Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco plan to announce Tuesday that they are working together to help ensure that proper standards are created for measuring digital literacy.
The three companies aren't coming up with the assessment criteria themselves, but rather bringing together a group of education leaders and academics to identify the characteristics that should form the basis of global standards.
While such standards have emerged for math and science, they are also needed for other kinds of 21st century skills, Microsoft Vice President Anoop Gupta said in an interview last week.
To head the effort, the troika has tapped professor Barry McGaw, currently the director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, to serve as the project's executive director.
Gupta, who heads Microsoft's emerging markets effort, said that although leading companies are often advocating for similar education reforms, their work is often done solo.
"Today we often speak in different voices," Gupta said in an interview last week. "That confuses the decision makers."
Microsoft itself has been pouring millions into its emerging markets programs, including its Partners in Learning effort. Gupta said education remains a focus for Microsoft, but declined to say whether any cuts in his budget were looming amid the troubled economy.
"Certainly for us, like any company,...we are evaluating," he said. "We are being wise in how we manage the spend."
Overall, he said, there should be more dollars heading to education, particularly in the United States, where incoming president Barack Obama has outlined plans for major spending on infrastructure, including schools.
"Then, in fact, when we emerge out of this, suddenly the schools are truly wired for broadband," Gupta said.