By Lesego Masemola
Microsoft will supply productivity and server software worth about R750-million to public schools.
The software is expected to reach 26 000 government schools across South Africa, bringing modern information and communication technology to more than 11 million pupils.
Education Director-General Duncan Hindle and Chris Roberts, Microsoft's industry director in the public sector for the Middle East and Africa, yesterday signed a three-year agreement, renewing the company's original software donation agreement signed in 2002.
Hindle expressed great appreciation for Microsoft's investment and its continued contribution to the education of South African pupils.
"There is enormous potential out there and support like this is critical.
"The Education Department would like to see to it that in the next five years pupils leave schools being computer literate," Hindle said.
According to Hindle, only 9 000 schools have computer laboratories.
He said the department hoped to ensure the software reached more schools.
"Our objective is to integrate cost-effective free software to the schools," Hindle said.
Teachers were being trained to be computer literate and to be able to work with the software, he said
"The teachers aren't ready to integrate this software into the schools and in the classrooms yet.
"But the department is working hard to make sure teachers will understand and be able to use the software properly and effectively."
In 2003, Microsoft launched a five-year, $250-million initiative called Microsoft Partners in Learning, Through the programme.
It has been working closely with government policymakers, teachers and community leaders in 100 countries, including South Africa.
In the past four years, Microsoft has provided training for more than 17 000 South African teachers on how to use information technology in the classroom.
"By working with the teachers to help improve learning, we at Microsoft want to make sure that more of the world's people have opportunities to enjoy the full benefit of education, regardless of where they're born.
"We're deeply committed to improving technology access and fostering innovative teaching and learning methods.
"We believe in equipping students with the practical skills they need to thrive in today's knowledge economy," said Roberts.
Each of the schools that participate in the programme will receive free licences for a range of software, including Microsoft Office 2007, Vista Business, Visual Studio Pro, Exchange Server, SQL Server and Microsoft Encarta multimedia encyclopaedia.
Roberts said in addition to teacher training, the company was committed to helping schools increase access to technology for every pupil and teacher, and to building strong infrastructure that supported learning as well as the administration of education.