Windows 8, new tablets and 'Shape the Future' boost Microsoft's role for schools mobile technology
Launch of Shape the Future'How we do it': pupil at launch of Shape the FutureComputer industry giants Intel and Microsoft are working with RM Education to supply 1:1 tablet and laptop schemes in UK state schools under a new global initiative created by Microsoft – Shape the Future.

Launched in the Midlands at Shireland Collegiate Academy this week, Shape the Future UK aims to “close the opportunity gap between rich and poor by putting technology in the hands of every child”, with savings on individual devices from around £120 to nearly £200..

UK schools are making great strides in bringing in 1:1 schemes for their learners (see "The mobile revolution and schools – 1:1 schemes", the first in a new series by George Cole). With the introduction of Apple's iPads and new Android tablets a movement appears to have started.

Vanessa PittardVanessa Pittard: 'ICT critical'Education secretary Michael Gove MP has already been lobbied by Carphone Warehouse and others (including the e-Learning Foundation) to run a national programme for tablets. He has asked them to come back with more evidence. And the Department for Education is clearly taking Shape the Future (STF) seriously – its civil servant in charge of ICT, Vanessa Pittard, was present at the launch to insist that technology is “the critical education issue of our time” (see video below where she explores implications for endemic student underachievement of ICT ownership by learners). But the groundswell towards mobile devices in schools has already started, and without the leadership of the dominant platform in schools ICT, Windows.

So it's crucial for Microsoft, and the schools that have made substantial investments in Microsoft technology and the content that runs on it, to have their own credible alternative. Windows 8 appears to provide that, and STF is likely to be a very strong marketing tool to both get the products out there and simultaneously help schools with their equality issues. However, it would be overly cynical to view STF purely as a mechanism for sales. Significantly, STF is part of Microsoft's global digital inclusion programme and, unlike most other technology companies, it has made education an integral part of its core business.

Microsoft has just introduced Windows 8, its new generation of Windows. This integrates new Windows tablets from a range of manufacturers (including Microsoft). The range of devices available in the RM Shape the Future Store includes Windows 7 laptops along with some new Windows 8 laptops and just one Windows 8 tablet, an Acer W510 (£395). There is no sign yet of the proliferation of lightweight RT tablets and the beefier Windows 8 tablets that are on their way and will undoubtedly be on display at BETT 2013.

'The power to put knowledge in the hands of children' – Joice Fernandes, Microsoft

Joice FernandesSTF leader Joice Fernandes is interviewed by Shireland studentsMicrosoft's Joice Fernandes, worldwide leader of the STF Programme, said at the launch: “Shape the Future has the power to put knowledge in the hands of children. That knowledge empowers them to shape their own future. I passionately believe that Shape the Future is a true force for good – as has been proven with our projects around the world. I’m thrilled that we are now bringing this programme to the UK.”

One seemingly powerful message at the UK STF launch was the claim that students who have been part of 1:1 schemes will enjoy financial advantages over those who haven't. Apparently, says the launch material, "1:1 computing can generate £300,000 in additional lifetime earnings through improved educational attainment". Of course this claim would have to be checked very carefully against its source – "Impact of 1:1 PC Ownership Experian, 2012 (based on PriceWaterhouseCoopers research)" – but there is undoubtedly increasing belief of a link between pupil achievement and the use of ICT. The problem for educational policy is that many powerful decision makers will clearly still be looking for "evidence" when it's too late for action.

The experience of using 1:1 mobile technology over four years at Shireland Collegiate Academy, in Sandwell, has underlined the advantages for learners for all those involved. At the STF launch, Shireland director of elearning Kirsty Tonks said, “Students who have had their own device are remarkably different learners from their predecessors.

"Their abilities to learn independently and to push the boundaries of their learning are both outstanding. We’ve never seen levels of progress as high as those we’ve achieved with students who have had 1:1 devices. It doesn’t come without significant effort on the part of teachers, students and families to make it work but their stunning results speak for themselves.”

The scheme is certainly a shot in the arm for RM Education which underwent severe downsizing after the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme by Michael Gove. RM is the exclusive supplier for this programme, which provides laptops and tablets with Intel processors and pre-installed software for the school and personal use of students and teachers. The manufacturers so far named are Asus, Acer and RM and it is said that discounts are available at up to 30 per cent of the recommended retail price.

RM Education MD Mike Allen says, “We all know how technology can deliver learning that is more exciting, more engaging and more effective. Just imagine what we could achieve if every child, regardless of background, had their own device. It’s a great opportunity to close the attainment gap and to level the playing field. I can’t wait to start talking to schools about how they can take advantage of the scheme.”

Presumably he will have to talk many of his customers out of taking the iPad route to 1:1 as many of them have already been voting with their feet. But it's always difficult to find out just how well, or not, Apple is doing in UK schools as it is notoriously reticent with sales data. However, in July this year Macworld magazine reported: "In its third quarter earnings call Apple revealed that twice as many iPads as Macs were sold for educational purposes." It was said to be an all-time record (one school district in Texas bought 11,000 iPads for lessons). (See "One million Apple iPads sold to schools in third quarter".)

Where Microsoft and its collaborators are likely to score well with schools is on managing the devices. The iPad support infrastructure was designed for the retail market to manage technology for individual cutomers. Schools have found this difficult. Also iPad implementations are not easy on Windows networks. Confident Apple implementations like those at Essa Academy and Longfield Acdemy have ditched Windows PCs altogether.

Windows 8 and the new crop of devices that comes with it are likely to be more easily managed by those running the services already in schools, and be more compatible with existing hardware, software and content services. Consequently, competition in the schools technology market is likely to intensify again, not just between the various platforms but between those whose interests might be eclipsed by RM's potentially powerful new alliance with Microsoft and Intel. The place to see the fruits of this will be the BETT 2013 educational technology show in London's Docklands in January.

More information 

"Why educators, students and schools will want and love Windows 8" by Microsoft education boss Anthony Salcito (@AnthonySalcito)
To be eligible for the RM discounts schools must fund the purchase of Shape the Future devices with at least 50 per cent government money.
Pictures above kindly supplied by Christopher Cornwell/RM Education 

RM Education's Shape the Future portal
Doug Belshaw's "Some Thoughts on iPads and One-to-One Initiatives" 




BETT stands
RM Education C160/C170/G165 (Ranger)
Microsoft E270 and D270
Intel Corporation B70


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