FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Microsoft will spend $235 million over the next five years to expand its educational program that includes getting more computers into classrooms to help bridge the digital divide, the company said on Tuesday.
The world’s biggest software company said it aimed to reach 270 million people with the second stage of its Partners in Learning program, three times as many as it reached with a similar investment over the last five years.
Microsoft works with governments and non-governmental organizations around the world to help put computers such as Intel’s “Classmate” laptop into schools, train teachers and influence education policy.
The company says it hopes to achieve its first major milestone -- reaching the next billion of the 5 billion who still have little or no access to technology -- by 2015.
“Investing in education is the best way to help young people achieve their potential,” outgoing Chairman and Microsoft founder Bill Gates said in a statement. Gates will announce the investment at a speech to government leaders in Berlin on Wednesday.
Orlando Ayala, head of Microsoft’s “Unlimited Potential” group, told Reuters: “It’s not only getting the computer but all the other elements in the strategy. It’s about how much we’re able to empower people. This can’t be done by a single company.”
Microsoft, which is keen to have its software more widely adopted in the public sector, also announced a new range of online services for so-called e-government on Tuesday.
The software, due to go on sale later this year, promises to help the public access government services such as community Web sites or case management tools over the Internet.
It will be able to be integrated into local and regional governments’ existing technology platforms, Microsoft said.
Microsoft is campaigning to get its latest Office document format adopted as an international standard to help it win more business from the public sector, where it competes with increasing popular open-source software such as Linux.
The International Organization for Standardization has rejected Microsoft’s bid in a first round of voting but will meet again next month to decide the matter finally.
Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky