Empowering Educators and Students Through Tech

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Dec 17, 2019
by Claire Kidwell
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Empowering Educators and Students Through Tech

Barbara Holzapfel remarks on technology’s role providing creative and educational opportunities for displaced children Barbara Holzapfel (Photo: Katrin Kerschbaumer)

“We want to empower every student on the planet to achieve more,” This is the mission behind education at Microsoft, according to Barbara Holzapfel, general manager for education marketing.

Holzapfel is being interviewed while attending Salzburg Global’s latest program in its Education for Tomorrow’s World multi-year series: Education and Workforce Opportunities for Refugees and Migrants. It’s the second time she’s attended a program at Salzburg Global and the second time she’s been co-chair.

Her focus and the focus of the ongoing program revolves around key ideas such as technology and social and emotional learning (SEL), and the impact these capabilities have on refugee and migrant education. While more industries call for soft skills, such as team building or leadership, educational systems are slow to adopt SEL frameworks.

“Here is a huge supply and demand discrepancy where if you actually talk to students, they do want to learn these things like creativity, communication, collaboration, all of those kinds of things,” says Holzapfel.

“At the same time, school systems and teachers don’t feel equipped to actually teach that. And so there is a massive tension there between what’s going to be needed and what’s currently being supplied.”

Holzapfel and her team are looking at the current first graders who will graduate in 2030, and the skills that could be in demand for the jobs required in a decade. This includes refugee and migrant children, and for them, Holzapfel asks, “How do we keep them in the learning journey at the most basic level? And how do we make sure that we are connecting them to learning and education opportunities?”

According to her, this is where technology can play “a very transformative role for the better.” Tools like Skype and Teams can connect refugee and migrant students to resources or teachers across the globe.

Holzapfel says, “I was particularly struck by the intersection with language and linguistics and this where, you know, if you just imagine yourself, you’re a refugee child and you end up in a country where you do not speak the language. Not only have you just gone through massive trauma in your life, then you find yourself in a new country which is economically and politically more stable, but you might not speak the language at all. And so that then becomes the question of what can we do to help?”

Technology can facilitate this language education. At Microsoft, Holzapfel says Microsoft is working on translators for PowerPoint and other tools to help students.

With some of these SEL skills such as creativity, Holzapfel suggests, “This is nothing we have to teach them.” Students are naturally curious, she says, and naturally want to learn, something she finds very inspiring. In situations where displacement has occurred, she wants to provide the tools to enhance the “innate thirst for learning” that children have. She says, “It’s a matter of how can we get these tools to them to keep fostering their creativity.”

Returning to the topic of Salzburg, Holzapfel is excited by the work taking place, through ongoing initiatives, multidisciplinary dialog, and “the level and depth of thinking and the expertise of the people who come together - their sheer passion to make an impact.”

Holzapfel hopes for more forums like this to come together, and create initiatives such as Karanga, an alliance established at a previous Salzburg Global education program. Holzapfel serves on the Karanga steering committee along with several Salzburg Global Fellows.

Holzapfel says, “I hugely appreciate that everybody takes that time out of their busy lives to come together and have those discussions. The fact that we’re also moving towards actionable outcomes, as evidenced by the Karanga initiative that takes the conversations from here from this week to another level and keeps it moving forward.”


The Salzburg Global Seminar Program, Education and Workforce Opportunities for Refugees and Migrants, is part of the Education for Tomorrow’s World multi-year series. The program is held in partnership with ETS, Microsoft, Qatar Foundation International, Porticus, and the LEGO Foundation.