(The following is a blog post from Laura Ipsen, Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector. Cross post from the Official Microsoft Blog.)

Earlier today at the Partners in Learning Global Forum in Prague, in front of over 500 of the world’s most innovative educators, I was thrilled to announce an additional US$250 million in funding to extend Partners in Learning (PiL) over the next five years.

We’re renewing our pledge to Partners in Learning as a program that makes a valuable impact in the learning outcomes of hundreds of thousands of students around the world, honors a strong and growing community of educators, and underscores Microsoft’s long-term commitment to Education.  Along with Microsoft YouthSpark, PiL empowers youth to imagine and realize their full potential by connecting them with greater opportunities for education and helping them create a real impact for a better tomorrow. It’s a crucial investment in the millions of teachers who are shaping our collective future each and every day.

The decision to create Partners in Learning stemmed from a thoughtful look into the future of our company and the global economy. What kind of talent would we need to stay cutting edge in the 21st century? What kinds of tools and technology would be used to create and innovate in the future?  What kind of access to technology were students currently receiving to prepare them for the future? There were no clear answers, but the one thing we did conclude was that unless we invested in education and built the next generation workforce, nothing else would matter.

So in 2003 we made a bold commitment, establishing Microsoft Partners in Learning based on a belief that technology could and should impact education.  We knew that teachers armed with innovative technology and long-term support could make a significant difference in student outcomes. We know now, through study after study (including this one, from recent MacArthur Foundation Genius grant recipient Raj Chetty), that the difference between a strong teacher and a weak teacher lasts a lifetime.

That first year of PiL, we reached a modest 12,000 teachers. Those first teachers formed the core of what has become a global community of over 11 million members! Since then, PiL has achieved scale through its members, all working together to find new and creative ways to support their students. We’ve taken on whole-school improvement, delivered software and mobile technology tools for educators and learners, and started a global conversation with policymakers about how government can be a catalyst for change in education. The work was and is mission-critical, and it isn’t hyperbole to state that the future of the world economy depends on the quality of our teachers. (This New York Times op-ed puts it in simple terms: “A great teacher is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to each year’s students, just in the extra income they will earn.”)

There is much to celebrate in what PiL has accomplished over the past decade, yet our eyes are focused squarely on what’s ahead. At least 80 percent of jobs created in the next decade will require digital skills, and nearly every job will require 21st century skills like critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration. Not only is the workplace changing dramatically, but the classroom environment is also transforming.

I’m proud of what Partners in Learning has accomplished over the last decade and of the brilliant Microsoft professionals who support this program across 119 countries.  Even more, I’m inspired by the PiL educators who amaze us every day with their passion, creativity and innovation, often in the face of budget cuts and policies that value test results over transformative teaching. Today, we take a moment to celebrate Microsoft’s work in supporting technology in education, but more important, we renew our commitment to transforming schools for the 21st century and our partnership with the educators who make that possible.