Anthony Salcito delivers his keynote speech at BETT

BETT 2019: UK is leading the way in how schools should use technology, says Microsoft’s head of education

The UK is leading the way in how technology should be used in schools, the Vice-President of Education at Microsoft has said during the world’s biggest edtech conference in London

Anthony Salcito, who oversees the company’s vision for education across the world, said the country has “gotten out in front” by redesigning its curriculum to ensure technology and computer skills are used in a range of subjects.

In 2014 the Government overhauled the way digital skills were taught in the UK, replacing Information and Communications Technology with Computing – which included coding. This created a more relevant and hands-on subject that pupils and teachers applied in other areas of the curriculum.

Salcito said the decision is being copied across the world.

Anthony Salcito delivers his keynote speech at BETT

Anthony Salcito oversees Microsoft’s vision for education across the world

“We have to unleash technology for kids, and the UK did this best,” he said during the BETT conference at London’s ExCeL. “They re-pivoted the curriculum to say that computing is not something you do, it’s something you do things with. So, kids start thinking about religion, maths and history through technology. When I visit great schools in the UK, they’re not defined by how nice the devices are, it’s about the way their thinking about technology has changed and is flowing through the school. That’s the kind of leadership we need to drive.

“The UK has gotten out in front with the curriculum redesign and is leading the way. I know many countries and governments are following their example.”

Salcito delivered a keynote speech at BETT as part of Microsoft’s large presence at the event, which coincided with announcements about new devices for schools, new features in its Teams collaboration tool and a coding project for children who have partial or no sight called Code Jumper.

Those new releases have the potential to build skills and confidence in classrooms, both of which are crucial for children, Salcito added.

“We need to recognise that the most important thing we can do is unleash the confidence in students so that they use their learning to change the world,” he said. “For Microsoft, that starts with helping kids use Minecraft to build their confidence and to start seeing technology as a tool to create things. That will stay with them through school and their career. At the end of the day, it’s about how we enable kids to eventually create jobs that build the future economy.”

Cecily Morrison and Craig Meador with Code Jumper

Cecily Morrison and Craig Meador with Code Jumper

BETT, which runs until January 26, brings together 850 companies and more than 34,000 attendees from 131 countries. Microsoft’s stand includes coding workshops, Surface demonstrations, talks on a range of technology products and how to use them, mixed reality, AI, the company’s environmental partnership with the BBC and Minecraft.

Cecily Morrison, a researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, was one of the first speakers of the day. She was joined by Craig Meador, president of American Printing House for the Blind, to talk about how the two organisations are working together to release Code Jumper to the public.

Morrison said the aim of the project was to “create career opportunities for children” and show those with partial sight that “they too can become designers of technology”.

BETT also heard from Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary. The MP for East Hampshire called for technology companies and educators to work together to transform education and improve outcomes for pupils. Teachers should embrace artificial intelligence to help reduce their workload, he added.