Students, teachers and communities around the Middle East stand to benefit from a series of Microsoft(R) educational solutions Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, announced last week at Microsoft Corp.'s Government Leader's Forum Arabia 2005 (GLF) in Dubai. The GLF was a two-day event that brought together more than 120 high-level government officials and business leaders from across the Middle East. The goal of the forum was to drive discussion around how the private sector can work in cooperation with local, regional and central governments to explore the partnerships necessary for growth through technology.

The innovative education programmes announced are part of a broad Microsoft effort to increase access to technology and technology skills in schools and communities throughout the Middle East. Three key initiatives -- Learning Gateway for Higher Education, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Digital Curriculum through Microsoft's alliance with the Jordanian government, and the Innovative Teachers Network -- will give this region's educators, students and communities vital opportunities to learn new skills, share best practice and pioneer innovative education solutions throughout the region. In addition, Microsoft also announced that seven organizations -- in Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia -- will receive Unlimited Potential (UP) grants that will support technology education. The company's goal is to bring the benefits of technology and technology skills to more than 250 million people by 2010.

"Microsoft's goal over the next five years is to help 250 million people worldwide realise their potential through access to technology and technology skills," Ballmer says. "Today's announcement is part of our commitment to this goal. Seventeen countries throughout the Middle East have joined our Partners in Learning program, and are already benefiting from greater access to information and communications technology. Today's launch will mean that even more people stand to gain."

All three education initiatives are available in Arabic and have been developed in partnership with key stakeholders to ensure that they offer practical support and lifelong learning opportunities tailored to meet the region's needs.

Learning Gateway for Higher Education is a security-enhanced portal providing a framework for blending e-learning solutions under one fully managed environment. Regionalised in Arabic, the Learning Gateway delivers security-enhanced, web-based collaboration, communication and content delivery services to all levels: Lecturers can manage their administrative workload, learners are empowered to learn at their own pace, and academic institutions can become more involved in the hands-on management of their learning environment across their campus.

The Learning Gateway is designed to put the student at the centre of the learning experience. Its customisable solutions for self-paced learning mean that students can gain knowledge at their own speed. The lecture theatre extends to any location where the student can be online, allowing for study either on campus, at home or with friends.

Microsoft Partners in Learning is a five-year programme giving students and educators new training skills and facilitating broader access to technology. Through Partners in Learning, Microsoft has worked with the Jordanian Ministry of Education and local partner, Menhaj Educational Technologies (MET), as part of the Jordanian Education Initiative (JEI) to develop the ICT Digital Curriculum for schools. This curriculum provides 520 lesson plans, localised in Arabic and containing multimedia elements in every lesson for teaching IT skills in grades 1 to 10 in schools throughout the region. Microsoft announced today that 50 lesson plans will be available free of charge on the Innovative Teachers Network as part of their ongoing commitment to education through the Partners in Learning initiative.

Under Microsoft's broad commitment for Partners in Learning, the Innovative Teachers Network (ITN) is a unique online community of educators in the region. Its Arabic launch in May 2005 will give teachers throughout the region an opportunity to join a regional network of peers and offers educators instant access to a wealth of knowledge and experience along with the opportunity to discuss best practices and continue their professional development. Registered members of this pioneering digital library will have access to virtual classroom tours (VCTs) and a full database of teaching, training and subject materials that they can tailor to meet their particular classroom needs. ITN access is available free of charge and available to all educators with web access.

Microsoft today also announced seven additional UP grants to organizations across Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco. Microsoft's UP programme focuses on improving lifelong learning for underserved young people and adults around the world by providing technology skills through community-based technology and learning centres (CTLCs). Since May 2003, the company has awarded US$118 million in grants of cash and software to programmes in 89 countries. These include:

- SME Development, Egypt. Training and skills development for approximately 500 young people from five governorates.

- MCIT Clubs, Egypt. Providing state-of-the-art technologies as well as education and training for 200 trainers in 100 clubs across the country.

- Ajialcom, Morocco. Opening 50 new CTLCs to provide technology access and skills training.

- UNESCO, Tunisia. Opening a subregional technology centre that will provide North African youth with improved access to ICT and ICT skills development

In Tunisia, Microsoft and UNESCO will establish a sub-regional technology centre that will provide North African youth with improved access to ICT and ICT skills development. The project will draw on resources and best practices from UNESCO's international information and data exchange network INFOYOUTH, and Microsoft's UP initiative. INFOYOUTH organizes national, regional and international consultations among a wide variety of stakeholders to facilitate exchanges of data, experiences and analysis on which national and international youth policies are based.

"UNESCO is pleased to partner and collaborate with Microsoft and the Youth Observatory to support establishment of the InfoYouth Center for the youth of North African countries. Together we are providing the tools, technologies and skills required by the critical learners and thinkers of the future in our increasingly connected cyber- world," says Mr Abdul Waheed Khan, assistant director general of the Communication and Information Sector at UNESCO. "Our aim in supporting this project is to catalyse learning and skills development for youth through increased access to and use of information and communication technologies. By supporting this initiative, we are investing in future. By providing youth with a stronger background in computers and technology, they will be better prepared for today's competitive and hi-tech economic opportunities."

Over the past two and a half years, Microsoft has collaborated with 120 local partners to serve more than 250 CTLCs in the Arab region. Through these projects, Microsoft has worked to empower youth, women and underserved communities. To date, more than 450 trainers from 11 countries in the region have benefited ICT training, and they are expected to train 10,000 community members in the next year. 9fd73afff4/