Canada has identified about 130 “”in-need”” schools across the province that would qualify for its Partners In Learning program. Those schools, which are mostly in inner cities or remote parts of the province, will receive copies of the XP operating system and Office 2003 suite. Schools will be charged a nominal fee of $3.50 per year per PC.
The value of the program is approximately $15 million in software and services over five years. Elizebeth Moyer, Partners in Learning program manager for Microsoft Canada, estimated that between 10,000 to 15,000 software licences will be distributed to school desktops in Manitoba.
In cases where schools don’t have hardware current enough to run the XP operating system and Office 2003, Microsoft Canada will make earlier versions of the software available.
That provision shouldn’t be necessary in most cases, according to Manitoba Minister of energy, science and technology Tim Sale. The province has a refurbished computer program which makes hardware available to schools, not-for-profits and community organizations.
“”When we refurbish computers that come out of a donated system, we generally try to upgrade the CPUs sufficiently so that they can run most current applications. We don’t take an old 386 and put it back in business very often,”” said Sale.
A more pressing problem, he said, is providing broadband connectivity to schools in remote communities.
Aside from software in schools, the Microsoft program will involve training for teachers. Microsoft Canada and the province have been working together on a more informal basis to train teachers on software for the past four years. The number of teachers trained was about 100 a year, but that number will be stepped up to 1,000.
“”A lot of IT investments have been made without being used, so one of the problems we’re trying to address is to ensure that teachers are trained and feel comfortable with the software, and to show them actual applications that they can use in the classroom,”” said Moyer.
Teachers will also be taught basic desktop troubleshooting, as well as security and safety issues, like how to ensure that younger children use the Internet safely and responsibly.
Microsoft’s Certified Desktop Support Technician course will be available to both teachers and older students. Students that achieve 80 per cent or better in the course will be able to take the final examination at Microsoft’s expense.
“”We could get kids coming out of school with their Microsoft certified network support designation, and that’s a ticket to at least an entry-level job and that’s pretty important for us,”” said Sale.
Training sessions will begin this summer and the first schools to receive software will be in two northern aboriginal communities, Norway House and Cranberry Portage.
Manitoba has leaned on the private sector in the past to help deliver technology to schools. Manitoba Education Research Learning Information Networks, or “”Merlin,”” a special operating agency of the provincial government began rolling out Sun Microsystems Sun One portal technology to K-12 schools across the province last year.