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Mundie: IT Should Be Taught in the Classroom

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California
Microsoft's Craig Mundie.
Photo: Caron Carlson.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The United States needs to adjust its public policy to allow for a more aggressive use of information technology in the classroom, Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie said Thursday.

Mundie was at the Library of Congress in Washington Thursday speaking at a forum sponsored by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a two-year-old non-profit organization, which is supported in part by Microsoft.

The Redmond software maker plans to release three new education-related product lines in 2009 to enhance the use of IT at schools, but a new policy approach is needed to ensure that teachers are on board.

"In developed countries, there continues to be some resistance about the role of the teacher and how much technology kids should have access to," Mundie said.

New Microsoft offerings planned for launch next year cover a wide ranger of areas. There are products designed to upgrade the IT infrastructure at schools, others aimed at teachers to encourage more enthusiastic IT adoption, new software for students will take advantage of the youth market's wide use of cell phones and PCs and incorporate them into the educational process.

Microsoft wants to see the Internet become a link between teachers and students, Mundie said. One reason students have difficulty paying attention at school is that the classroom environment doesn’t meet their basic standard of how the world should look.

Kids these days are accustomed to using technology before they start school, and then they often find that it is discouraged. One of the biggest challenges to changing that dynamic lies is the way that teachers organize and how they relate to school boards, he added.

In addition to education, Microsoft is focusing some of its long-term research on improving healthcare and productivity around the globe. "The solution to many of the societal challenges, I think, does lie with information technology," Mundie said. "It really is about changing the way that people live, and not just changing the way that they work."

Current education and healthcare models won’t scale to meet the needs of people around the world, and while innovative technologies can provide answers, policymakers must grapple with the question of how to deploy IT tools to populations with little or no disposable income.

"The best you can strive for, in my opinion, is policy that will create a natural combination of these technological advances with needs of that very large population," Mundie said. "There’s no amount of philanthropy or government gifting -- even from the rich countries, and certainly by the poor countries -- that is going to be able, by itself, to lift these people out of poverty."

However, Mundie cautioned that how communications capabilities are fostered and deployed requires careful consideration. Populations with minimal literacy, for example, could make little use of the graphical user interface that most PC users are accustomed to using today. The next generation of technology will provide a more natural user interface, Mundie said, making computer usage much more comparable to interaction between people.

Matching the needs and purchasing power of a population with the appropriate technologies will be key to improving quality of life, Mundie said. To bring the Internet to parts of the world where PCs are not widely owned but cell phones are, Microsoft has developed a prototype cell phone with a docking station that has an output for a television. When the phone is docked, the TV becomes the large-screen display.

"It may be possible that you may buy your first PC in the form of a phone," he said.

Making a pitch for increased government investment in information technology, ITIF released a report titled "Digital Quality of Life: Understanding the Personal & Social Benefits of the Information Technology Revolution."

ITIF President Robert Atkinson also spoke briefly, maintaining that IT will play a central role is solving most of the today’s major societal problems. He also said the government should view digital progress as the key driver of improved quality of life. Additionally, the government should ensure affordable and widespread digital infrastructure, encourage widespread digital literacy and collaborate more with the private sector.