Microsoft chairman Bill Gates outlined a vision of education in which students worldwide use high-speed Internet connections and curriculums that draw on online resources such as Wikipedia to become more globally competitive.
"We are now on the verge of something where technology will make a difference," Gates said in an address before the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Advances in hardware, software and connectivity and are enabling a user-centric focus for technology, letting people access information over vast distances inexpensively, Gates said.
At the start of his address, Gates spoke of Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American steel magnate who used his wealth to fund libraries and educational institutions.
Next year, Gates will step down as Microsoft's chairman to focus on the philanthropy through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on global health and development issues.
Gates recalled one of Carnegie's statements: "He who dies rich, dies disgraced."
"I’m working on avoiding that, but it's a high responsibility," Gates said to laughs.
The address by Gates concluded the two-day Government Leaders Forum, an annual Microsoft-sponsored conference attended by government leaders throughout Europe. The delegates addressed education issues and how Europe can become more competitive through the use of IT.
Microsoft is backing several educational programs aimed at integrating technologies into classrooms that some young people may already be encountering outside of school. Teachers may have trouble keeping up with students who are already using devices such as the Xbox Live gaming system at their homes, Gates said.
"When they [students] come back into the classroom and there's a chalkboard there, that teacher has a hard time living up to the level of drama and richness," he said.
Gates announced that Microsoft will expand the company's Innovative Schools initiative, which looks at ways to better integrate technology and learning, to an additional 12 countries: Ireland, the U.K., France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Qatar, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Hong Kong.
Microsoft has undertaken a variety of projects as part of the program. In Philadelphia, the company joined the city's school district and built a 750-student high school -- called a School of the Future -- that focuses on how technology can improve student performance. It opened in September 2006.