BLANTYRE–A group of 15 highly motivated and passionate employees from Microsoft’s Customer Service and Support (CSS) team across Europe, Middle East and Asia and the United States, have volunteered their personal time to work on training teachers to set up their own computer labs in a targeted education drive.
In its second year, this teacher training program, dubbed the Malawi Learning Partnership (MLP), is a community networking project using Information and Communications Technology (ICT) tools to connect students and teachers giving them access to critical learning resources.
This is part of a global community service initiative by Microsoft employees.
They will also host five DigiGirlz events, which are training courses for female students on Microsoft products, as well as an IT Masterclass, for high school students interested in pursuing a career in IT.
These projects are part of Microsoft’s global response to bridging the opportunity divide recently highlighted in the ‘Opportunity for Action’ report released by the International Youth Foundation, which outlines actions to better prepare the 1.2 billion global youth entering the 21st century workforce.
The CSS team are experienced in a broad range of both Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies, and by bringing their expertise to Malawi they hope to support the country’s National Education Sector Plan to facilitate the adoption of new approaches to teaching and the improvement of teacher training.Collaboration across state and private schools
The Malawi Learning Partnership (MLP) launched last year through seven local pilot schools and has since expanded to include a total of seven schools. The project is a partnership between Microsoft, St Andrews International High School, Axxess communications and the Malawi Wifi Project. The system is built using Microsoft software and features include:
· Provision of an ISP connection to host and connect schools to each other (Access Communications 3G network)
· An interactive web page for students to log in to, access resources and share files (Sharepoint)
· Email (MS Exchange)
· Online meeting facilities (Live Meeting)
· An electronic resource bank containing learning resources and an offline copy of Wikipedia
· Antivirus protection.
Says Chris Scutt, Head of eLearning at St Andrew’s Secondary School, “We are excited that the Microsoft team is back to continue the work they did last year.
"By training more teachers to use the network and use technology in the classroom, the schools in Blantyre will be able to integrate much more closely, and more teachers and students gain access to new learning tools and ideas”.
For two weeks, the Microsoft volunteers have been providing training to 23 teachers from 13 different schools on how to set up their own school IT labs, basic troubleshooting and computer maintenance.
“Good training is important so teachers can help each other and assist the Malawi Learning Partnership team in running the network,” said John Nielsen, General Manager, Europe, Middle East and Africa Customer Service and Support at Microsoft.
He added: “Computer maintenance in Malawi is particularly difficult due to an unreliable electricity supply, dust, and high incidents of virus infections. Our training programme aims to help teachers understand how to address problems caused by these conditions in order to be self-sufficient.”A digital future for Malawian girls
The five Digigirlz events at St Andrew’s International School and Fisherman’s Rest will give high school girls a better understanding of technology-based careers. Over five days, approximately 100 girls from Blantyre will gain confidence in their IT skills, using Microsoft PowerPoint to develop presentations, the visual programming language, Kudo, to write a computer game and web design programme, Microsoft Expression Web, to create a basic web page. The students will present their final projects to each other and a winning team will be chosen at the end of the event.
“In Malawi there is a tendency for poorer families to prioritize the education of boys over that of girls,” said Scutt. “The Digigirlz events are great because they give young girls a taste of the type of jobs they can pursue in the technology industry and the realisation that they can achieve much more than they might believe.”
An IT Masterclass will also be held at St Andrew’s International school for older high school children who are interested in pursuing a career in IT. The Masterclass will combine discussions around more advanced topics like cloud technology and emerging technologies with career advice from senior Microsoft executives.Fundraising for clean water access
Last year, part of the Customer, Service and Support team’s work also involved raising enough money to deliver 5000 mosquito nets to families in the region to protect them against malaria.
This year, the team has started a fundraising campaign to raise money to install 10 new boreholes to provide access to clean water for 2500 people. Microsoft works with its employees around the word to make a difference to communities through its volunteering initiatives, which connect skilled employees to causes they are passionate about.
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realise their full potential.
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