César Cernuda: Investing in the next generation

César Cernuda, President, Microsoft Asia Pacific

The gaping opportunity divide in Asia means the very best performing education systems in the world are sitting next to the very worst. It seems the divide isn’t as wide as it is deep.

This is reflected in the results of the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The assessment measures the academic performance of students and compares these results by national average.

The top performers in Asia – Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong – all ranked in the very top echelons, far ahead of Western nations such as the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.

The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ becomes quickly evident as you progress through the results tally. Languishing near the bottom are poorer Asian nations such as Thailand, Indonesia, and even Malaysia. In fact, these countries lag so far behind that they were ranked among the bottom 20 out of the 65 participant nations, in a measure of scholastic performance in mathematics, science, and reading amongst 15-year-olds.

Not surprisingly, this gap continues to be evident in the higher education system.

What is important to note here is that many of the countries that performed in the bottom 20 positions of the PISA study have good access to education. These are children who are going to school; but they are often getting taught with paper, pencil, and blackboard.

We simply cannot educate tomorrow’s leaders with tools and practices from the past. Students need 21st century skills to be prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. They need technology.

The reality is that the global workforce needs graduates who are digitally literate. These skills aren’t just essential for the economy; they are now a pre-requisite for young people to succeed in modern life more generally.

That said, technology is not the most critical part of a quality education. The number one indicator of student success is effective teachers. Teachers are the shepherds of learning – without them, young students cannot navigate themselves through the complex combination of 21st century skills expected by employers. Skills such as communication, collaboration, creative thinking and problem-solving – these cannot be learned simply via a computer and an internet connection.

At Microsoft, we want to help address the education issues that plague so many poorer Asian countries. While we are investing heavily in getting the essential technology into the hands of students, at the forefront of our philanthropic philosophy is the importance of teachers in transforming education outcomes.

To give students technology, you enrich their minds today. But to equip and support a teacher with technology is to enrich students for a lifetime.

This is why we have invested so much in our youth and education programs, and it is heartening to see so many lives being changed. In this region, more than 42 million teachers and students have been empowered through our Partners in Learning Program; over 26 million future achievers have been inspired by our YouthSpark initiative; and more than 100,000 students energized through the Imagine Cup technology competition.

By working with our 100,000 partners across Asia Pacific, our aim is to collaborate with governments, NGOs and institutions to equip every teacher with the tools and resources they need to train their students with the skills they need for work and life.

Our efforts are all about really partnering in every single country to make the educational system a complete success. I feel quite passionately that an educated population is the one resource that increases in value as it increases in size.

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