The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, George Reid MSP, today welcomed more than 400 visiting international delegates to the Parliament and to the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum. The forum aims to formulate successful strategies in key areas related to connected government, digital learning, employability skills and the transition to the knowledge economy.
The opening ceremony saw presentations from His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, Jean-Philippe Courtois, President, Microsoft International, Wim Kok, former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and the Rt Hon. Jack McConnell, First Minister of Scotland.
In his opening remarks to the Forum, the Presiding Officer focused on the importance of lifelong learning as a key issue to be addressed. He said:
"Our children know they will be re-skilling and sitting exams throughout their whole life. We know that no one owes us a living. And that if we are to be a country comfortable with ourselves at home and competent to compete in the global marketplace, then lifelong learning is the key.”
In relation to one of the key themes being addressed in the Forum — advances in the way European democracies engage with citizens — he added:
"Engaging citizens to meet 21st century challenges is the theme of this Forum. Right from our inception in 1999 we have been committed to engagement, and the use of every conceivable tool to enable electronic interaction between the politician and the public."
His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, opened the Forum. The Duke of York is the UK ’s Special Representative for International Trade and Investment.
"Human capital remains an under-utilised resource which is neither desirable or acceptable in the 21st century. To face the combined challenges of globalisation and demographic change, Europe’s democracies and economies need a more adaptable, better skilled and literate workforce.
"This calls for a significant skills upgrade across the whole community. Not least, governments at every level will be required to review and refocus their policies, and I would dare to suggest that education must be one of the highest priorities in this respect.
"The internet and its remarkable ability to bring people and services closer together makes it all the more efficient and it has contributed to something else which I think might be completely new as a phenomenon — what I term as the ‘globalisation of emotional experience’.
"The internet means that images, pictures, clips and downloads and other emotionally evocative material gets around the world much more quickly, even instantly. As a society, I think we have to come to grips with this significant change in communication and experience suggests that successful governments understand that they do not operate in a vacuum, that they do not have access to all the levers of power in an open, fast-moving and competitive economy.”
Jean-Philippe Courtois, President, Microsoft International, gave details of a new Microsoft initiative to enable people to learn IT skills in Scotland. He said:
"We have also announced a job-training organisation, an initiative called the Industry Alliance for Sustainable Jobs. The program will use a mix of self-study methods and community centers to help participants learn IT skills and aims to train 100,000 people by 2010.”
Wim Kok, former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, said:
"A high level of education aiming at empowerment and employability are essential for a smooth social and economic transformation process in European countries. If we want to remain competitive in the globalising economies, we must focus on innovation.”
The Rt. Hon. Jack McConnell MSP, First Minister of Scotland, outlined how the Scottish Executive has prioritised education. He said:
"We will need to think of learning as being about much more than our traditional education system, important for individuals, but also as a national investment which will improve productivity, expand research and development, and innovation and improve skills.
"That means governments need to start thinking very differently about the way we can ensure that learning opportunities are open to everyone. The greater use of technology can help counter geographical barriers, motivate previously disengaged youngsters and develop experience beyond the classroom. And one thing is certain, government cannot do it on its own. Instead, truly successful future learning will harness the efforts and skills of many different parts of society. Businesses, the voluntary sector, communities themselves, will need to share our objectives and also be part of the flexible delivery.”
The Microsoft Government Leaders Forum is one of Microsoft’s flagship events for government, parliamentarians, education and business leaders across the continent. It is being supported by a partnership of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive. This is the first time such a prestigious event has come to the United Kingdom and, particularly, in the live context of a working legislature such as the Scottish Parliament. The forum continues for the rest of Tuesday, 30 January and tomorrow, Wednesday 31 January.