Empowering our future leaders from an early age

27.11.2011 - 19:03

By Jan Muehlfeit, Chairman of Microsoft Europe

With this in mind, there is no doubt our young people hold the key to our future.  They have the means to use information technology tools to help drive the European economy and put Europe at the forefront of technological innovation

Today more than 70 percent of European households have access to the Internet. And that number is growing. Tremendous advances in technology are responsible for unprecedented changes over the last two decades in the way we live. We are all better off because of it.  
Perhaps no age group has embraced these changes better than our young people. For starters, they have the advantage of already being born into a world filled with cell phones, computers and access to data and news around the world. Technology is integrated into virtually every aspect of their lives, and they are driven by instant communication. 
As a result the upcoming generation is able to use technology more effectively than its predecessors. 
With this in mind, there is no doubt our young people hold the key to our future. They have the means to use information technology tools to help drive the European economy and put Europe at the forefront of technological innovation. But enabling our young people to realize their full potential requires an investment in their education. 
Our children need every resource at their disposal to prepare them for the real world. We – parents, teachers, governments and employers – need to make sure that we open as many doors as possible for them. 
At this point, however, too many students leave school early and not enough seek higher education. This could have a profound effect on Europe’s labor market.  It is important – now more than ever – that we put a serious focus on education. 
The amount of funding and resources dedicated to education varies from Member State to Member State, but it averages between 4 and 6 percent of their GDP. We know that Denmark has the highest public spending for education, followed by Cyprus, Sweden and Malta. 
But while public spending is one important part of the equation, it is by no means the only. 
The path for a successful future also involves reform. We don’t have to look that far for some great examples of how this can be done effectively and in a democratic fashion. One such outstanding case study is Finland. 
The Finnish government was able to secure a broad political consensus and convince even the opposition for the need to execute sweeping education reform, in the midst of tough economic times. 
The outcomes were overwhelming: great results in the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA); the creation of a sophisticated coaching and mentoring systems to students who fall behind; advanced psychological testing of those who want to become teachers; and an average of 7 days a year for each of the Finnish teachers to spend on their own education on new teaching methods. All of this was accomplished while students in Finland spend 25 percent less time at school than PISA’s average. 
These results also significantly strengthened the reputation of a teacher’s job, and the fact that school principals have actually become managers and can fully focus on quality of the curriculum’s delivery. 
It is clearly a way to go for many other European governments, too.
Private sector investments and technology are also powerful tools. Just last month, Microsoft and the European Confederation of Junior Enterprises (JADE) began a partnership that will provide real world experience to students across Europe. Members of JADE are students seeking practical, real-world experience during their studies by developing their own professional projects. 
Microsoft is helping JADE students realize this through the Education Alliance Agreement. 
We will provide members with training and career development programs, and also the technology for members to build and run their own web store enterprise projects similar to a real-world marketing or sales campaign in their host colleges and local communities. And we plan to provide certification to these students to recognize the business expertise developed and demonstrated in the course of their campaign. 
Together we all share a single goal – to improve outcomes for individual students so they have the foundation they need to thrive when they enter the workforce, and ultimately be the drivers of tomorrow’s economy.