One of the things on the mind of government officials and education leaders around the world is how to raise the quality and impact of teaching and innovative teaching practices. The use of technology to drive change and innovation in classrooms is at the center of the debate, and we see invest in teacher training and support the use of technology more actively. We’ve been working with UNESCO to expand teacher competencies to not only elevate the profession of teaching, but to create a foundation for others to model effective teaching practices.

At UNESCO’s General Conference this week, Microsoft is proud to be part of a consortium of information and communication technology (ICT) companies supporting the launch of the second version of the UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for Teachers, a global initiative helping teachers and schools maximize the use of ICT for learning. An overview can be found here.

In 2008, UNESCO and industry partners including Microsoft, CISCO and Intel launched a framework to help teachers integrate and harness the power of ICT for their students, called the UNESCO ICT Competency Framework for Teachers (ICT-CFT). The ICT-CFT fits within a holistic approach to improving the use of ICT in education and the development of 21st Century teaching and learning – starting with identifying the complex skills students need for success today, ensuring teaching is measureable, and supporting teachers as they develop and use the innovative pedagogical practices required for students to develop these skills.

As governments create long-term strategies for coming out of the economic recession, and the focus turns to job creation and skills, ensuring today’s students have the skills needed to compete for the jobs of tomorrow is critical for every country’s competitiveness.

At Microsoft, we see this as a three-step approach with three important questions to answer: What skills are needed and how do we measure them? What are the practices required for teachers to teach and students to learn these skills? And how can leaders expand the adoption of these teaching practices and competencies across districts or a whole system? Microsoft has partnered in the research and development needed to address each of these needs.

The first step identifies which 21st Century skills are important and how they can be measured, helping define the assessment and content required to ensure the next generation’s future employability and competitiveness. The ATC21S consortium, a partnership between Microsoft, Intel and CISCO and the University of Melbourne, has worked with hundreds of researchers around the world to define these complex skills and develop new assessments to measure them. The research will provide governments, inter-governmental agencies and content providers with skill definitions, sample assessments and guidance on how to measure and teach complex skills such as Collaboration, Problem Solving and ICT Literacy-Learning in Digital Networks.

The next step is research and development to identify the teaching practices and learning experiences that will allow students to develop these skills. Microsoft is sponsoring the Innovative Teaching and Learning (ITL) Research project aimed at figuring out the most effective and innovative teaching practices to ensure students are prepared for life and work in a globally connected interdependent world. ITL Research, which is designed by the non-profit research institute SRI with advisory from UNESCO, the OECD and others, is helping school systems define the teaching practices needed to help students effectively develop 21st century skills. And through Microsoft’s Partners in Learning initiative, the methods developed through ITL have been offered directly and at no cost to schools around the world to measure their own innovative teaching and learning. For more information, see http://www.pilsr.com.

And finally, through the UNESCO, CISCO, Intel and Microsoft partnership, the third element – scaling competencies – is addressed by the UNESCO ICT-CFT. This partnership has established a framework providing education districts and systems with a means to scale the teacher competencies required for new, innovative teaching practices maximizing the use of ICT in the classroom and for administrative use. Importantly, due to UNESCO’s support, the ICT-CFT has global reach – delivering a common framework to measure and develop teacher competencies that support effective use of ICT for learning for school systems around the world.

While each step in this process is important, the UNESCO ICT-CFT initiative is unique in its ability to provide much needed guidance for systems to have a common understanding of the ICT teaching competencies. As with all partners involved in the creation of the second version of the ICT-CFT, Microsoft is excited to launch the next phase of an initiative that is benefiting students globally and preparing the next generations for a bright future.