Microsoft Puts $250M More Into Its Ed-Tech Program, Partners In Learning; Wants Provide 20M Teachers With “21st Century Skills”

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Microsoft today added another $250 million to its Partners In Learning Project, a global professional development program it has created to equip teachers with the skills they need to teach IT and other future-looking subjects. Microsoft has been running this program since 2003 and to date has invested $750 million in the project.

It is a bit of soft diplomacy/marketing for Microsoft — education, after all, is one of Microsoft’s target verticals for its software and IT services businesses. Projects have included teacher training in IT and other “21st century skills,” as it calls them, and it also works with governments on digital inclusion programs and links up with its YouthSpark education initiative.

The idea is to bring a worthy message through a pragmatic medium — events like the Global Form in Prague currently underway are sponsored by hardware partners (in this case, Acer) and are showcases for Microsoft products (in this case, Windows 8).

Still, $750 million is certainly nothing to be sniffed at, especially at a time when so many governments have cut spend on education and IT, and among the efforts there have been some other partnerships that have had prescient partners, including a joint research project with SRI International, the R&D group that spun off and sold Siri to Apple.

This latest investment could see more money pumped into similar projects, but for now Microsoft is focusing on using the investment to expand the global footprint of the program. Currently it’s in 119 countries, and has trained 11 million teachers and 200 million students. With 75 million teachers working today, Microsoft’s aim is to extend the number in its PiL program to 20 million teachers by 2018.

The program is the corporate extension of the philanthropic work that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has been involved in with his wife Melinda, focused on developing countries. “We started this program nearly 10 years ago based on the belief that education is a fundamental human right and the single most important investment in our collective future. This has never been more true, and I’m really pleased to see the continuing commitment to innovations that can help all students and teachers reach their full potential,” Gates said earlier today in Prague.