Opinions

Education in Africa: Challenges and Success Stories

Anthony Salcito

High-quality education is the foundation for success and growth. There is a need for empowered teachers, strong school leaders, better curricula, and the ability for students to connect with one another and the rest of the world, says Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector – Education, Microsoft. Through various highly successful initiatives, such as the Partners in Learning Network or the Innovative School Programme, Microsoft reaches out to more than twenty million teachers and students on the African continent, bringing access to technology and high-quality learning content. Anthony Salcito talked to eLearning Africa about the successes and challenges of their African activities.

eLA: Microsoft has been involved in eLearning and ICT for development in Africa in a variety of ways for quite awhile now. How can the success of your activities be measured?

Anthony Salcito: High-quality education is the foundation for success and growth. There is a need for empowered teachers, strong school leaders, better curricula, and the ability for students to connect with one another and the rest of the world. The combination of quality content, partnerships, training, and broad access – complemented by the most appropriate technology tools to author, distribute, teach, and connect – can transform education.

This is why we offer many education programmes through the Microsoft Unlimited Potential program throughout Africa that help foster IT skills in education which can in turn lead to scaling local economies. One of our flagship programmes is the Partners in Learning program, a global initiative designed to actively increase access to technology and improve its use in teaching and learning.

The Partners in Learning Program is active in 24 countries throughout Africa, engaging in strong public private partnerships with Ministries of Education around the Continent. The work we do revolves around:

  • Supporting education leaders to prepare schools and systems for 21st century learning;
  • Building communities to support, motivate, and inspire leaders; and
  • Enabling access to technology and content.

That said, we measure success in multiple ways – from the number of our education partners to the degree ICT is integrated into curriculums – and we are very excited about the number of educators we reach throughout Africa. Since the inception of Partners in Learning in 2003, we have reached nearly 21 million educators and learners on the African continent through tools and trainings. In addition, we have a dedicated network linking teachers in Africa to their peers worldwide via the Partners in Learning Network, which offers educators the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded colleagues, improve education in the classroom and community, and ultimately help improve the quality of education in the region and around the world.

Currently, we have about two million educators active on the network worldwide, and we are just starting to build the community in Africa. We also partner with over thirty technology and education companies to support the Africa School Technology Innovation Center in Johannesburg, which has trained more than 3500 teachers, principals, and learners in the last two years. The Africa School Technology Innovation Center aims to showcase and teach education technology and innovation around the Continent. This will be done by creating opportunities for in-depth collaboration and communication with partners, education elites, educators and institutions, gaining access to decision-makers around Africa, partnering with and engaging world-class educational research for the benefit of the transformation of education, as well as expanding and improving partner relations globally and around the Continent.

Every year we bring together the most innovative teachers from around Africa to compete in the regional Innovative Education Forum (IEF). In 2009, fifty teachers gathered at the forum in Mauritius. Last year’s regional winners from Africa were from South Africa, Mozambique, Uganda, Ghana, Lesotho, Nigeria and Mauritius. These twelve teachers then went to the worldwide event, where over 400 teachers from around the world presented their ideas and projects.

At the end of the 2009 Worldwide Innovative Education Forum held in Salvador, Brazil, Moliehi Sekese, a teacher of Math, Science and English from Lesotho, was named the Educator’s Choice Winner for her project on the scarcity of indigenous plants. Her work is available for teachers around the world to review on the Partners in Learning Network as well. We are very excited to hold the 2010 Worldwide Innovative Education Forum in Cape Town, South Africa, the first time this event will be hosted on African soil!

We also integrate closely with schools in South Africa, Mauritius, Ghana and Kenya. These schools are part of our global Innovative Schools Program, and it is especially exciting for us to work closely with them because they have excellent leadership, vision and determination, and they can articulate the possible impact of ICTs in a whole school development.

These selected schools have been recognised as educational environments that are taking a unique approach to serving the needs of their communities, and they are recognised for their work toward the improvement of teaching and learning on the systemic level. We look at our innovative schools as an important part of the journey for transforming education, and we hope to grow school participation in Africa over the next several years.

eLA: What is of particular importance when it comes to ICT and education in Africa? One of Microsoft’s main focuses is clearly the issue of access.

Anthony Salcito: We know that access presents a challenge to many schools in Africa and that schools cannot focus on digital transformation of any kind until students have access to technology. Once a school has solved that issue, they can start thinking about the next steps in the transformation of learning. Investing in access so technology is available to students, even at a basic level, can open new doors to learning new skills with ICT as the foundation. This can create an economy around digital learning or create new industry powered by technology. In emerging markets, access is the foundation to creating change in the country.

So yes, accessibility is important to Microsoft, and we know it isn’t solved by simply dropping off computers in schools. When we work with our education partners in Africa, we consider everything from the relevance of ICT to national curriculums to whether sufficient ICT skills training is available for teachers and how to help create a sustainable program for that access.

