Posted by Linda Zecher
Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector

Last week I had the opportunity to join 500 remarkable educators, school leaders and government officials from around the globe at Microsoft’s sixth annual Worldwide Innovative Education Forum in Cape Town, South Africa.   The Forum is the signature event of Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program and it was impossible for anyone there not to be moved and inspired by the absolute passion of these educators and their amazing commitment to helping our young people realize their full potential.

The week culminated with the announcement of the 2010 Worldwide Innovative Teachers award winners. 13 winners were chosen among the 125 finalists who reached Cape Town and more than 200,000 teachers who participated in national and regional events. Along with the many great education professionals who attended from our Pathfinder and Mentor schools, the event promoted best practice and sharing with the purpose of creating a positive legacy for current and future students across the globe.

During the week I was fortunate enough to visit two schools in the area - St Cyprian’s and Oval North. They serve very different parts of Cape Town, but what struck me was the unbridled excitement from the children we met, whatever their backgrounds. There is something utterly captivating in curious young minds and the universal joy education can bring. At the school visits we announced our SHOUT partnership, Microsoft Partners in Learning, the Smithsonian and TakingITGlobal have formed a three year, $1 million strategic partnership to help students and teachers connect with one another using technology, to break down cultural and language barriers and drive positive social change.

At St Cyprian’s, an academy for girls, leading educators are driving incredibly exciting innovations, to prepare their young girls to become inspiring women. Technology is driving inspiration across the school, from innovation in the computer labs all the way to the school’s telescope. The girls were particularly proud of a recent movie maker project, which saw them using technology to create three minute movies - according to staff, the school was abuzz. I think it is in projects like this that we see how technology can really allow students to enhance their creativity and elevate the level of learning. That I think is pretty powerful.

At the second school, Oval North, their vision is to really use technology to help elevate their students into a better life. They have a particularly strong focus on engineering, so we were greeted by the children eager to share their homemade electronics and their unique ways of using our technology. I felt inspired by their passion and hope they will be our next generation of Imagine Cup delegates and DreamSpark leaders, as I saw immense potential from these kids.

This event got me to thinking about what I would like to see in the future of education. Imagine a world 30 or 40 years from now.  Imagine a brilliant young girl from Poland, or Panama, or in South Africa. She has grown up and just been elected as the next General Secretary of the UN… or has won a Nobel Prize… or started an organization that has transformed global education in such a  revolutionary way that we cannot even imagine it here and now in 2010. She will stand at a podium, with the world watching, and salute a teacher who helped her get there. Or she will recognize an incredible school visionary who created a learning environment that turned her potential into greatness. And that teacher or that leader could be someone who attended our IEF conference last week and helped her reach her potential.

When I talk to government leaders around the world, the conversation spans a range of key challenges for their societies – economic growth and jobs, health, public safety, the environment and so on.  But the conversation almost always comes back to education because all of the other long-term challenges will not be solved unless we say, “In this city, in this country, in this region …. EVERY young person is going to get a quality education.”

So from this amazing event in Cape Town, what I am taking away is a sense of empowerment and responsibility- knowing we must continue to help people from around the world to reach their potential, which starts with education. And that starts with taking the remarkable work of the teachers and school leaders who gathered in Cape Town and sharing their projects and their passion with their colleagues across their communities and across the world.