This blog post was authored by Vivek Puthucode, general manager, Public Sector, Microsoft Asia Pacific
Education is the passport out of poverty, but not everyone is eligible to apply.
If you look at the Human Development Index, education is fundamental to tackling all of the social problems we face in Asia Pacific, such as unemployment, child labour, and human trafficking. Ultimately, it is about improving people’s lives.
But three barriers hold back education in Asia. First is access to education; second is the quality of provision; and third is the resourcing available in schooling systems.
By 2026, I believe that technology will have helped tackle these issues. Here is why we at Microsoft are doing all we can to eradicate education inequality across the world.
Increasing access to education
There is a huge disparity between education in cities and regional areas. In many parts of South East Asia – such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Myanmar – cities have come a long way over the past decade in providing proper schooling infrastructure.
Their rural areas are falling far behind. Both physical and digital infrastructure are weaker, and this holds back access to education for young children.
We need to build a bridge between schools in cities and those in rural settlements. Technology will play a significant role here. For example, we could use previously unused TV frequencies to connect small schools to their big city counterparts. Then, digital education providers such as Clickview can come in and support local teachers with educational videos from cutting-edge educators – and on a whole breadth of topics that otherwise wouldn’t be taught.
Every school in Asia must be connected. Only then will access to education be guaranteed.
Improving teaching quality
The second priority is the quality of education that people receive. All parents are deeply attuned to the difference this makes – hence the competition for places at the very best schools.
Some parts of the world lack an education that could remotely be described as competitive. But this problem can be overcome once schools are connected. Pre-recorded Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) will play a huge role, giving access to the best teachers in the world.
Lessons could also be streamed live: using Skype, a retired teacher in England could talk to a remote classroom in Thailand. Already, the translation technology is there to overcome language barriers.
Local teachers can therefore be free to increase their creativity, and focus on areas where they can add the greatest value. For example, a Massive Open Online Course could cover basic areas of the curriculum, while the local teacher could then prepare to host a debate between students and develop those life skills. A study by Nesta in the UK already found that this approach improved child performance compared with traditional homework and rote learning.
The fundamental shift in education is away from focusing on lesson plans, and onto the core debate: how to improve children’s ability to learn. Data is key to this, by helping personalize education and prioritize resources.
Machine learning will be vital over the next decade. It can track child performance and allow educators to tweak their delivery for students over time. It can also highlight problem areas or students, helping teachers understand who needs extra support in their classroom, and enabling them to address problems early on.
Data can also help parents too. They will be able to be more involved in their child’s education, monitoring their performance in real time and providing support. Today, parents only get feedback at fixed intervals, so this is something they would certainly welcome.
On a macro level, education systems can also benefit from machine learning. Greater use of data can show where problems occur in certain subjects in certain districts, allowing for early intervention and efficient management of a schooling system.
How to get there
There is already a great deal of focus on technology in education, but that is often misplaced. A recent OECD report showed that technology does not necessarily lead to better educational outcomes. However, it is important to see this in the right context. We need to understand that technology is a means – not an end. Technology cannot replace great teaching, but it can make great teachers even better.
For me, it comes back to the basic question: how do you help students learn? Personalized learning is the name of the game. We should help every individual on the planet achieve more, according to their own vision and needs. That’s Microsoft’s mission.
A key priority is bringing creativity into the classroom. It makes learning fun, it makes classrooms welcoming and gives children different perspectives and views.
Technology is the enabler for all of these things. Collaboration software can help share creations, and bring people together. But it’s not about giving children a fancy gadget with high speed connectivity. Teachers need to look at technology and think about how it enables more creative lessons and a more personalized experience. Schools should be connected, use their data, and put student experience at the centre of what they do.
Education is the passport out of poverty because with it, children can travel to new worlds. Let’s help every child have the adventure of a lifetime.