By Djam Bakhshandegi, Education Lead for West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

Last week, eight teachers from sub-Saharan Africa are travelling to Barcelona, Spain, to attend the Microsoft in Education Global Forum, a hallmark initiative to recognize the world’s most innovative teachers.

Why? They have been selected to be part of Microsoft’s 2014 class of Mentor Schools and the Inaugural class of Expert Educators. These exclusive one year programmes recognise visionary educators who are using technology to improve student outcomes, equip them with 21st century skills, and who are paving the way for other teachers showing them what be achieved with technology in the classroom

Our youth population is growing fast. Currently, nearly one in three people in sub-Saharan Africa are between the ages of 10 and 24. By 2050, this number is projected to double. So it is essential now more than ever to invest in the education of youth in the region, which in turn, will improve the potential for economic growth and development. At Microsoft, we strongly believe in the role that ICT can play in bridging the emerging opportunity divide and guiding youth toward the education, skills and opportunities they need to prosper in the hyper-connected era. And teachers need to be at the heart of this.

I chatted to some of the teachers who are representing sub-Saharan Africa in Spain. Here is what they had to say about using technology in education:

 Uganda has one of the youngest populations in Africa, and a youth unemployment rate of 63%. So, what Uganda needs is an education system that empowers young people to respond to the pressing needs of the country and the world at large by engaging them to seek to effect positive change,” Chole Richard, Uganda.

“To function in this technology driven world and help in the development of the country, our youth ought to be IT proficient and adequately prepared to shoulder new jobs. Mauritius, being a small island devoid of natural resources, will have to rely on its human resources to ensure continuous economic and social growth. Therefore it is important to empower our youth with the necessary skills to stay in tune with world demand for continuous progress.” Anil Saccaram, Mauritius

Education is the greatest legacy that can be handed over to the younger generation and we need to invest in the education of Nigerian youth so as to prepare them psychologically,  intellectually and socially to deal with life after school. This also invariably leads to national development, peace and security,” Iyke Ikechukwu Chukwu, Nigeria

To be selected as an Expert Educator, teachers much demonstrate a commitment to innovation and taking advantage of technology to deliver lessons in inspiring ways. Here are some of the ways they use technology in the classroom.

My students use technology for problem solving by creating multimedia with a purpose of voicing their concerns to communities in any part of the world,” Chole Richard, Uganda.

 We are the first school in our country to use technology to teach visual arts. This allows students to gain knowledge in the field and saves time. We use creative software programmes including Windows Movie Maker, imaging and animation tools,” Papa Mamadou, Senegal

All of the teachers can attest to the immediate positive effects of bringing ICT to the classroom.

Classes have become more interesting, engaging and fun,” Anil Saccaram, Mauritius

I teach mathematics and further mathematics to semi-rural students. After applying technology in my classroom, the number of students who pass examinations has increased by 73%

 especially in the teaching of 3D and abstract maths,” Veranique Obiakor, Nigeria

The Microsoft in Education Forum kicks off on Wednesday, and teachers will be heavily involved in advising Microsoft on its investments in education. They will provide insights on new product

What advice do Microsoft’s Expert Educators have for other teachers?s and tools, and help the company understand how technology works – or doesn’t work – in real-life classrooms.

Be pragmatic and start with simple applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which I find are excellent tools enabling teachers to create their own resources.” Veranique Obiakor, Nigeria

Many young people are already ahead of teachers because they find it easier to (and are already) wholly embracing technology. The teacher therefore needs to be more versatile in order to remain relevant in the lives of the learners.” Chole Richard, Uganda

 Don’t be afraid. Technology is easy and fun for both students and the teacher, there are many courses available for teachers to learn how to implement it in their classrooms effectively,” Hannington Ochieng, Kenya

What do they hope to achieve as part of 2014 Class of Expert Educators?

I hope to access and use free Microsoft resources to create innovative productivity tools that will help to add more life to my teaching and learning activities.” Ikechukwu Chukwu, Nigeria

I look forward to making the most of the mentoring and learning opportunities that are now available to me, as well as being able to connect with like-minded educators in Africa. Being a Microsoft Expert Educator will help me to increase learning outcomes for my students, my fellow educators, as well as drive technology in education on a global stage,” David Muya, Kenya.

I can assure you that I shall do what it takes to ensure this opportunity is transformed to the classroom for improved performance, and improved learning for the entire community,” Hannington Ochieng, Kenya

 “I hope to achieve with my students a fully developed art exhibition of works created and performed with technology,” Papa Mamadou, Senegaldele Odeogbola, Nigeria

I hope to make a difference in education in Nigeria. There is not a lot of budget for education in the country, but I believe that access to technology can level the playing field for children from all backgrounds,” Ayodele Odeogbola, Nigeria