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Partners in progress

Sir Iain Vallance calls on business to back teachers in meeting the needs of children.

THE EDUCATIONAL standards achieved in the classroom and the workplace will be critical to the UK's competitiveness in world markets, so the relationship between education and business ought to be inseparable. This is why BT is sponsoring the Aim High awards for a second year. Aim High represents all that is good about partnership between business and education and offers an exciting glimpse of what can be achieved.

Last year's Commonwealth learning conference on open- and distance-learning identified a strong correlation between giving young people skills and opportunity, having universal access to technology and national economic well-being. A world-class economy needs world-class education. This cannot be achieved without embracing and harnessing technology. Workplace demands are changing rapidly. The skills that business needs in the "knowledge economy" need to be carefully articulated if we are to enjoy the benefits of the information society.

For example, it is no longer enough to focus exclusively on basic literacy: interpretative, analytical and communications skills are likely to be at a premium. Most important will be flexibility - wanting to adapt and learn as the environment evolves around us.

Given that willingness to keep learning, we must find ways to help upgrade core skills throughout our lives. That is why developments such as the Government's Lifelong Learning initiative and the University for Industry are potentially so exciting.

Education and training are not just about attainment; they are about fulfilling potential, about motivation and active engagement. BT's Education On-line Network project, in collaboration with ICL and the University of Exeter, is being conducted in Bristol. It involves 11 schools and gives an idea of what the future may offer.

In a relatively disadvantaged area, the introduction of information technology has led to a dramatic new enthusiasm for learning. Children arrive early, stay late and are eager to get on-line. Boys, in particular, do not sacrifice their "street cred" by learning through technology. These are early but encouraging days.

But without well-supported teachers, even the best hardware and software will not help our children fulfil their potential. For this reason, BT pays particular attention to its wide range of interfaces with education, including more than 1,000 BT people who are school governors, a structured programme of teacher placements within the company and a major focus on teacher training and support at all levels.

Nothing can be more important than investing in the future of our children. Collaboration between business and education is key to maximising that investment and ensuring that we, as a nation, are ready to face the future.

* Sir Iain Vallance is chairman of BT

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