Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Microsoft Education

Note: Cross posted from the Microsoft on the Issues blog.

This week, people from around the world will gather at two education events in London – the Education World Forum (EWF) and the BETT trade show – to discuss how technology can help improve the state of education in the United Kingdom and globally.

The role of technology in education has been a hot topic of late, sparked in large part by the "Waiting for Superman" documentary in October, the New York Times article on technology and attention spans in November and the Newsweek interview with Bill Gates about seniority-based pay.

In the midst of all this debate, I believe one thing is clear – successful economies rely on an innovative and well-prepared workforce. This requires that students are equipped with 21st century skills such as collaboration, communications, creative thinking, problem solving, digital literacy and citizenship. And to engage and prepare our students, we need high-quality teachers who are, themselves, adept at future-ready skills. Underlying all of that, we need to make sure that the teachers and students have access to the technology that will help each of them learn and grow.

This week at EWF and BETT, Microsoft will look at the critical issue of how 21st century skills are taught and acquired, and roll out new ways to provide access to great technology at a low cost – all so that students can be best prepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow. To help advance the teaching and acquisition of 21st century skills, this week we are announcing:

• New findings from a global, multi-year Innovative Teaching and Learning (ITL) Research study, which looks at which teaching practices are successful at equipping students with 21st century skills. Unfortunately, the study shows that most students are not offered the opportunities to develop the skills needed for today’s organizations and national economies. Schools interested in measuring and evaluating their own teaching practices can access the free Partners in Learning School Research (PILSR) tool at www.pilsr.com.

• Additional information from the recent release of the Future Workforce Student Survey, which has revealed that the majority of students in the UK feel they are not being taught the necessary skills to effectively prepare them for future employment. ‘Generation Five’ (16 to 18 year olds currently in education) question the approach taken by schools in teaching them about technology and are becoming self-taught on home computers.

Microsoft has also been helping students, educators and schools get access to technology at low costs in a number of ways through ‘Shape the Future’ agreements – which have helped 42 countries bring technology access to more than 6 million students, educators and citizens – and with great technologies such as Live@edu and Windows Multipoint Server. To further improve technology access in schools, this week we are also announcing:

Live@edu. The leading cloud suite for education is currently used by more than 15 million students worldwide, up from 11 million just three months ago.  This number includes new customers at Western Kentucky University, Augusta State University, Beijing Open University, University of Bologna, Copenhagen Business Schools, Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia and Lodge Park Technical College.

• Office 365 for education. The next generation of Live@edu, Office 365 for education (to launch this year) will bring the power of Microsoft's world-class enterprise applications to classrooms of all sizes – including Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online and Office Web Apps – and will be free for students for e-mail, calendaring, collaboration, communications and Web-based productivity services. E-mail and calendaring will also be free for faculty and staff. For more information on Office 365 for education, check out this feature story on the Microsoft News Center.

• The upcoming availability of Windows MultiPoint Server 2011, which helps educational institutions with budget constraints to implement a Shared Resource Computing (SRC) strategy whereby multiple students, either in the classroom or in a lab setting, can simultaneously share one computer. This new version of  Windows MultiPoint Server introduces capabilities that help lower technology costs, enhance the computing experience for teachers and students and simplifies management for school IT administrators.

The tough reality is that there isn’t a magic bullet for solving the complex challenges involved in equipping students with the skills they need for the jobs of the future – but I believe that this week’s news shows we continue to make steady progress in understanding the issues involved, and providing real solutions. I look forward to tackling more issues as I meet with educators, administrators, political leaders and industry leaders this week in London.