Technology is the solution

The world's richest man and the man in charge of Britain's riches were in Scotland this week hoping to provide solutions for those not in education, employment or training.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown identified education and its use of technolgy as the key to economic prosperity when they spoke at the Scottish Parliament.

On Tuesday, Mr Gates signed an agreement with First Minister Jack McConnell to train Scots who are in the Neet group in computer skills. The project will involve Microsoft's 1300 partner organisations in Scotland offering work experience, guidance and training in IT for unemployed school-leavers.

Cisco Systems will work with Learndirect Scotland to deliver community-based learning at 513 centres.

"We can help young people gain the skills and experience they need to participate in the knowledge economy, and ultimately help the Scottish economy realise its potential," said Mr Gates.

He said the scheme for unemployed 16 to 19-year-olds could be used "to mentor them, to understand what is going on with them. To help head them on the right path is important and we think that can make a real difference".

Mr Gates, who is worth around pound;27 billion, was at Holyrood for the annual Microsoft Government Leaders Forum, held for the first time in the UK. He joined the Chancellor to talk about education.

Gordon Brown promised to put education at the heart of the political agenda, saying he wanted to "raise the floor and remove the ceiling". He also supported moves north and south of the border to raise the compulsory school-leaving age to 18, and said technology was key to ensuring everyone, regardless of age, had access to learning throughout their lives.

"Almost 500 years ago, Scotland led the world with the vision that every village and town in Scotland should have the right to a school, and today in 2007, technology makes it possible that every person can, and should, enjoy the opportunities of lifelong learning," he said.

Balerno High S6 pupil Callum Birks told both men that young people were comfortable with ICT but wanted the communication technology they use in schools to match what they use at home, such as the social networking websites MySpace and MSN.

Mr Gates also announced Micro-soft's commitment to the Building Schools for the Future programme in England as part of its world-wide Innovative Schools initiative.

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