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Bringing the Benefits of High Technology to Rural China


Microsoft Investments include two fully equipped InfoWagons, a Partners in Learning school, a Family Education PC program for rural communities, and digital literacy content and training in libraries and iCafés.

REDMOND, Wash., May 2008 – Microsoft, which has already donated money to support the Chinese government’s Sichuan earthquake rescue efforts and is ready to provide training as well as donate PCs and technology classrooms, will increase its already significant investments in the country next month.

The company will donate two fully equipped InfoWagons, open a Partners in Learning (PiL) school, launch a Family Education PC program for rural communities in Miyun county outside Beijing, and provide digital literacy content and training in libraries and iCafés across Xinjiang.

These initiatives extend those announced when the company launched Unlimited Potential in China just over a year ago, which followed Microsoft’s previous commitments of investments and donations to support information and communications technology in China’s K-12 education system.

“The problems China is currently facing, especially in the rural areas, include the digital divide and the widening income gap between rural and urban residents,” says Rau Chang, general manager of Microsoft’s Public Sector Group for the Greater China Region. “In its latest five-year plan, the Chinese government has placed an emphasis on rural development, known as San Nong. These latest Microsoft efforts will use information and communications technology (ICT) to support the government on rural economic development, healthcare and education.”

Orlando Ayala, Microsoft senior vice president, Unlimited Potential Group, says these latest rural moves are an extension of the work the company has already been doing in China for many years with its PiL education program and the mobile InfoWagons.

“Our goal of reaching another five billion people with technology means that you have to think about what you do in the world’s rural areas to help enable them through better educational opportunities and the use of technology,” Ayala says.

The digital literacy content and training program initiative, a partnership between Microsoft and the Xinjiang government that strives to bring Internet and IT training and education programs to local communities through public libraries and iCafés, is expected to be the first of many across China. The training programs, which will help local communities across Xinjiang learn new skills and foster local innovation, will be facilitated by library and iCafé staff.

As part of its Unlimited Potential initiative, Microsoft will provide certified content and training to volunteers. Once that training has been completed and validated, these volunteers will then provide basic computer and Internet skills training at no charge for residents of the surrounding communities, IT and productivity tools training for small- and medium-sized enterprises, and training for IT professionals.

“The Xinjiang government is committed to the use of genuine software, and this advanced technology and training will help enable it to usher in a new type of iCafé, one that bridges the digital divide and provides the underserved community with IT training and services to help them achieve their potential and build a harmonious society,” Ayala says.

In keeping with its rural training and education focus, Microsoft is partnering with a leading local OEM, Founder, as well as a local school and education department to launch the Founder Windows PC for Education. The launch on June 4 will take place at an event in Miyun county outside Beijing and is part of the overall Rural Education PC Program.

The Founder Windows PC for Education will have Windows Vista and Windows Live preinstalled, along with new learning software tailored for the Chinese education market. Learning documentation will be provided for both parents and students, as will some basic computing and Windows Vista training especially designed for the first-time PC users.

‘‘This is in line with our Unlimited Potential vision of bringing the benefits of technology and education by working with local partners and governments to provide educational resources and technologies to communities outside the major cities,’’ Ayala says.

Microsoft executives, including Ayala, will also attend the June 6 opening of the first PiL school in Kashgar, which will help Chinese authorities transform the country’s education system by leveraging the integration of technology in classrooms.

The school, the No. 19 Middle School in Kashgar, has 2,125 students and 105 teachers across 38 primary school and junior high school classes.

“The school will offer innovative technology, valuable curriculum guidance, and teacher training in a province where it has never been available before,” Ayala says. “The integration of technology is a key tool in helping China transform its education system and in closing the digital divide.”

Since its launch in 2003, PiL, a key initiative under Microsoft Unlimited Potential, has touched the lives of more than 100 million students, teachers and education policymakers in 101 countries. In January 2008, Microsoft announced a new five-year, US$235.5 million investment in PiL, which will bring the company’s total 10-year commitment to nearly $500 million.

Microsoft has so far donated 100 PiL schools across 31 provinces, cities and autonomous regions in China, and has trained IT classroom administrators for every school. Thousands of teachers have also been trained to help their students study more effectively and become more innovative.

The company has also helped develop and localize a range of basic, intermediate and advanced training curriculum for IT teachers, with more than 110,000 having already attended basic and intermediate training, while 104 senior IT teachers have gone through the advanced course. PiL teacher training centers designed to support teacher development have also been established at Yunnan Normal University, Huazhong Normal University and Northwest Normal University.

Microsoft has also created partnerships with governments and communities to promote digital inclusion, evidenced by its earlier commitment to support the Chinese Ministry of Information Industries (MII) in establishing Rural Computing Pilot Projects in five areas over five years.

“In the coming years we will work closely with MII and local governments to development of application software and rural information devices, support the use of information in key rural enterprises and for large farmers, promote the integration of information resources and services, and enhance the training and building of information services teams for the rural community,’’ Chang says.

In April 2007, when the company launched Unlimited Potential in China, Microsoft determined that Shandong, Henan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Shanghai would be the first pilot provinces.

At that time, Microsoft started working on the design and proof-of-concept for its Rural Information Service Application. The goal was to create a friendly user interface that allowed rural people to easily access some local Internet content.

The application was released in April 2007 and had been deployed on more than 130 PCs located at various facilities by July 2007.

The content includes agriculture technology, science and career training, while video and text training curricula are also being offered for farmers from different areas and businesses. Simple inventory management and finance management tools are also available.

Customized agriculture information on fodder, piglet, and disease prevention is also integrated for pig raisers, while crop farmers get access to content on the impact of weather, seeds, insects and pests.

An important aspect of these programs is the use of Information Service Centers established by local government to help these farmers get online and access e-government services, search for information on education, healthcare and entertainment.

Microsoft, working with local governments and partners, has also developed a video training system that rural agricultural associations can use to produce their own training content and then upload that to the system, rather than do onsite face-to-face training as has largely been the case until now.

Farmers are able to access to the system from either the service center or their home, if they have a PC and a broadband connection. “This has turned out to be a revolutionary supplement or even replacement to the original training method, and made a revolutionary break in promoting rural productivity with ICT,” Chang says.

The training system was piloted at the Chengdu Heshan Fruit Association for three months, and more than 1,000 members have taken it, according to the association president, and who says he has also saved two-thirds of his training costs this year and has not done any onsite training so far.

Microsoft has also developed a three-step training course for rural farmers: Click, Type and Advance. Farmers who have never touched a PC will learn the basics, such as how to turn it on and off, use a mouse, and find information by clicking the mouse.

Trainees will then learn to type Chinese using “Pinyin,” the most common Standard Mandarin Romanization system in use, before practicing how to search for information on the Internet, and saving data and pictures locally. Once they have mastered these tasks, they will learn how to use the Excel-based small ERP tools, and they will communicate online with an agronomist to find answers to practical agricultural questions.

“The primary goal of these partnerships is to bring technology to rural communities so as to enhance their personal and work lives,” Ayala says. “This includes specific content for education, health care and entertainment, as well as providing online and local training content for farmers.”

“The approach we at Microsoft have taken of creating a group fully dedicated to this mission is a point of reference for the industry, and fully speaks to our determination to make changes happen through action,” he says.


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