In this case, NC refers to the sovereign state of North Carolina, and MS is of course my old friend and familiar, Microsoft. Two press releases tell the story in some detail, but their headlines by themselves are enough to lead my blog in the direction in which I’d like it to go (in both headlines I italicize some key language, and in both cases the emphasis is mine, not Microsoft’s):
- North Carolina Is First State in the Nation to Adopt Microsoft IT Academy in All High Schools
- North Carolina Public Schools and Microsoft Announce the Nation’s First Statewide Partnership to Provide IT Training to Every High School Student
First, a brief explanation: The Microsoft IT Academy is a Microsoft-sponsored program that offers students the opportunity to acquire what the company calls “real-world technology skills” to help them get ready for college and, eventually also, the workplace. As part of the program, high-school teachers obtain access to elements of the Microsoft official learning curriculum but also get professional development support and resources to help them customize these materials for use in their classrooms. The only thing that’s not mentioned in these press releases is a donor for or source of computing equipment and facilities (without which these classes really can’t deliver the goods), so presumably that’s already available in NC’s high schools. A pilot program will begin, starting in January 2011, at 20 school districts around the state, and all of the state’s 600-plus high schools are expected to get with the program during the following school year.
I was a little disappointed to read further into these press releases and understand that the primary thrust of the IT Academy is on productivity software as evidenced in this quote from the State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, June St. Clair Atkinson:
The ability to effectively use Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access is an essential skill in most businesses and offices today. I am pleased that North Carolina can provide this opportunity for teachers to improve their skills and for students to be career-ready. [Source: "Provide IT Training" release.]
Fortunately, the “All High Schools” item also mentions that students may have the opportunity to earn MCP credentials (which cover more main-line IT oriented topics that include Windows servers and desktops, as well as other Microsoft technology platforms and software development environments). The corresponding tools will be made available to “schools interested in offering more advanced technical certification,” and I can only hope that will ultimately include most, if not all, of the NC high schools if not immediately then over time.
Microsoft will also make its DramSpark program available to the NC high schools, which will allow students free access to Microsoft designer, developer and even gaming tools and training. Likewise, they will also implement CareerForward as well, a free Web-based learning program that was originally constructed as part of the Microsoft Partners in Learning efforts and includes information on career planning and development, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship so that students can get a sense of what life and work is like in IT not just as a vocation but also as a potential business.
Overall, this sounds pretty great. I only hope that the program as implemented lives up to its potential, so that other states take notice and get on this bandwagon.