The Navalova project is a key initiative under the non-commercial memorandum of understanding signed with the government in 2005, uniting Microsoft and the Ministry of Education in a bid to bridge the digital divide both within the country and between the developed and developing world, by jointly improving the ICT literacy of Sri Lankan school students and teachers. The initiatives under the said non commercial MoU including the Navalova project, are funded by the Microsoft "Partners in Learning" (PiL) program, a global initiative operating in the Kindergarten to Grade 12 space, under the umbrella program Unlimited Potential, which envisions to transform the way the world learns, fostering knowledge and improving the way they work. The Partners in Learning Initiative stems from the premise that in every child, there is the potential to be great. Partners in Learning attempts to help children realize their potential by increasing technology skills in teachers and improving educational outcomes for students and as a result has trained over 7,000 educators in Sri Lanka to date.
Microsoft Sri Lanka targets to reach at least one million people directly or indirectly through its training and education efforts (of which Navalova initiative is one) by 2009.
The Navalova project focuses on training school teachers in the use of IT, in a bid to encourage the use of IT in the classroom. The objective of the project is to incorporate ICT as an effective tool in education – thereby building the capacity of students to utilize IT effectively and be more competitive when they enter the workforce. With this broad objective, the Navalova project undertakes to provide all teachers of the schools chosen, training in the general use of ICT in the class room, and specialized training to IT teachers and instructors on advanced use of IT such as programming.
Jinashri Samarakoon, Education Programme Manager of Microsoft said, "Microsoft’s shares the government’s vision for education - to modernize the way our children learn to give them ICT skills, which is essential in the new economy. To do this we need to encourage the use of IT as an effective tool in the classroom. We believe that by introducing IT, teachers will be able to make their lessons more interactive and interesting. By making such enhancements to the way children learn we would enable them to become IT competent. Such initiatives help bridge the digital divide, ensuring that Sri Lankan students are empowered to compete on a level playing field with the rest of the world. We began with the rural schools to increase the IT penetration in those areas. Extending the initiative to schools in Colombo is also important as these schools have the largest student population. Therefore, by training the teachers in these schools we reach a large number of students. The enthusiasm displayed by the Principals of these schools was very encouraging."
The first phase of the Navalova program spanned the North Central, Central, North Western & North Eastern provinces. In this phase, 1593 teachers belonging to 20 schools in those areas underwent training. Under Phase Two of the project, Microsoft provided funds to the ICT Education Branch of the Ministry of Education to train 1406 teachers from 18 schools in Uva, Southern and Western provinces. Now under Phase Three, Microsoft plans to reach at least 200 teachers in the Western Province.
In phase I and phase II of the project, the training was delivered through Education Ministry resources such as Computer Resource Centre managers, whilst Microsoft funded the training costs. Training for the master trainers was provided by the National Institute of Education while the training is coordinated by the ICT Education Branch of the Ministry of Education. In Colombo, the training is being delivered by the Microsoft certified training organisations.
In Colombo, Microsoft supported Navalova program will reach several schools, including Royal College, Visakha Vidyalaya, St. Thomas College and D.S. Senanayake College amongst others. The Principal of Royal College commented "With immense pleasure I appreciate the training programme Microsoft has designed for the benefit of the teachers of Royal College at Microsoft Certified Learning Centres. All the teachers who participated in it during the last vacation highly admired the course stating that they received a very sound basic knowledge of Information Technology that can be used for a successful teaching and learning process. They have already demonstrated a great confidence in using the internet facilities for moulding befitting characters for the Global Village. I am sure the more intensive course which is being conducted now, designed especially for the IT teachers, will also help them to be conversant with the latest technologies & use that knowledge well to teach our students better. We, at Royal have implemented many projects to prepare our students to face the new world in which the knowledge of IT is a key success factor. I feel that the great pains Microsoft has taken to give the best for the teachers have blossomed, turning it into a fruitful endeavour in supporting our on going efforts at the school."
Mr. Prasanna Amirthalingam, MVP and Microsoft certified trainer, who conducts the special training for IT Teachers under the Navalova initiative said, "This programme to train teachers in the use of ICT is an excellent initiative by Microsoft in improving IT literacy in Sri Lanka. I am very sure that the teachers who follow this training programme will be armed with the necessary IT skills and knowledge. This will empower them to use innovative ways of educating their students - by introducing IT into their lesson plans. We have seen ample proof of how students find an interactive session that uses presentations, the internet and practical aspects much more useful in understanding and recalling their lessons. If we are able to instil an appreciation of IT in both students and teachers, I am certain that Sri Lanka will be able to compete well internationally."
Approximately 20% of Sri Lanka’s population is of school going age – almost 4 million children; however only a handful of these children have access to technology, creating thereby one of Asia’s most under-exposed student communities. The government has over the past few years initiated an accelerated drive to provide ICT knowledge at all levels of education in a bid to create a generation of Sri Lankans with the capacity to propel Sri Lanka to the digital arena. The education system however still faces many challenges and Microsoft has stepped up its efforts to assist the government achieve its vision.
In Sri Lanka, through a series of programs, key investments, software and training, Microsoft together with the Ministry of Education, seeks to provide professional development to teachers who act as technology and educational change agents at their schools, as well as reward outstanding teachers. Other key projects under the non-commercial MoU with the Ministry of Education include Innovative Teachers initiative & the National Teacher PC Drive, which again focuses on enhancing their level of IT skills & knowledge.
Taking a step forward from the Navalova program, the Innovative Teachers Competition is an annual regional competition, carried out by the Ministry of Education together with Microsoft. The competition encourages teachers to create a lesson plan using technology and is aimed at fostering innovation with the winners representing Sri Lanka at the international finals. The National Teacher PC Drive is a project aimed at supporting 50,000 teachers to own a PC by providing several subsidies, including free training to those who buy this PC. The objective of the programme is to encourage teachers to explore the use of technology by making computing more accessible and familiar.
Microsoft also provides support in the higher education sphere, by providing exposure to international forums and international best practices, providing access to technology at heavily subsidized pricing, and by encouraging innovation. Such through, the MSDNAA subscription programmes, Imagine Cup – the highly coveted premier technology competition for tertiary students encourages students to develop innovative and economically viable software solutions thereby fostering not only innovation but also entrepreneurship. It is held on an island wide scale annually, with the winners being sent to the world finals. The Internship programme at Microsoft Research Centre in Bangalore provides university students as well as post graduates exposure to world best practices in IT research. Microsoft has also set up a Mobile Technology Lab at the University of Moratuwa to enable IT students to familiarise themselves in the fast growing are in IT- mobile technology.
Microsoft’s education initiative is to foster knowledge and to reach one million people directly or indirectly – by enabling them to improve the way they work and thereby enhance their lifestyles. To date through all the Partners in Learning initiative, Microsoft has trained close to 7,000 educators in Sri Lanka. The thousands of teachers trained by Microsoft will impart their knowledge and advocated the use of IT to hundreds of thousand students who in turn, are able to better themselves and develop their communities.