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January 13, 2009 at 12:01 AM

Microsoft, Cisco, Intel backing effort to create 21st century skills curriculum for schools globally

Microsoft is teaming with Cisco and Intel to back the creation of a 21st century curriculum. The companies are funding a project to explore better ways of teaching and evaluating students in critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, communication and other broad areas — skills that they demand from their employees, said Anoop Gupta, who heads Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential program.

The companies are providing funding for at least three years to support a task force that will:

  • More precisely define the 21st century skills
  • Cast them in a form that is measurable and can be assessed, and create the tools to do so
  • Create “learning environments” that use information and communication technology
  • Disseminate the knowledge globally

“This effort is really about nailing what we think can be done,” Gupta said. “Not everything that is desirable will be measurable.”

An executive director, Barry McGaw of the University of Melbourne, will lead the effort. Five other directors will focus on specific goals of the project, collaborating with other education experts through an annual gathering, online meetings and a public Web portal.

Gupta was quick to note that the experts, not the companies, will craft the specific recommendations.

“Anything created will be public domain. Final answers are not going to be what Microsoft and Intel and Cisco think is right,” but what the experts what the experts think is right, he said.

The companies have landed early support from two international student assessment bodies, which will incorporate resulting 21st century skills standards into existing assessment tools. They are: The Program for International Student Assessment, created and administered by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, an effort of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

The companies are also open to working with other assessment groups and education experts, Gupta said. Education assessment experts, researchers, business leaders, policymakers, and NGOs interested in participating are invited to e-mail the McGaw, the executive director, at bmcgaw@unimelb.edu.au .

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