Microsoft invests €500,000 in digital education projects for Irish schoolsBlathnaid O’Deaon January 24, 2022 at 11:20 Silicon RepublicSilicon Republic

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Microsoft Ireland has made investments in education initiatives in both the Republic and Northern Ireland as part of its efforts to increase schoolchildren’s access to digital learning.

In the Republic, the company has invested €500,000 in its ongoing collaboration with Maynooth University.

Last September, the Digital Wealth Project, a collaboration between Maynooth University and Microsoft Ireland, received a grant of €450,000 from non-profit Rethink Ireland to tackle the issue of digital poverty in schools. The project aimed to increase the digital capacity of 135 schools across Ireland. As part of the programme, the Digital Wealth Project’s team partnered with St Kevin’s Community College in Clondalkin, Co Dublin. Around 300 teachers around Ireland are also being given the opportunity to upskill and learn computer skills to introduce to the classroom.

Overall, the Digital Wealth Project aims to support 1,000 students, 300 teachers and 45 schools nationwide.

Microsoft’s latest investment will boost this project as well as Maynooth University’s STEM Passport for Inclusion project, which aims to provide 1,000 girls from working-class areas with “meaningful support” and access to technology.

The STEM Passport for Inclusion project is also supported by Science Foundation Ireland, Discover, Prodigy Learning, Accenture and RDI Hub. It was developed to address the lack of girls from disadvantaged backgrounds choosing STEM careers. It offers girls the opportunity to complete an accredited Microsoft Dream Space module through Maynooth University that equips students with the knowledge and experience to help them follow a pathway to complete a STEM degree at third level.

The girls who take part will also have the opportunity to participate in a remote mentoring programme with women who work in the STEM industry, as well as access to an online platform detailing all STEM-related courses around Ireland. Female leaders from Microsoft Ireland are volunteering as part of the mentoring initiative.

Dr Katriona O’Sullivan, from the psychology department at Maynooth University, said the project was a “vitally important initiative that will play a critical role in helping to address the many forms of digital poverty that exist.”

“We’ve all seen over the course of the past two years how important technology has been to enabling education to continue, despite physical schools often being closed and frequent periods of self-isolation. As well as ensuring that students have the skills to fill the digital roles of the future, addressing the digital divide will also ensure that schools across Ireland have the flexibility and agility they need to adapt to future periods of possible disruption,” O’ Sullivan said.

James O’Connor, VP of Microsoft international operations, said his company was “committed to helping address the digital skills gaps and digital poverty inequalities that exist, so that every young person has the opportunity to engage in STEM education and understand how technology can shape their world.”

“I’m confident that by industry, higher education, and school communities working together to address digital inequalities, which have become all too clear amidst the pandemic, we can build a more inclusive Ireland while strengthening Ireland’s digital leadership,” he added.

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, Microsoft has joined forces with consulting and digital services business Capita and Northern Ireland’s Education Authority to supply teachers in more than 1,100 schools with 20,000 surface devices. The schools will be given Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Plus devices in a scheme worth €24m in total.

The funding will be provided by the region’s Department of Education. The first laptop devices are currently being rolled out in a series of pilot programmes at three schools. Capita aims to deliver the majority of the laptops by the end of June.

Costi Karayannis, Capita’s managing director and client partner for education and learning, said the company was delighted to have won the contract to provide the laptops to Northern Ireland’s teachers.

Sara Long, chief executive of the Education Authority said the devices would “enhance the in-class learning activities and engagement for pupils whilst also supporting the work of teachers in terms of productivity, peer-to-peer collaboration and access to high quality online teaching and learning tools.”

Anne Sheehan, general manager of Microsoft Ireland said the partnership aimed to “empower educators to test and trial new ways of teaching and interacting with students,” while shaping “resilient and future-ready students who will have the digital skills to become the next generation of innovators and digital leaders.”

Microsoft is not the only business working in the education space to improve opportunities for future STEM innovators. EY has launched a free app to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers. The multinational professional services company will launch its app in seven countries, including Ireland, following a successful pilot in New Delhi, Seattle and Atlanta.

The app aims to inspire 100,000 girls from Ireland, Canada, the UK, UAE, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand to go into STEM.

The EY STEM app was developed by EY teams in collaboration with SkillsVR, an organisation dedicated to developing potential talent through immersive learning. It features modules and activities focused on everything from climate change to artificial intelligence and blockchain. The app is sponsored by the EY Women in Technology programme, which was formed to create an inclusive culture to harness the social potential of technology.

Activities on the app were developed in collaboration with the UN, the World Economic Forum and others. All activities are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, allowing girls to earn ‘Global Goals’ digital badges as they progress through the app’s exercises.

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