Microsoft: Schools are failing to teach IT skills

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
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

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...

... counting the number of FTEs [full time equivalents for teachers]. Depending on the ratio of teachers and staff to PCs, some secondary schools are getting a 70-percent reduction in price. Enabling savings in schools is highly pertinent in this environment.

When will the new licensing come into effect?
We can't transact this until 1 March, when the new licensing model begins. Schools will see a considerable cost saving from March. Email, calendar, Sharepoint and presence will be free for students. We are making investments in licensing and the cloud, and arranging pricing packaging around the cloud. Live@edu is the roadmap for Office 365. Customers said they wanted the ability to have Sharepoint, presence and IM delivered from the cloud.

Where are Microsoft's cloud services, like Live@edu, hosted?
Microsoft Live@edu and Office 365 will run on the same infrastructure as for enterprise customers. The datacentre is in Dublin and the failover is in Amsterdam.

One of the teachers said there was increasing pressure from students to integrate personal devices, like their iPhones, into school systems. Is this possible with Microsoft Live@edu?
We are enabling the integration of those technologies. iPhones can be integrated into Live@edu, which students can use with an alternative browser [to IE]. We want to create a rich environment for the school.

Microsoft collaborates on a number of enterprise open-source projects. Does Microsoft Education have any similar plans for open-source collaboration?
Competition is good and very healthy in education, and we will always deliver value for software. We do offer free, open source-type products. The cost of our software is coming down — we are helping and reducing prices.

So Microsoft does not have any plans for collaboration in open-source education projects?
We'll compete, and customers will take projects that suit them.

Did Vista get much of a take-up in schools, or did schools hold onto XP, and are now going to Windows 7?
In most cases schools are refreshing XP to Windows 7 — the vast majority are moving from XP to Windows 7.

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