Microsoft reimagining the face of education

Lahore (Muhammad Yasir) The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore fault lines – particularly within the education space that has required educators, learners and parents alike to be aware of the realities that existed across the spectrum before its initial onset. At its very peak, research has shown that the pandemic left 1.6 billion students out of school and without access to connectivity and resources of weeks.

The abrupt change meant that governments and educators needed to rethink ways of bringing sustained education to learners, taking into account access to technology and the various other circumstances that vastly separated students in the classroom in their home lives. Educators and institutions also needed to realise that the one-size-fits-all approach to educating that existed for hundreds of years needed to go through an ‘unprecedented shift’ from a culture of teaching to a culture of learning.

“The reality of it is that educators were and have also been placed into unfamiliar territory where more societal and technological factors to easing learners into the new normal needed to be explored – a first for many,” says Angela Nganga, Education Lead, Middle East & Africa Emerging Markets at Microsoft.

As the pandemic spread throughout the continent and globe, governments, institutions and individuals began to band together, navigating the ‘unsettled zone’ where issues and questions involve getting access to the right technology, communication management and equity i.e. access to devices and connectivity – through to the ‘learning zone’, where issues include enabling continuous learning, providing support to students who lack independent skills as well and providing support to parents of students as well.

“The global response we have seen within the spheres of education at all levels has demonstrated how technology can help transform how we teach and learn. This powerful shift to a learner-centered system will be amplified by technology and driven by education that is steeped in purpose and meaning. While many institutions still find themselves in the two previous phases, some have started entering what is the ‘growth zone’ where it becomes clear that technology is a crucial part of the solution during the disruption and beyond. What also emerges here is recognition that it is time to move beyond a blend of traditional teaching and online instruction to something more. In other words, a hybrid learning model – one that combines the best of in-school and remote learning with digital engagement. It is more than a quick fix. It is a way to enhance and accelerate learning by providing student centered approaches to meet diverse learners needs,” continues Angela.

Ideally, for students – they will become empowered to learn for themselves in flexible, collaborative ways, both inside and outside classrooms at their own pace. They will also be able to follow their own interests and be challenged as appropriate. Teachers will have access to individualized real-time data on how well each of their students is progressing – scholastically and emotionally – enabling them to devise new challenges and offer appropriate support for each child to move ahead. Lastly, parents will be better connected to, and involved with, their child’s education with certainty, detail, and confidence.

“In an effort to make this a reality, we have continued to invest in helping students in primary, secondary, and higher education gain the skills to be successful in the future and are committed to ensuring educators are equipped with the tools and curricular resources to teach digital skills and prepare students for in-demand jobs across cloud, data, artificial intelligence, coding and even quantum computing,” continues Angela.

One of these investments include creating a new experience on Microsoft Education and Microsoft Learn for students and educators, providing curated experiences including learning paths focused on technology for social impact, popular university courses, and foundational developer paths. In the same way, eligible educators and faculty members at universities, community colleges and secondary schools can access Microsoft ready-to-teach curriculum and teaching materials aligned to industry-recognized Microsoft Fundamentals certifications.

The Microsoft AI Business School is also a great resource for students to learn about applying AI to industry, along with considerations for sales, marketing, culture, and responsible AI application across a multitude of industries. Furthermore, in an effort to support students in showcasing their skills and building their portfolio, Microsoft also provides institutions the opportunity to procure Microsoft certification vouchers at academic pricing on their existing volume license agreement – a great complement to existing degree studies or can serve as a stand-alone credential to show proficiency in a specific technology.

For providing students with assistance in getting a hands on experience with technology, programmes like Azure for Students, GitHub Student Developer Pack, Visual Studio Code, and programs like Microsoft Learn Student Ambassadors have been put in place.

“Looking forward, ‘rethinking’ will become a word synonymous with how the rollout of education is approached from start to finish. New data-based technologies have opened up ways to transform practices, structures, and even cultures in schools. Our commitment to education remains at the core of our mission and we will continue to push boundaries in this space – ensuring learners, parents and educators gain the most out of this process,” concludes Angela.