Microsoft is to supply free versions of its latest productivity and server software – worth about R750-million – to 26 000 eligible government schools in South Africa, putting technology into the hands of about 11,2-million learners.

The investment was formally accepted by the Department of Education's Director-General, Duncan Hindle, at a signing ceremony in Pretoria yesterday. The three-year-agreement renews the company's original software donation agreement signed in 2002.
Microsoft SA's acting MD, Fernando de Sousa, says the donation is part of the company's "renewed commitment to digital inclusion, skills development and a competitive local South African economy.
"I have seen how the magic of software can help people be more productive and creative. I believe that software can also play a critical role in helping societies address their most difficult challenges," says De Sousa. "Software and technology innovation can help strengthen healthcare, protect the environment, improve education, and extend social and economic opportunities."
The DoE's Hindle says he is "very pleased" to see how the IT industry is collaborating with the education community to help the country's teachers and learners use technology to achieve their full potential.
"Educating our youth is the cornerstone of sustainable economic growth. It is important that we support continued teacher professional development and use the most modern and effective learning tools and pedagogy to help our youth learn key skills, which will pave the way for future success and employability," says Hindle.
Each of the schools that participates in the programme will receive free licenses for a range of software, including Microsoft Office 2007, Vista Business, Visual Studio Pro, Visio Pro, Exchange Server, SQL Server and Microsoft Encarta multimedia encyclopaedia. The software donation programme will be supplemented by the company's ongoing Innovative Schools, Teachers and Students programme.
In addition to teacher training, Microsoft is committed to helping schools increase access to technology for every learner and teacher and build strong infrastructures that support learning and the administration of education. The company's Partners in Learning programme has supported more than 16 000 teachers trained to date, impacting on more than 1,5-million learners.
Victor Ngobeni, a teacher at the rural Rotterdam Secondary School in Limpopo province who has undergone Microsoft's Partners in Learning training, says the potential for learners enhancing their learning experience through the use of information and communication technology is immense.
"In 2006, I simply didn't know how to use technology well enough to prepare our learners for the modern world," says Ngobeni, who represented South Africa at the worldwide Innovative Teachers Awards in Helsinki in 2007.
"By using tools like Microsoft Word and Excel, and finding ways to use them in my teaching, the possibilities become endless. My learners will use them for research, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, editing work and communicating. These software tools are important to everything that happens in the classroom."