High school students are now able to access and download professional Microsoft Corp. software such as Visual Studio and XNA Game Studio for free, a service that has been offered to higher-education students for the past year through DreamSpark.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced the expansion to high school students March 26 at the Government Leaders Forum – Americas, which took place in Leesburg, Va.

DreamSpark provides the most advanced programming and development tools that students can use, Gates said, offering all of the capabilities that professionals have. Having access to these tools is intended to inspire students to eventually create companies that could become the next Microsoft, he said.

"Even at a young age, students want to push the limits," Gates said. "It harkens back to when I was a student and wanted to push the limits. The earlier you get going, the more likely you are to get super, super good at it."

Some might ask why Microsoft would offer its software to students for free.

"As the technology leader, we have an obligation to provide the tools worldwide to help [people] join the digital revolution," said Andy Zupsic, vice president of sales, marketing, and services for Microsoft Latin America.

Joe Wilson, senior director of academic initiatives with Microsoft, added that in tough economic times, the company hopes to provide students with the tools they need to succeed in their future careers.

"We have the ability to unlock the door so that students have a head start in college or in high school," he said.

He said it made sense for Microsoft to expand the program because there are so many more students in K-12 schools than at colleges and universities.

"Only 10 percent of students make it to university, [so] 90 percent of all students are in K-12," he said. "There are 170 million university students [worldwide]; there are 500 to 600 million high school students."

Giving students free access to these tools also makes good business sense for Microsoft, because it encourages a generation of future programmers to learn Microsoft software.

The DreamSpark program allows students to download professional-level software tools free of charge. The program began at the university level about a year ago, and there have been nearly 2 million downloads by students in 110 countries.

For high school students to have access to these software downloads, a school representative need only sign up his or her school online. Once approved, the school representative will receive pass codes that will allow students to go online and download the available software free of charge.

Sina Chenari, a computer science student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said access to the free software through DreamSpark has helped him succeed academically.

"The experience and skills that I’ve developed using … professional technology tools have helped me secure valuable internships and will give me a tremendous head start for a career after graduation," he said.

The Government Leaders Forum, now in its 12th year, brings together leaders in government, business, and education to discuss issues and exchange experiences related to governance, education, health care, and economic development.

The forum included discussions on improving economic development through innovation and education, reinventing health care, and dealing with crises. Keynote presentations including speeches by former President Bill Clinton and Gates.

"Education is key to economic growth," Gates said. "Education is [a top priority], because as the chairman of Microsoft, I’m looking to hire the most talented people worldwide."

Links:

DreamSpark

Government Leaders Forum – Americas

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Empowering Education Through Technology resource center. Integrating technology into the classroom can be a challenge without the right guidance. Go to: Empowering Education Through Technology