Microsoft IT Academy Program Empowers Schools to Prepare Students for the IT Job Market

REDMOND, Wash., Jan 12, 2009 — In the Lee County school district of Fort Myers, Fla., 82-year-old Dunbar High School holds a rare distinction. Last year, Microsoft named Dunbar’s Academy for Technology Excellence the first Microsoft Certified High School in the world.

This was made possible through the Microsoft IT Academy program that enables educational institutions such as Dunbar to offer computer technology curricula enriched with real-world skills. The program collaborates with educational institutions to provide a holistic training program that supports education and certification on Microsoft technologies to enable the next generation of skilled workers in all industries, including information technology.

Lutz Ziob, general manager of Microsoft Learning

Since Microsoft launched its IT Academy Program in 2006, Microsoft and Dunbar High School have worked together to award more than 850 technical certifications, with standardized test scores subsequently soaring above the state and district average.

“Last year, our students passed more than 450 certification exams and earned Dunbar the honor of being named a Magnet School of Distinction by Magnet Schools of America, setting an industry standard for technology training within the K–12 public school system,” says Denise Spence, Magnet Grant Technology lead teacher at the Dunbar High School Academy for Technology Excellence.

In 2008, Dunbar became the first school in the world to have 100 percent of its IT Academy students who were enrolled in Microsoft courses successfully achieve certifications. Since then, Microsoft has been using Dunbar’s program as a pilot program for other high schools in the United States and beyond. Today there are 4,700 Microsoft IT Academies in more than 100 countries around the world.

The Microsoft IT Academy Program enhances learning by giving instructors the tools to develop technology skills at every level, from basic digital literacy through advanced training resources for technology-related careers. High school and higher education students receive technology training from trained instructors, who teach courses relevant to nationally recognized technology certifications.

“The Microsoft IT Academy Program equips schools and colleges with comprehensive, cost-effective technology offerings designed to prepare students for life and work in the 21st century,” says Lutz Ziob, general manager of Microsoft Learning. “The number of computer science students is in decline around the world and employers are complaining about a growing shortage of IT professionals. In such a scenario, the IT Academy program is helping students gain industry-recognized certifications that significantly enhance their employability.”

The Microsoft IT Academy is open and available to all educational institutions. Schools can choose from two membership levels: Essential and Advanced. The Essential level provides institutions with the courseware and curriculum to teach Microsoft Office courses, while the Advanced level helps institutions teach Microsoft Certification-based IT professional and developer courses.

The benefits are numerous and vary depending on membership level. They include E-Learning courses at no charge, as well as online library access to more than 500 Microsoft Press technical books. Members also receive lab licenses for their software, subscriptions to the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Academic Alliance, and discounts on textbooks and academic certification exams.

The E-Learning portfolio for the Essential program level encompasses courses on Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003, Office Professional 2007, Windows XP and Windows Vista. The Advanced level portfolio includes these courses, along with an extensive portfolio of IT professional and developer courses. Many of the courses are available in Latin American Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Welsh, German, French and Italian.

Microsoft IT Academy members receive unlimited access to up to 250 award-winning Microsoft E-Learning courses that have been specially customized to align with Microsoft IT Academy programs. The E-Learning courses facilitate hands-on technology skills practice for students through a multimedia learning experience. Instructors can also leverage the E-Learning structure to expand their own professional skills, take certifications tests and explore ways to enrich classroom learning.

“Having the faculty certified establishes greater credibility,” says Spence. “When educators have in-depth knowledge of the material and firsthand experience of the exams, then they can help students better with test-taking strategies.”

In emerging markets where technology is less available, the training resources place a greater emphasis on learning essential computing skills. That includes learning how to use the Internet and World Wide Web, how to manage productivity programs, and how to maintain computer security. The more elementary curriculum also teaches new technology users employment-related skills such as how to write a resume using Microsoft Office, or search the Internet for a job. Microsoft Digital Literacy is now offered in more than 30 languages and in more than 150 countries.

By providing resources that promote workforce development, stimulate interest in the IT industry and positively impact economic development, participating Microsoft IT Academy institutions are constantly opening up new career options for students across the globe.

Monkseaton High School in North Tyneside, England, with 750 students on its rolls, offers the Digital Literacy Curriculum and has been awarded a Becta ICT Mark indicating a high-achieving school in information and communication technology. Monkseaton also received the Becta ICT Excellence Award in 2008 for “Best Whole School” for England’s northeastern region.

Similarly, Sawtry Community College in Cambridgeshire, England, joined the Microsoft IT Academy program in 2004, offering the Digital Literacy Curriculum as a starting point for students to learn Microsoft Office applications and move on to technical certifications.

“We worked in partnership with our local chamber of commerce to fill a skills gap that traditional education was not addressing,” said Alan Stevens, managing director of Sawtry Multitask. “The flexibility of E-Learning has since enabled a population of students, staff and community members to gain skills to improve their job prospects with minimal disruption to their working lives.”

In New Zealand, the AMES Training and Resource Centre has already graduated more than 4,000 students from its certification programs. A member of the Microsoft IT Academy program, AMES is currently building its third campus in the Auckland area. For the core of its program, AMES adopted the Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC), which teaches IT professionals and developers how to build and support solutions using Microsoft technologies. According to AMES officials, almost 70 percent of the center’s graduates with Microsoft certifications find jobs within six months, supporting the country’s efforts to build a presence in the Asia-Pacific technology industry.

“We structured our curriculum using Microsoft certification standards to match what our students need to learn in today’s global information and communications technology sector,” says Keith Heathcote, academic manager at AMES. “When they graduate, we tell them ‘What makes you different from others with a diploma is that certification.’”

Over the next year, the Microsoft IT Academy program will focus on identifying opportunities to empower additional academic institutions across the globe to positively impact job preparedness. This year, Microsoft is providing Microsoft IT Academy resources to all registered participants of the 2009 Imagine Cup, the world’s premier student technology competition, including access to Live Sessions, e-Reference Libraries, Learning Plans and Ramp Up, an online, community-based learning program from MSDN, at no charge.

“Moving forward, we remain committed to empowering students and teachers around the world to reach their full potential,” Ziob says. “By combining education and cutting-edge technology in an effective way, as the IT Academy program does, we look forward to catalyzing success and prosperity in an evolving global economy.”

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