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Microsoft wants more bang for its education buck

Company commits to another five years of its Partners in Learning program, but hopes that for roughly the same it spent in the first five years, it will be able to reach twice as many students and teachers in the next five.

At its Government Leaders Forum in Berlin on Wednesday, Microsoft plans to announce that it is reinvesting in its Partners In Learning program, a global effort to provide software and training to teachers, students, and schools. The company is committing to another five years of the program.

In its first five years, Microsoft said the program reached 90 million people in 100 countries. The company plans to spend $235.5 million over the next five years, bringing its total investment to $500 million, but reach twice as many people in the next five years as it did during the first five.

Among other efforts, Partners in Learning provides training and certification for teachers, as well as an online gathering place where teachers can collaborate and share new curriculum ideas.

"We believe it is really the cornerstone of economic opportunity," said Orlando Ayala, senior vice president of Microsoft's emerging segments unit, dubbed Unlimited Potential. "Our software has been an important enabler of economic wealth."

Ayala highlighted several programs as recent highlights, including a Swedish teacher who partnered with a school in Madagascar to do a joint education project on biodiversity in Africa, and a robotics project in Malaysia where students created a mock disaster and used robotics to examine public safety issues.

In Colombia, Microsoft has a program in seven schools where students essentially do independent study on a laptop, using a curriculum that can move at exactly the student's own pace. The program was quite controversial when it began five years ago, Ayala said. "Today those students are scoring better in the national tests than traditional (students)."

In the U.S., Microsoft is sponsoring the Philadelphia School of the Future, where students use tablet PCs instead of textbooks.

Partnering with local governments and nonprofits is an important component of the program, Ayala said. "We know that no single model is going to fit everybody."

It also makes good economic sense, he said, noting that a greater level of partnership is what Microsoft believes will allow it to reach twice as many people in the next five years while actually spending slightly less than it had in the previous five.