Microsoft: Schools are failing to teach IT skills

Microsoft: Schools are failing to teach IT skills

Summary: A Microsoft survey has found that schools are failing to embed IT in lessons, and rarely give students IT skills, a result that has surprised teachers. Microsoft UK education director Steve Beswick talked to ZDNet UK about the survey


In January, Microsoft said that schools were rarely giving students the IT skills they needed for employment.

This finding was based on the results of the company's Innovative Teaching and Learning Research survey, an international study of over a thousand 16- to 18-year-old students. The study found that most teachers, including those in the UK, were not implementing government IT teaching policy.

ZDNet UK talked to Microsoft's director of education Steve Beswick at this year's BETT conference at Olympia in London. Prior to the interview, ZDNet UK talked to a number of teachers to gauge their reaction to the survey. All of the teachers that ZDNet UK talked to were engaged with IT, and admitted they were surprised at the survey results.

Q: One of the teachers ZDNet UK talked to asked whether Microsoft had any plans to give schools more tools to teach general IT skills?
A: There are tools already out there. There is the Microsoft IT Academy programme, with people who have embedded Microsoft certification into the curriculum. [Children] are coming out of schools with GCSEs plus Microsoft Office specialist certification, which is recognised by employers, and gives children a better chance of employability.

In the UK we have over 700 IT academies, with new certification carrying through. There will be an expansion of the depth of the certificate, the number of IT academies, and the breadth of participation. The expansion will be in the form of schools getting parents in communities to come in, learn, and take the test — putting them in a position where they are more employable.

Microsoft academies give Microsoft skills. Some of the teachers ZDNet UK talked to said that schools already do a good job of promoting Microsoft products. Does Microsoft have any plans to give tools to schools that will give children more general skills?
Children need generic skills from IT. If the schools system looked at better ways to integrate IT skills, everyone would benefit. The view is there's a gap between the skills employers require and the IT skills of children.

Will Microsoft start a certification programme that will give people skill sets that are more easily transferable to other types of software? For example, taking Access as a basis, but giving more general database skills so people could approach Oracle Database software?
We don't have a certificate for gneral skills — but that needs to happen [through schools]. Schools need to embed IT into general lessons.

The National Curriculum has a statutory requirement that IT be used in all core lessons, and in later key stages, in all statutory lessons. Has Microsoft found that schools are not doing this?
From the survey, it's clear to us there's still a long way to go in making sure schools are using best practice. We should be using ICT to teach rather than just teaching ICT. A lot of children are acquiring IT skills at home, and our data shows that students are learning more of their IT out of school. Schools need to look at that to enhance skills.

We want 21st-century skills as an employer. We want to employ people who can communicate well, and have bright ideas. Employers are looking for people who can collaborate and be creative, and those are the sorts of people we are looking to employ. Microsoft employs 2,000 people in the UK. We have 36,000 partners, and they employ about half a million people. The competitive skills of the workforce are the only natural resources many countries have got.

It's clear to us there's still a long way to go in making sure schools are using best practice. We should be using ICT to teach rather than just teaching ICT.

– Steve Beswick, Microsoft

One of the teachers ZDNet UK talked to, who was an avowed Apple fan, said that Microsoft Office didn't really teach students creativity, or collaboration. He also said that Microsoft had not been responsive to suggested changes to software.
We would like to reach out to this customer. Customer satisfaction is one of our highest measurements. We want customers to come forward. Clearly we can't get it right all the time, and clearly we react.

Many of the teachers we talked to were satisfied with the price of Microsoft educational licences, but one secondary school teacher said that licensing per PC was too expensive, while another said that licensing was too complex.
This is exactly the reason that we listen to customers. We've heard licensing can be complex — the important thing is that we reacted to that.

We have made a significant announcement about changes in education licensing. Rather than counting the number of PCs, we are...

Topic: Cloud

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • I've worked as ICT technician in schools that run Linux on the student desktops and those that run Windows and from my experience, schools that run Microsoft operating systems train and schools that run alternatives teach.
  • "[Children] are coming out of schools with GCSEs plus Microsoft Office specialist certification"

    How depressing: vendor lockin before they have even started a job
  • By teaching them only about MS products and systems, the children are hobbled, and restricted in job opportunities in the real world. Plus the fact that, with open source, they get to learn the workings of a kernel, and the learning is much more technical than slipping in a disk. Many companies are running Linux servers, with MS desktops internally, so they have to have people trained in both systems.
  • I wonder if they actually mean that fewer schools are using Microsoft tools, because any other tools than theirs simply don't count.
    Andrew Meredith
  • In the current financial situation, bills without a fixed payment date are being delayed and though the STAFF demand Microsoft based products - the IT team knows we can do without. Ubuntu\Debian can now use a Domain and see shared domain drives. We can buy 20 desktops with the price of site licenses for 600 office 2007 suites.

    What we cannot do is convince our schools to pay for software they are using when they only rented it and have spent the money allocated for it on a new building etc.

    I expect we will lose Microsoft Office from the curriculum unless it becomes free shortly. The only thing keeping it in is the legacy departmental software, and the staff who use it.

    There are new plans afoot to virtualise the network, dropping individual images and licenses for a universal image with each machine acting as a client terminal. The total number of licences can be reduced to the number exactly needed at a session.

    Microsofts current licensing scheme means you have to buy licences for each machine in a school even if they are not using microsofts products. This is regressive.
  • I wonder if Microsoft (and lots of other "disappointed" companies) have failed to notice that there's a recession going on. Ah well, I guess it's not just politicians that are out of touch.
  • When I was taught how to use a word processor, we were first taught about word processing. We spent a great deal of time learning about what it was we were actually trying to do. Then finally we put it into practice and there were several word processing packages in the computing suite. We used all of them. The target being to get the same paper results from the proper use of each of them. Now they just drop straight in and do lessons in "What MS Word buttons to press". So when the next version of MS word turns up, they're already scuppered.
    Andrew Meredith