Education is critical to the social and economic development of every nation. The acquisition and transfer of knowledge is perhaps the most powerful driver in today's global economy.

And while information and communication technology is creating exceptional opportunities in the creation and consumption of information, it also contributes to the widening of the 'e-skills divide' across communities, countries and regions.

It is also true that educating today's generation for a global knowledge-based economy is becoming more complicated. The challenges are varied - teachers would like to deliver learning mapped to student needs and improve the engagement with students. Education leaders want more graduates prepared for a knowledge-based workforce. Students want motivating learning experiences and learning tools that prepare them for the world that awaits them outside the classroom.

At Microsoft, we have full appreciation of these challenging education scenarios faced by country leaders, education leaders and educators alike. We have been actively working for the past years with communities and countries to help address these challenges and transform them into teaching and learning opportunities for the 21st century. A series of programmes have been developed through an education-centric mission to enable educators, students and educational institutions to realise their full potential.

As a partner in learning, Microsoft is taking a global initiative forward with partnering governments and communities designed to actively increase access to technology and improve its use in learning. The global initiative is the Partners in Learning programme, an initiative that expands the power of education for all through personalised learning.

Since its launch in 2003, Partners in Learning has touched the lives of more than 90 million students, teachers, and education policymakers in 101 countries.

Our goal is to create educational experiences that remove limitations and bring students and teachers closer, worldwide. Building on these efforts, Microsoft has renewed its commitment to Partners in Learning, increasing the company's investment to nearly $500 million over 10 years.

Through the programme, Microsoft is helping schools gain better access to technology, foster innovative approaches to pedagogy and teacher professional development and provide education leaders with the tools to envision, implement and manage change. In fact, this programme brings together a bundle of projects implemented with schools, teachers and students under the umbrella terms of innovative schools, innovative teachers and innovative students.

We partner so that innovative schools around the world can share their experiences, resources and knowledge through a community to enable 21st century teaching and learning by their educators and students. Through Partners in Learning, innovative schools also collaborate with renowned global education experts to understand and explore innovative pedagogical practices.

Educators are at the core of Microsoft's education mission, and a series of projects are undertaken on a yearly basis through Partners in Learning to connect and empower educators worldwide. The Partners in Learning Network enables teachers to learn from one another and work collaboratively on new approaches to learning.

The Innovative Teachers Forums are a set of national, regional and worldwide events that identify and reward exceptional examples of technology use in the classroom. Numerous professional development programmes are organised to help teachers use tools and applications to provide productive and personalised student experiences.

The Partners in Learning programme partners with students around the world, whereby it provides students with access to programmes and curriculums that help integrate technology into the learning process, both in school and at home. Through the various tools and student-focused projects, we aim to encourage students to develop their own unique voice.

Ensuring everyone has an opportunity to personalised learning is an enormous challenge that requires participation by the public and private sectors. Microsoft is deeply committed to collaborating with education partners around the world to encourage education environments where schools, educators and students seamlessly integrate technology to develop skills, maximise opportunities and prepare for the exciting challenges of the 21st century.

A collaboration agreement was signed last Wednesday between Microsoft and the Education Ministry with the aim of improving access to information and communications technology in primary and secondary education.

Ms Ruggier is academic programme manager, Microsoft Malta Ltd.

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