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Microsoft gets girls into ICT

By Gregory Gondwe, Blantyre, Malawi

Microsoft employees are visiting Malawi to roll out a targeted ICT education training drive as part of their global community service initiative.

Running for a second year now, this Malawi Learning Partnership (MLP) is a community networking project using ICT tools to connect students and teachers giving them access to critical learning resources.

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 and maintain the Malawi Learning Partnership network.

John Nielsen, General Manager of Microsoft’s Europe, Middle East and Africa Customer Service and Support leading the Malawi team says they will also host five of what they are calling ‘DigiGirlz’ events.

“These are training courses for female students on Microsoft products, as well as an IT Master class, for high school students interested in pursuing a career in IT,” he said.

The five Digigirlz events took place at St Andrew’s International School and Fisherman’s Rest in Rural district of Chikhwawa where they had to use generators for the computers where high school girls underwent a better understanding of technology-based careers.

Nielsen explained that over five days, approximately 100 girls from Blantyre gained 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,” he explained.

John Nielsen and Chris ScuttChris Scutt, facilitator of the project, who is also Head of eLearning at St Andrew’s Secondary School, said in Malawi, there is a tendency for poorer families to prioritise the education of boys over that of girls.

“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,” he says.

An IT Masterclass has 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 combines discussions around more advanced topics like cloud technology and emerging technologies with career advice from senior Microsoft executives.

“Good training is important so teachers can help each other and assist the Malawi Learning Partnership team in running the network,” says Nielsen.

“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.”

Teachers who attended the networking training from August 27 to August 30 were drawn from Blantyre Secondary School, Chichiri, Soche Hill, Ngumbe, St Patrick’s, Malamulo, MDF Secondary School, Domasi Institute of Education and Jacaranda Private Orphans.

Scutt says they 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,” says Scutt.

Over the next week, the Microsoft volunteers will provide training to 23 teachers from 13 different schools on how to set up their own school IT labs, basic troubleshooting and computer maintenance.

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.

Nielsen explained that 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.

The Malawi Learning Partnership (MLP) launched last year through eight local pilot schools and has since expanded to include a total of eight schools.

The system is built using Microsoft software and Features that 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.

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