Microsoft’s student teacher programme is a ‘paradigm shift’ for profession

Educationists across the UK have praised the decision to include Microsoft’s digital skills programme in teacher training courses, saying it will “enhance learning” and benefit schoolchildren. The company’s Microsoft’s Student Teacher Education Programme (STEP) will offer courses in communication and collaboration in a digital world, as well as how to code and use Windows, Skype, Office, OneNote and Outlook.

Microsoft said it hoped that by supporting teachers in using technology to organise lessons, improve learning and increase pupil engagement, they will be “more creative as well as feel lower levels of stress and pressure, which cause so many newly-qualified education professionals to change careers”. Ian Fordham, director of education at Microsoft UK, said technology is now prevalent and teachers need to be equipped with new tools, such as knowledge about artificial intelligence, cloud computing and machine learning. “Our education strategy is made up of four pillars – engaging students, empowering educators, optimising schools and accelerating learning,” he said.

Teachers from England, Wales and Scotland praised Microsoft’s initiative at an education event at the company’s London office recently. The digital skills learnt during the training courses would “support good education”, they said, and be passed down to schoolchildren, preparing them for a world where technology such as robotics is the norm in offices and homes. Tracy Atkinson, a teaching fellow at the Strathclyde University, said: “I can’t over-emphasis our enthusiasm for this. This is a paradigm shift.”

STEP will be split into three sections totalling nearly 41 hours of learning – pedagogy, technology and professional productivity. Upon graduating, teachers will also gain a Microsoft Certified Educator certificate to prove they are qualified to use technology in the classroom.

Atkinson said: “We offer a four-year undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree in primary education, focusing on digital citizenship and teaching with technology basics in the first year; Microsoft in education in the second year; coding and apps in the third year and Microsoft Classroom and Skype in the fourth year. We also offer a postgraduate diploma in education. There will also be a trickle-down effect from the students to their pupils, as well as other staff members. A lot of schools in Scotland will see that this is how we future-proof ourselves.”

There is concern in the teaching profession that workload is contributing to increasing turnover in staff. Anne-Marie Duguid, head of teaching and learning at the independent education membership organisation SSAT, said: “The mental health and wellbeing of teachers is as important as it is for pupils. STEP is giving people tools.” Damian Page, dean of the Carnegie School of Education in Leeds, echoed concerns over workload, and was also worried that teachers were using out of date technology. “We want graduates to speak to headteachers and try to change things in schools; tell them: ‘We have tried these new things at Microsoft and should we try it here’. It’s about making sure the students achieve on their own terms rather than just employing a tick-box method [of testing].”

Rhys Jones, headteacher at Treorchy Comprehensive School in Wales, said: “The opportunity is huge. It’s what’s needed to ensure students become well-rounded citizens. But it’s not just about collecting the qualification, we want to see technology supporting good education. It’s helping to enhance learning. We want leaders of the future.”