New Research Shows Students Not Getting the Right Skills for Work and Life

LONDON — Jan. 10, 2011 — Microsoft Corp. today announced the preliminary findings of its multicountry Innovative Teaching and Learning (ITL) Research, which shows that students can get the skills they need for work and life in the 21st century through school, but in practice, they rarely do. While education leaders consistently call for change, educational policies and systems in most countries have not yet provided clear definitions of 21st century skills, or guidance to teachers on how to teach and assess these skills.

This ongoing study, sponsored by Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program, is part of an ambitious international effort to assess innovative teaching practices — such as student-driven learning, extending learning outside the classroom, and the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the classroom — and their effect on how much students demonstrate skills such as teamwork, problem-solving and effective communication. The study aims to help administrators and policy-makers better understand the relationship between policy intentions, classroom practices and student learning outcomes in a broad variety of social, economic and cultural settings.

The pilot year of the research was managed by SRI International and took place in coordination with the governments of Finland, Indonesia, Russia and Senegal, which were selected because of their diverse education systems.

“Education policy-makers and school leaders have long voiced a commitment to transforming education so that students get the skills they need,” said Anthony Salcito, vice president of worldwide education at Microsoft. “The problem is that the policy is not being put into reality on the ground. Most educators don’t know how to implement these ideas with their students.”

Key Findings of the Pilot Year Research

Key findings from the ITL Research showed that when educators develop learning activities that require 21st century skills, students demonstrate them. However, more than 50 percent of learning activities scored the lowest possible score, suggesting that many educators are only in the early stages of teaching these skills. It also showed that educators need clear definitions of these skills, examples of how to develop them through teaching and learning, and a way to measure their success.

In addition, the research showed that technology is part of the equation. When educators have technology in the classroom — as opposed to in a lab or library — it is more likely they will use it as a tool for teaching 21st century skills.

“There is obviously a strong link between technology and innovation in the classroom, but technology alone is not the answer,” Salcito said. “Technology must be combined with innovative teaching practices, supported by school leaders who allow technology to be used in ways that support deeper engagement in learning.”

The capabilities and potential impact of this research prompted four additional countries to join the research project. Australia, England, Mexico and the United States have joined the project for 2011 and are sponsoring the research in their countries directly.

While the ITL Research is taking place currently in eight countries, its findings are relevant to education policy directions in many countries.

“Effective policy-making requires a solid and coherent knowledge base,” said Johannessen Øystein, deputy director general at the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. “The ITL Research project is an important contribution to our common knowledge base. It goes right to the heart of how technology affects the teaching and learning process; solid methodology comes out of the project, and the results are shared in a very positive way.”

The study was guided by outside advisors from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, UNESCO and the International Society for Technology in Education. During the pilot year, self-reported and observed data was collected from 25 schools and 600 teachers per country. Full details of the ITL Research project and the reports can be found by visiting http://www.itlresearch.com.

New Research Tool Fills Measurement Need

A key finding of the ITL pilot year was that educators do not have clear definitions or examples of how to develop students’ 21st century skills, but they said participating in the research itself provided them with the necessary definitions and examples.

To help schools develop common definitions and measurement practices, Microsoft is announcing a new free tool — the Partners in Learning School Research — which allows any interested school or education system in the world to conduct its own research based on ITL Research and measure innovative teaching practices at the school level.

“When schools and educational systems begin to clearly define, measure and recognize innovative teaching practices, educators see an alignment between the rhetoric of change and the reality of teaching and learning,” said Dr. Maria Langworthy, director, ITL Research. “But most educators are still constrained to teaching traditional required curriculums and content, so it’s hard for them to focus on 21st century skills and change their teaching practices.”

The surveys are available today in more than 30 languages at http://www.pilsr.com.

About Microsoft Partners in Learning

The Microsoft Partners in Learning program is a 10-year, nearly $500 million commitment by Microsoft to transform education systems around the world. Announced in 2003, the Partners in Learning program helps governments envision a new future for education in their countries; provides leadership and change management information to school leaders; works to strengthen teachers’ capacity to use technology effectively in the classroom; and provides greater access to technology for teachers and students. Microsoft believes in expanding the power of education through personalized learning.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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