Microsoft Ups Ante in Education Program

Microsoft is committing $235.5 million more to Partners in Learning, one of the pillars of its Unlimited Potential initiative.

Microsoft is renewing its commitment to Partners in Learning - one of the pillars of its Unlimited Potential initiative - with a new, five-year $235.5 million investment.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will announce the new investment Jan. 23 at the Government Leaders Forum in Berlin, Germany, which brings the software company's total 10-year investment in Partners in Learning to nearly $500 million.

Partners in Learning gives educators and partners the resources, training and content to complement classroom technology and help students maximize their potential and is a core component of Unlimited Potential, Microsoft's commitment to making technology more affordable and accessible for everyone.

"This recommitment to Partners in Learning is the next step in our efforts to merge our citizenship efforts with business principles. I'm super-excited about it, mostly because it is a core component of our vision to create social and economic opportunities for many people," Orlando Ayala, senior vice president of Microsoft's Unlimited Potential Group, told eWEEK ahead of the forum.

Partners in Learning is focused on three primary areas in this second phase: training programs to build capacity and skills; bringing the transformative power of software to many more people; and bringing people together to create community at the grassroots level, he said.

The money allocated by Microsoft through Partners in Learning grants was used to train teachers, develop the curriculum and work with local partners to deliver educational services and to provide low-cost software.

While some 80 percent of the program activity was taking place in emerging markets such as South Africa, Latin America, India and China, which remained a high priority, this did not exclude the developed markets, Ayala said.

"So far, we have reached about 86 million students and four million teachers, as well as education policymakers, in 101 countries. The goal is to triple those numbers in the next five years," he said.

That would be achieved by expanding the impact of Partners in Learning's three core programs. The Innovative Teachers Program reaches almost a million teachers worldwide through an online collaboration teacher portal known as the Innovative Teachers Network. The Innovative Students Program gives low-cost software to qualifying governments that are buying Windows-based PCs for primary and secondary students' personal use at home. The Innovative Schools Program works with governments, educators and partners around the globe on ways to prepare students to be successful, Ayala said.

Other Unlimited Potential initiatives such as the Microsoft Student Innovation Suite software package, which is available to governments and students in emerging countries across the world at a price of just $3, was also bringing the power of technology to the education system.

There are more than 25 projects involving millions of these software units, Ayala said, citing a deal in Russia to provide about 250,000 software units a year for four years, and a deal for 100,000 units in Libya.