Microsoft aims for students in Africa, Middle East

Microsoft Corp. is hoping to indoctrinate new technology users in the Middle East and Africa with the introduction of three new localized education initiatives.

The programs, which encompass learning portals, technology curriculum, teacher resources and grants, were unveiled Monday by Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer at the company’s two-day Government Leaders’ Forum in Dubai.

The first initiative is an information and communication technology (ICT) curriculum of 520 lesson plans for teaching IT skills to children in grades one through 10. The curriculum is localized in Arabic and is being developed in partnership with the Jordanian government for schools across the region.

For more advanced students, the software maker launched a Learning Gateway for Higher Education, regionalized in Arabic. The gateway is an e-learning portal offering Web-based collaboration, communication and content delivery services to lecturers and students, the company said.

So teachers in the region can share knowledge and best practices, the company is also offering a free online network containing a virtual library with a database of teaching, training and subject materials. Fifty of the lesson plans offered through the curriculum program will be available for free on the network, Microsoft said.

The company isn’t just peppering the region with IT education materials, it’s also offering cash through the introduction of seven new grants to organizations across Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco.

The grants will underwrite IT skills training programs, including the opening of a technology center in Tunisia to provide North African youth with access to technology and training. The center is being established in partnership with Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Microsoft’s efforts in the region are just one piece of a patchwork of worldwide initiatives to offer IT training, equipment and resources to new users. Since 2003 the company has offered US$118 million in cash grants and software to programs in 89 countries, for example. The company isn’t saying exactly how much it is spending on the new initiatives.

However, the company has already invested over $2 million in cash and more than $1.7 million in software to help Arabic-speaking communities, according to a company representative.

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