ANTHONY SALCITO: You helped launch Partners in Learning 10 years ago. The program has now reached more than 200 million educators and students in 119 countries focused on building teacher capacity and developing students skills that have them better prepared for the demands of the 21st century. Do you remember what your early goals were for the program?
BILL GATES: As a leader in the technology industry, we were thinking quite a bit in the late 1990s and early 2000s about how we could improve education on a global level. We knew education was the cornerstone of social and economic opportunity. We understood from previous initiatives that just giving away software or offering computer training courses wouldn’t enable the kind of changes needed. We also recognized that a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t work with a global initiative. So the goal with Partners in Learning was to create an integrated set of resources that could be tailored locally to increase technology access for schools, encourage innovative approaches to pedagogy and professional development for teachers, and provide education leaders with the tools to envision, implement, and manage change.
What education projects are you most proud of?
The decision a decade ago to fund a global program like Partners in Learning was bold, ambitious, and frankly something of a risk. The fact Microsoft is funding it for another 5 years is a testament to its success. As with any big unknown, some parts of PiL have worked better than others, but all of it is a success as far as I’m concerned, because it has helped improve and strengthen the program.
With your travels around the world what do you think are the opportunities for education and the challenges?
Growing up, I was fortunate to have some great teachers who nurtured a love of learning and encouraged me to try out new things—like experimenting with computers. A lot of young people don’t have that opportunity—often because of the economic circumstances of where they live. Research has proven what my own experience taught me: that teacher effectiveness is one of the most important factors in determining how well students learn and whether they succeed in school. PiL has been focused on that since it was launched in 2003—providing teachers with great technology and the most effective teaching practices so they can nurture, inspire, and educate every student.
When it comes to students and teachers in the developing world, they can face enormous challenges. Technology may lie beyond the reach of millions of students and teachers for some time to come. But those schools that do have technology need to be getting the most out of it possible and teachers need to understand the best possible ways those technologies can add to their effectiveness. That’s true progress, even if we still have a long way to go.
What advice do you have for us for the next 10 years of Partners in Learning or for me specifically as we continue the journey to work in partnership with educators around the world?
There is no silver bullet to improve education. What works in a given country or region depends a lot on unique cultural and economic circumstances. At the same time, we’ve gotten a lot smarter about key factors, such as identifying and measuring effective teaching, helping teachers improve, and rewarding excellence. The challenge and the opportunity for PiL is to continue to be a learning organization as it works to empower educators and their students.
Microsoft was founded on what was at the time a bold vision for a PC in every home and on every desk. We’re still working to make this a reality globally…but projects are growing broadly in education with rise of tablets and 1:1 computing. What are you most excited about regarding impact on learning with this trend?
When done right, technology can definitely help teachers be more effective and make learning more interesting. We’re seeing an explosion in the use of the Internet to broadcast and post teacher lectures and curriculum. The next step is teasing out the best of that. There are huge opportunities to create more engaging and interactive ways of learning, including personalized learning that gives students and teachers important real-time feedback. “Blended learning” that combines the best parts of classroom teaching and online learning is still a work-in-progress, but an important and exciting one. And we’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to the use of social networks to increase collaboration among and between teachers and students. We are in an extraordinary period of change in education. My hope and expectation is that PiL will continue to push the frontier over the next five years as it has over the last decade.