Transforming Education to Give Every Child Access to Quality 21st-Century Instruction

LONDON — Jan. 14, 2009 — International government ministers, senior education officials, lawmakers and leading thinkers gather in London today for the Education Leaders Briefing. Front and center will be how schools can set students up for success in the 21st century and what role technology can play in ensuring every child gets the very best education. The Microsoft sponsored event is part of a full roster of activities and announcements the company is organizing this week to mark the British Education and Training Technology Show (BETT), the world’s largest educational technology event. Yesterday, Microsoft joined forces with Cisco Systems Inc. and Intel Corporation to issue a call to action to government, education and business leaders to give schools the tools they need to prepare students for the knowledge economy.

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

PressPass asked L. Michael Golden, recently appointed to the new role of corporate vice president, Education Products Group, at Microsoft, to explain how the company envisions the future of education, and how technology can help schools embrace the educational opportunities and challenges ahead.

PressPass: You had a career in senior education administration and educational publishing before joining Microsoft this past fall. How does your background equip you for your new role at Microsoft?

Golden: As deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Office of Information and Educational Technology, I oversaw education initiatives that reached 1.8 million students and 200,000 educators. The experience really brought home to me the impact that technology, along with great teaching, can have on the lives and prospects of students. Technology, coupled with robust teacher training, is the cornerstone of the reforms we instituted in Pennsylvania’s schools to empower educators, enrich instruction and get children ready for the 21st-century work force.

My time in Pennsylvania also gave me a real appreciation of how critical educational publishers and content providers are to creating great educational experiences. So when the opportunity came up to learn more about this aspect of the educational process and contribute my perspective as senior vice president with global educational publisher Pearson, I jumped at the chance.

I’ve been fortunate in my career to be able to follow my passions for education, technology and business. The new role at Microsoft is a natural extension of this. I’ve joined a team that shares my conviction that great software and services applied appropriately and implemented well can make a difference for schools.

PressPass: Tell us a little about the new role at Microsoft. I believe it’s a newly created global position for the company?

Golden: That’s right. It’s a new post dedicated to overseeing the education initiatives we’re driving globally at Microsoft, which is a powerful statement about the breadth and depth of our commitment to education. I’m working collaboratively across the company to help the various business groups coordinate their education offerings and bring our efforts in education into sharp focus.

We have some bold goals for harnessing the magic of software to help transform education and we’re working across the board to accomplish them. It’s an exciting time to be involved in education at Microsoft.

PressPass: How does Microsoft envision education in the 21st century?

Golden: Access to a quality education is a fundamental human right. Yet, despite the best efforts of governments and development organizations, school remains out of reach for 375 million children worldwide. That’s simply unacceptable.

With technology, we can extend powerful new opportunities to the millions of kids currently outside the system. We’re developing software and services that collapse the barriers of time, distance and resources that impede access to schooling and throw an educational lifeline to students in remote or underserved communities.

We can also develop educational offerings that meet the needs of individual learners as classrooms around the world grow more diverse. Educational success depends on motivated students. Technology opens up exciting new ways to engage students and immerse them in an instructional environment that ignites their imagination and expands their horizons. At Microsoft, we’re fueling the creation of multimedia content that brings material to life in fresh ways and developing communication and collaboration tools that make lessons more interactive.

In addition, technology allows schools to analyze vast quantities of data to track student progress and inform instruction.

We can also bring together international educators and schools to share their experiences. At Microsoft, we’re doing this today with the Innovative Teachers Network, which gives more than 1.6 million teachers from 81 countries a digital forum to share best practices and support each other in their efforts to push the envelope. In a similar vein, we’re expanding our Innovative Schools program to enable thousands of schools to learn from one another’s experiences as part of a global virtual community.

Finally, technology can streamline the bureaucratic overhead and management tasks teachers and administrators increasingly face, allowing them to devote more time to students.

So ultimately we envision an education system in which technology acts as this incredibly powerful change agent, complementing the great work of educators and administrators.

PressPass: How does the call to action issued yesterday by Microsoft, Cisco and Intel fit into this vision of education?

Golden: Harnessing technology to equip students with the skills they need in the 21st century is key to our education vision. With Cisco and Intel, we’re looking to shine a spotlight on this critical issue and rally global leaders to take action to give schools the tools to prepare students with the skills they need.

The way we live, work, interact and do business has been transformed by technological innovation. But our schools haven’t been able to keep up. Together, we want to help schools leapfrog into the 21st century. We believe technology has a crucial role to play in preparing students for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. We’re concentrating on revamping assessment because the skills that are tested tend to be those that are emphasized in teaching. By focusing on testing, we can affect instructional practice upstream and learning outcomes downstream.

PressPass: What are the skills that students need in the 21st century?

Golden: The skills called for in today’s knowledge economy are versatile ones that can be applied across diverse situations. These include being able to think flexibly and apply different approaches to creatively solve complex problems. Also essential are the capacities to critically evaluate large amounts of information and work effectively as part of a team, plus independently if need be.

These are skills rarely tested in schools and correspondingly are rarely taught.

Technology holds the key to instilling them. Not only is technological literacy now a foundational skill with the ubiquity of technology in the workplace, but classroom-friendly technologies such as Tablet PCs, online learning spaces, digital textbooks and note-taking software actively enable students to conduct research, capture and organize information and analyze its reliability, communicate their insights to others, and collaborate with classmates.

PressPass: So what is Microsoft doing to help transform education?

Golden: We’re forging partnerships with governments, schools, content providers, academic researchers and development organizations alongside teachers, students and parents. We recognize that effecting transformative change in education requires buy-in from all the stakeholders, so we’re taking a community approach and reaching out to diverse partners. It takes a systemic approach and cooperation to make change happen. I can attest to this from my experience working in education. For technology to realize its transformational potential it must form part of a comprehensive and integrated strategy that also revamps curricula and provides teachers with training and support.

This approach is reflected in the Innovative Schools program, in which we’re working with educators on the ground to pilot cutting-edge applications of technology in the classroom. The initiative started out with 12 schools in 12 countries. Now we’re extending it to more than 72,000 schools across 100-plus nations by 2013. With technology, we can be acutely sensitive to individual schools’ needs. But at the same time we’re trying to tease out the general lessons and examples of best practice that can be applied to schools universally. There are so many inspiring individual school success stories, but access to great educational experiences shouldn’t depend on where a student lives. Generating models of excellence that can be cost-effectively replicated at scale holds the key to achieving wholesale change and bringing the benefits of a quality education to all of the 1.4 billion students across the globe. This is how we create success for our children in the 21st century.

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