Microsoft’s “Partners in Learning” Program: Self-Serving and Vendor Lock-In?

I came across an article on gmanews.tv featuring a high school teacher that has made a name for his innovative ways to teach his students using ICT, well, the Microsoft way. His name is Warren L. Ambat. He teaches three ICT-driven lessons at Baguio City NH School, one of which is about the localization of Shakespearean plays using the web for research and Microsoft technologies in the production of materials.

Ambat was named as one of three Microsoft’s Innovative Teachers of the Year (2007) for the Philippines. He is a member of the Partners in Learning Community.

I know that that story run on gmanews.tv was a PR for Microsoft. Nevertheless, I know for sure that it also tries to convey the message that even public school teachers have the chance to catch up with the “knowledge-based global economy”, well, the Microsoft way.

What is “Partners in Learning” program? According to its site, the program is “part of Microsoft’s long-term commitment to empowering teachers and students to achieve their fullest potential by providing greater access to the latest computer technologies and training in how to use them. Over the next five years, Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program will provide an investment of software and over US$250 million in cash grants worldwide to deliver technology skills training to students and teachers and to assist in ICT integration into curricula and learning.”

The Philippines is one of 99 countries participating in the program.

The site continues to say that:

…the program will be implemented in conjunction with local government agencies and businesses in each country to increase access to digital content, increasing the quality and relevance of learning, and potentially lowering dependence on and cost of paper-based resources.

Together with its local partners, Microsoft will be developing a government endorsed technology skills assessment for students and teachers, that can provide a benchmark of ICT skills today and show growth over time, while identifying best practice models of teaching and learning using technology within the Philippines that may be replicated within the country.

What is the initial benefit from being part of Partners in Learning?
Participating in Partners in Learning means large discounts for Microsoft’s core educational desktop software for students and teachers. Participating primary and secondary schools will receive free upgrades to Windows XP Professional for both new and existing computers, and can acquire the professional version of the Office productivity software suite at a rate significantly below Microsoft’s already-reduced education pricing.

At first glance, Microsoft’s efforts to promote ICT in the universe of education are meritorious. But people enlightened about “ICT for real development” will surely take a second hard look at that initiative by the software giant.

In appraising the program’s purpose, I wonder whether “providing greater access to the latest computer technologies” also means its allowing access to non-Microsoft technologies such as free and open source softwares (FOSS). Otherwise, Microsoft would just be playing to the gallery, as people largely don’t know yet the alternatives to Microsoft products.

The program also claims to be a Microsoft’s long-term investment. But how long-term is long-term? Five years at least? When does “over the next five years” start? The PIL seems to have started in 2004 particularly in the Philippines. So would that mean next year as the end of the investment?

There are already over 38,000 members of the PIL community. However, with the exception of Ambat, all members I tried to inquire information about do not show a tip of their innovative iceberg, so to speak. Ah, there was one who claimed to have such information. But you have to become a member first before you gain access to it.

The program’s “initial benefits” for the participants look attractive, ranging from free upgrades to Windows XP to large discounts in educational software packages. But I wonder what more benefits would proceed from the participation. Free upgrades to Vista? Still large discounts for Microsoft Office 2007?

Assuming that the intention is noble, that is, helping the educators and students use ICT to the fullest, what else really motivates Microsoft behind the PIL? I’m dead certain that it is also to perpetuate control of the market for its products, starting off with the young students who, when they become professionals someday, would have no choice but remain loyal to Microsoft technologies as their tools.

Unless the Department of Education and the schools identified for the program were at the outset made aware of the alternatives to Microsoft products, the program could have catered to the participants’ perception that Windows, Microsoft Office, etc were the only ones existing in the software industry.

It’s really frustrating that ICT efforts by different government entities are in disarray and do not intertwine. While the CICT’s “PCs for All” initiative promotes open source, the DepEd remains tied to the PIL program. The progress made by UP Diliman on FOSS does not seem to have been appealing to other state universities.

In conclusion, the “Partners in Learning” program, while noble at first glance, is a self-serving program by the Microsoft. It’s a vendor lock-in scheme under the disguise of unleashing the power of educators in using ICT in their profession. At the same time, the task remains Herculean for FOSS advocates to wield effective influence on relevant government agencies and local decision-makers and help them see the light.

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One comment

  1. It’s really sickens me to feel that the whole Philippine IT education system is so intertwined with the Evil Company from Redmond. Me, an avid fan of Free/Open Source Software is forced to learn things the Microsoft way. Not only it is frustrating, but also gives some anxiety on my continuing interest to study. I’m being forced to learn stuff that are contradictory to what I found valuable from the FOSS world.

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