No victory lap: In education, we all have work to do

The following post is from Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Worldwide Education, Microsoft.

Every day, we hear about some of the many challenges staring educators in the face – budget shortfalls, an increasingly complex educational landscape, and the difficulty of preparing students for a shifting job market.

With this is mind, I read a recent announcement by Apple CEO Tim Cook with consternation. Cook claims that Apple has “locked up 94 percent of the tablet market” in education. There is some “special math” at work here, but, more importantly, he’s missing the point. At the end of the day, it’s not about device market share. It’s about the graduation rate. It’s about the percentage of students prepared for the workforce of today and tomorrow. These are the real education numbers that matter. And, at Microsoft, this is our focus.

In my role, I have the pleasure to work with school leaders and educators from around the world. In my travels, I’m often asked for thoughts about “the competition.” While I love to geek out on technology and all the goodness Microsoft can offer to students and teachers, the “competition” I most care most about is that of low expectations, to create a world where students are empowered to expect more from themselves and their education. We need to compete against student dropout; we need to compete against the distractions, challenges and criticism that make the work of being a teacher even harder; we need to compete against youth unemployment.

So what should global companies like Microsoft, which itself employs more than a hundred thousand people, do to address these challenges and find meaningful solutions? It’s a question we ask, and work on, every day.

We recently partnered with IDC to identify skills and competencies highly valued by employers. As part of this study, IDC concluded that, while technical skills are valuable, it’s actually “soft” skills like communication, collaboration and critical thinking – powerful, 21st century skills – that employers need. What does this mean? Quite simply, it’s not about any particular device. It’s about the programs, curriculum and tools to help students prepare themselves for the future.

That’s why we are proud to lead initiatives like Microsoft YouthSpark, aimed at creating opportunities for 300 million youth worldwide, which includes programs like Imagine Cup, igniting students’ passion in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); our Innovative Schools programs that provide research, professional development and community support; or Bing for Schools, which gives ad-free search and advanced filtration for children, just to name a few.

Learning has changed, but our schools and education system have a long way to go to meet the potential and opportunity this change affords all learners. There’s work to do, and amazing leaders are working hard to make this transformation a reality. But we need to set our sights higher than just landing devices in the classroom.

So, when I see Apple taking a victory lap in the complex world of education, I question its willingness to make a meaningful contribution to this important dialogue. Like Apple, Microsoft does sell devices and software aimed at the education sector, and we do intend for those products to be successful in the marketplace. However, we also choose to invest billions in programs that make a real difference in supporting students and educators. We choose to inspire and prepare students of today for the workplace of tomorrow.

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