As part of its continued drive to bring the benefits of technology to the education sector across Africa Microsoft has inked a four-year Partners in Learning (PiL) memorandum of understanding with the government of Uganda.

The agreement - which came into effect in late December and extends until mid-2009 - was signed by Francis Xavier Lubanga, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Sports in Uganda, and Louis Otieno, the regional manager for East Africa at Microsoft.

"PiL is a valuable programme for us across the entire region and especially here in Uganda. It offers government's support in education through the integration of information and communications technology (ICT) in learning and teaching," said Otieno at the launch.

"It allows us to work closely with the Ugandan government to bring ICT directly into the classroom in ways that are locally relevant. It also provides a platform for the digital, intellectual and socio-economic growth of the country."

The implementation framework of PiL is structured such that once the MOU is signed, Microsoft can begin the training and skills development of teachers and educators. Once these people have the requisite IT skills, they can lead training courses and enhance the experiences had by their students.

To date Microsoft has already trained five local curricula developers and worked with the MoE's National Curricula Development Centre (NCDC) to localise the PiL curricula for Uganda and Anglophone Africa.

Early next year the company is set to partner with Schoolnet Uganda to train teachers and lecturers from the local Teacher Training Institutions (TTIs) selected by the MoE. The number of people trained will be extended over the years of the MOU, the ideal situation being that all TTIs can offer ICT skills to all the teachers across Uganda by 2009.

"We are working with the Ministry of Education to achieve targets," explained Otieno. "We aim to train 150 'master teachers' by the middle of next year. They will in turn train at least five of their peers. Over the course of the MOU, around 1 000 master teachers will be trained in Uganda - this will impact an additional 5 000 teachers and approximately 350 000 students. This cascading model stands to deliver real benefit to the education sector in the country."

Other planned activities over the period of the project include:

Advanced training of 50 curricula developers in the NCDC in partnership with The training would cover authoring and creation of educational digital content and curricula for TTI's and classrooms in East African region;

Training of an additional 300 advanced teachers in Uganda, the intention being for them to be seen as role models for other educators and people who can drive the adoption of ICT in education; and

Creation of at least 100 'young developers' who will be trained in the technical skills required by a developing market, such as .Net, networking and help-desk support.

As part of the announcement, Microsoft is reiterating that schools can apply for free licences for Windows 98/2000 for all computers that have been donated to them (Pentium II processor and below). This flies under the banner of the 'Fresh Start for Donated Computers' initiative.

The company is also looking to sign a National School Agreement. This would enable all computers in primary and secondary schools in Uganda to receive free upgrades to Window XP Pro and to purchase Microsoft Office XP Pro at a significant discount.

"Today's news is not about the sporadic donation of technology or the one-off signing of a document of intent," Otieno reaffirmed. "We are here to create sustainable long-term models for the transformation of technology's role in the education sector by bringing our resources, practices and programmes together in partnership with the efforts of the Ugandan government."