practices and improve the competitiveness of U.S. education.  At the Imagine Cup Finals, teams of students shared viable technology solutions to address the UN Millenium Goals.  At ELF, UNESCO and Microsoft announced the creation of a joint task force to better enable IT in higher education, and Microsoft made a $50 million commitment to support the task force’s efforts. Together, these events create a lens that focuses on the global and moral imperative to identify, create and amplify ways to ensure that each of the world’s students has access to the best and most relevant education possible. 

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