Aligning educators and leaders to the new generation of education

This is the first blogpost of a series based on a panel discussion at the Resilience in Secondary Cities Forum, a two-day conference jointly organized by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Affairs, Oxfam, and Microsoft in March 2014. Four panelists were joined by 30 mayors from emerging cities in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam to explore solutions on addressing pressing urban problems and discuss how technology can help build cities of the future.

You may also want to read Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Future-proofing cities: Health, Education, Public Safety, and Cloud Technologies (Part 1)

Beth Watson,  Education Director for Asia Pacific at Microsoft.
Beth Watson, Education Director for Asia Pacific at Microsoft.

In June 2013, Microsoft unveiled CityNext, a global people-first initiative to enable governments, businesses and citizens to create more sustainable, prosperous and economically competitive cities. Since then, the company has focused its efforts on partnering and working closely with local communities and companies in order to help city leaders construct and deliver a city that is built by the people, for the people. Discussing how Microsoft could help emerging cities prepare for the demands of tomorrow, the panel which featured regional Microsoft executives shared key thoughts and experiences based on their sector of expertise. The panel opened with insights from Beth Watson, Education Director for Asia Pacific at Microsoft.

From her travels throughout the region and regular interactions with schools, ministries and education leaders, Beth says that there are a few issues that are always raised during these meetings. The first is the need for change. Economic positions and job markets are changing and this is leading to a radical transformation of the workforce. Leaders have realized that there is a real urgency in driving change within the education space because the fuel of their economies and future societies will come from their schools, classrooms, and effectually their students.

The second pressing need is to recognize that learning in itself has changed. The way in which students learn, communicate, and collaborate is radically different from the rote-based learning of the past. Today’s requirements are vastly different. The advent of digital content and digital resources has created an opportunity for educators and education systems to apply powerful changes to learning methods. Beth stresses that this is not a technology transformation but a pedagogical transformation that re-evaluates the meaningfulness of learning itself. It forces educators and leaders to think about the skills that will be required for the future and how they can align their teaching and curriculum to match their students’ skills, talents, and potential whilst preparing them for tomorrow’s workforce.

According to Beth, there are also three things that are top-of-mind for every education leader. They are to: increase employability and economic growth, enable innovation, and transform education. Microsoft has helped communities around the world achieve just this. For example, in Bangladesh, the company has helped 20,000 graduates find work. An independent survey found that the third most demanded skill in the workforce was for employees to be competent with Microsoft Office – 92% of jobs around the world require candidates to be proficient with Microsoft’s technologies. To help with this demand, Microsoft works with local agencies in countries around the region to ensure that students are equipped with the right skills required for the available jobs in the market.

“Technology without great leadership and teachers is not going to achieve the changes we need to make.”

Beth is confident that great technology without great leadership and teachers is not going to achieve the changes we need to make. Technology can be used to change the education landscape but it has to be done the right way. We must continue to celebrate our teachers and leaders throughout this transformative journey and also remind ourselves of the motivation students feel when they walk into a classroom. The reality is that we cannot afford to leave any student behind and we should consciously strive to help them realize that they have the potential to make a meaningful impact with the things they set their minds on to do.

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