Field Stories

British Council partnering with Microsoft to transform education in Africa

Claire Ighodaro CBE

In November 2011, the British Council and Microsoft began a five-year education and training partnership by launching the African Digital Schools project. Eighty digital hubs using Windows MultiPoint Server will be established at schools in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda in order to promote ICT use and enhance teaching practice. Claire Ighodaro CBE, an Independent Director at the British Council shares her thoughts on the need to foster innovative thinking in a fast-paced world.

As a British Council Trustee, I was proud to announce a new international education and training partnership with Microsoft, at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum 2011 in Washington DC.

The partnership with Microsoft is a perfect match, as it aligns with the British Council’s core mission: to build trust and create opportunities. We do ‘soft power’, to use Joseph Nye’s phrase, and we do it on a vast scale, operating in 110 countries and 191 cities across the globe. In fact, we were recently described in the Huffington Post as ‘probably the world’s best cultural diplomacy agency.’

The first project in this new partnership will provide teachers and learners across Africa with the skills they need to live and work in a global economy. I have seen first-hand the British Council’s education programmes in Africa, and the results of their investment are extraordinary. So I am delighted that the first project in the new British Council – Microsoft partnership will happen in Africa, where we have the experience and connections to work effectively with educators and leaders on the ground to really make a difference.

At the British Council, we work in three areas: English, Arts, and Education and Society. In terms of our reach and impact, we’re the world’s leading cultural relations organisation. Last year, our work engaged more than 30 million people worldwide, and we reached almost 600 million people through digital and broadcast media – approaching one in ten of the earth’s people.

Those numbers are large, but here is an even bigger statistic: three billion people today are under 25. Our common future depends on releasing their potential. This is what is at the heart of our new partnership. We cannot predict what’s ahead, but we know that tomorrow’s world will be complex and fast-changing, and that there will be major challenges ahead.

According to the International Labour Organization, 160 million people worldwide are unemployed. That includes 64 million young people. And yet there is also a huge and growing shortage of people with the skills that the 21st century requires.  Global connectivity is rapidly transforming the world, as online and mobile technologies converge. By 2014, there will be 6.5 billion mobile subscribers. That’s more than 90% of the world’s entire population. This new world demands a whole new set of skills.

We need outstanding, energetic young people with the skills to navigate this complex landscape. Alongside competence with IT, they will need superb communication and teamwork skills to understand and work with people in their schools and communities. And just as importantly, they will need the skills to reach out and work with people on the other side of the world.

Where do we begin to address these issues? We believe the answer is through partnerships. We cannot do this alone. We must develop creative new alliances to address our common future, with states, businesses, educational organisations and individuals.

Our two organisations have complementary expertise in technology, education and cultural relations. Our joint expertise forms a solid foundation for a productive, sustainable alliance.

Technology is a tool that, when well used, can improve teaching and learning. But technology is just one piece of a larger solution, supported by progressive national education policies, professional development for educators, and innovations led by teachers on the ground.

This project is not just about wiring schools. It is about ensuring that young people in their communities are equipped with skills that will serve them throughout their lives: leadership, self-confidence, creativity, ambition, and a desire to connect and contribute to the wider world.

Claire Ighodaro CBE is a Board member, Non-executive Director and Audit Committee Chair of Lloyd’s of London, the UK’s Lending Standards Board and the British Council. She is also a Council Member of the Open University and a Past President of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

This article was originally published on Microsoft’s TechNet Blog.

5 Comments

  1. This sounds to be an interesting and exciting project. It is quite laudable. I am an ICT personnel in an Organisation that would be very much interested in being a part of this project and would not be surprised if my management is already in it with you.

    Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, TRCN is an agency of the Federal Ministry of Education of Nigeria with the mandates to regulate and control the Teaching Profession at all levels of the Nigerian Education system, both in the public and private sectors.

    As the sole regulator of the teaching profession in the country, we have taken some strides which include the training of teachers in the country on ICT Literacy, we are into Teachers Continous Development Programme etc and as I can see, your programme is rather an expanded and elaborate version of these. Please take us along. Thank you.

  2. The one good news in this Partnership for me – as an English Language teacher – is the fact that the British Council operates in the areas of English Language, Arts, Education and Society. I am just a Language teacher. I do not take any role in policy decision making in the “normal” understanding of the word. But, I’ll be watching how this programme plays out in Uganda, from National Teachers College Muni in northwestern Uganda.

    For a couple of months now, I’ve had an affair with using ICT in teaching-and-learning, with my students (teacher trainees). I designed some teaching-and-learning resources in a Moodle VLE and in a wiki. But, access has been a big challenge. The College has had 16 or so, computers (some gigantic, antique box monitors connected to PCs of the last century – if you ask me. It took one ages to log on – if one succeeded at all). Well, in the last couple of months, I have had second thoughts about taking the 23 English Language students 4 kms away to a public Internet Cafe in Arua town. The largest number of computers connected to the Internet in a public Internet cafe in town is 7. That is my Plan B.

    A fortnight ago, there was almost a Deus ex machina scenario: the College Principle told us the Ministry of Education and Sports had offered 80 computers that would be linked to the Internet for one year. I told my students that was the best news I’d heard since 2012 began. As I write, the “Computer Lab” – hurriedly rid of the antique pieces which had hirtherto occupied the tables – is still empty.

    The more reason I will be watching keenly how this eventually plays out. It looks like NTC Muni is part of this African Digital Schools project where “Eighty digital hubs using Windows MultiPoint Server will be established at schools in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda in order to promote ICT use and enhance teaching practice.”. If that be the case, it will be some music to my ears.

  3. I am interested in knowing more to assist students that come to my ICT school and also to assist the surrounding schools in northern Ghana.

    Thank you

  4. This is a great innovation. Today we need such innovations to cope with the ever changing demands in the world. However, can such an innovation can be used to promote the teaching and learning of science especially in the developing countries.

  5. Erison Huruba says:

    This article touches on real issues of concern to the skills needed to prepare citizens for the future. the networking should now spread to cover more parts of. Africa. Digital connections and skills should bring quality and equity to education. Systems in transition, eg Zimbabwe, should be considered in the partnership.

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