We also take pains to address the challenge of physical access to technology — such as electricity, Internet connectivity, and affordability of hardware — as well as access to knowledge by offering localised language content, policy and technology training.

The Lesotho Project

Working with the Lesotho Ministry of Education & Training and technology partners, AstraLab, Learnthings Africa and The Mindset Network, Microsoft has helped to introduce ICT for the first time to the Piting Secondary School in the rural village of Ha-Tumo, thirty kilometers outside Lesotho’s capital city, Maseru.

Using a durable and easy-to-use device that combines a computer with a classroom projector, the students at Piting Secondary School are able to simultaneously use AstraLab’s Compujector and participate in a lesson with multiple mice and colour-coded cursors, based on Microsoft Windows MultiPoint technology.

The teachers from the Piting Secondary School, most of whom had never used a computer before, received multiple training sessions from Learnthings Africa, progressing from basic digital literacy and presentation training to the most important lessons in how to integrate technology into their daily lesson plans. With multimedia education content supplied by Learnthings Africa, The Mindset Network and Microsoft Encarta, the teachers now have lesson material tailored to specific grades and subjects that meets the national curriculum.

Mrs Marefiloe Moreke, the principal of the Piting Secondary School, has reported that since the Compujector’s introduction, absenteeism and truancy rates have dropped markedly and student’s test scores have already started showing improvement. “This technology is going to change the way we teach forever. It has already created huge excitement among the students, and it is going to give them a lot more skills and opportunities,” she said.

A pilot project we recently worked on in Lesotho (and discussed at last year’s eLearning Africa conference) is a perfect example of how we address both types of accessibility challenges. (See box)

eLA: Are there areas you see becoming increasingly important in the future that you’ll be putting greater emphasis on?

Anthony Salcito: The area that is high on our priority list is making sure we link educators in Africa to educators worldwide. We have learned from our worldwide Innovative Education Forums that African teachers have a lot of passion and a lot of experience. This experience must be shared with teachers worldwide face to face and through virtual networks.

In addition to that, we have also learned that there are alternatives to one-to-one learning that can be wildly effective on the Continent, whether it is through having one computer with multiple screens for different students or having students share a computer with multiple mice attached to it.

eLA: What do you expect from eLearning Africa this year?

Anthony Salcito: On a yearly basis, we see eLearning Africa as an opportunity to reinforce our support for ICT in education in Africa. We look forward to the opportunity to exchange great ideas, best practices and proven methods from the many policymakers and practitioners from education, business and government who attend.

There are so many great ideas shared, so much passion displayed and so much to learn from all the attendees. We look forward to sharing those ideas from eLearning Africa with the rest of the world.

eLA: Thank you very much for your time, Mr Salcito.

 

About Anthony Salcito

As vice president of education for Microsoft Corp.’s Worldwide Public Sector organisation, Anthony Salcito works with educational institutions and partners globally, helping them embrace technology in order to optimise learning environments and student achievement. In this role, Salcito oversees the worldwide execution of Microsoft’s vision for education and its partnership and technology outreach efforts via the Partners in Learning, Partners for Technology Access, and Public and Private Alliances programs.

Salcito comes to Worldwide Public Sector from Microsoft’s U.S. Public Sector organisation. While the general manager of education in the United States, Salcito had responsibility for supporting K-12 and higher education institutions across the U.S. and leading the company’s efforts to support and increase the role technology plays in the enhancement of learning. He developed education partnerships and innovative programmes to better support education customers nationally.

Salcito helped launch the U.S. Partners in Learning program in 2003, which was recognised in 2009 with the Public-Private Partnership Award from the U.S. National Governors Association. He was the catalyst for Microsoft’s involvement in the creation of the School of the Future — Microsoft’s collaboration with the Philadelphia School District to build an innovative high school, an effort that has served as a blueprint for Microsoft’s worldwide Innovative Schools program.

Salcito has created several programmes that have been leveraged broadly to support the company’s giving efforts and Microsoft’s Connected Learning Community initiative. He created the Microsoft Technology Friends Network, which links IT professionals and developers to schools and nonprofits to donate their technical expertise to aid with technology support.

Salcito joined Microsoft in 1992, helping to architect Microsoft’s marketing outreach plan in the early 1990s. During his initial years with Microsoft, Salcito had the opportunity to influence marketing and one-to-many programs including the product launches for Windows NT and Windows 95.

Salcito is involved with a variety of outreach projects. He has served on the board of directors for Stevens Institute of Technology WebCampus and Western Governors University. Currently, he is a member of the board of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship and the National Community Education Association.

Salcito shares his views on education news, trends and highlights in his blog, Education Insights: www.microsofteducationblog.com

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