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Scotland is one of the first countries in the world to benefit from donated computer training software. Fiona MacLeod reports

One of the world's biggest firms has donated almost pound;1 million worth of software to help Scots left behind by the computer age.

Lutz Ziob, Microsoft's head of learning in the United States, presented the program, which is aimed at people who do not understand computers, to a gathering of key players in Edinburgh last week.

Hosted by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Mr Ziob also visited the Hill Trust regeneration project in Govan to meet the kind of people who will benefit from the initiative. He said the program was worth around $1.5 million, or pound;800,000, and admitted the donation was not altruistic.

"It is in our interests to have people able to use a computer. We know that the world we live in will consistently use more and more IT technology," he said.

"If the people we rely on using it don't know what we are doing, our products will lie unused."

Microsoft's "digital literacy curriculum" consists of five sections: computer basics, the internet, productivity programmes, computer security and digital lifestyles.

Each takes up to three hours to complete but can be taken byte-size, depending on existing knowledge and personal circumstances. They can be taught or taken independently over the internet. The curriculum ranges from how to turn a computer on to digital photography and internet downloading.

Mike Ewart, head of the education department at the Scottish Executive, said: "This is an amazing opportunity for Scotland. IT is the mechanism for accessing the world of today and will be the portal for the future world of tomorrow."

He believes it will become increasingly difficult for people without computer skills to access learning the world around them. "Can any of us imagine managing our daily affairs without access to the web or without email?" he asked.

Seattle-based Mr Ziob said: "We have tried to cover the fundamentals, and one of the units covers security and privacy. After all, you wouldn't get an ATM card without knowing what to do."

Thailand is the only other country in the world so far to have the Microsoft software - after a visit to the company by members of the royal family. But the IT giant plans to expand it to other countries.

Mr Ziob said his firm had an advantage in providing training: "The power we can bring as Microsoft is the data we have. We have the means to do the global research and we also know what technology will be doing in the future."

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