The conference, attended by 800 students and teachers, heard the First Minister praise the efforts of all those involved in the Determined to Succeed strategy, which had "exceeded expectations".
Mr McConnell recalled his own time as a maths teacher in the 1980s. "It was a hellishly depressing experience. The school system was being run down and lacking in investment," he said.
"People had lost their confidence, the economy was in serious trouble and people who had difficulties at home had no way of getting out of that to advance in life. Teachers ultimately lost their ambition and aspiration."
He went into politics to change that and the attitude of students and teachers involved in enterprise in education projects reflected the change.