I had the pleasure of visiting Mexico recently and had the opportunity to speak with institutions, educators, principals and other leaders about the potential for education to revitalize local economies. Like many countries, Mexico is excited about technology’s role in transforming learning, creating new options for teachers and students, and forming a much tighter connection to improve the knowledge economy inside the country. Education leaders here recognize technology’s role as a way to provide new content, new resources, and a vehicle for students to grow new skills to prepare for new jobs and new industries in Mexico.

I was very happy to see the level of passion and enthusiasm from the institutions about technology. My trip coincided with Windows 7 consumer availability, so I had the chance to witness launch activities. I also had the chance to participate in the signing of a Microsoft Education Alliance Agreement with Universidad ICEL to promote academic achievement through the latest technology tools (see picture to the bottom left). If you read Spanish, check out the news coverage here and here.

The Microsoft education team in Mexico is doing a great job partnering with the country to help students take advantage of Microsoft programs like Imagine Cup, Students to Business, DreamSpark and BizSpark. I’m inspired about the country’s optimism and what we might be able to do together in the future. There’s a very practical recognition that if students leverage Microsoft tools to connect to resources they need to prepare for the future, it will help them connect to jobs.

One of the things that are becoming clearer to me is that fundamental principles really translate across countries. Teachers really need to think more holistically about education by focusing on the fundamentals…how do they help students learn, how can they create personal learning opportunities, and how can they use technology as a catalyst. The teachers I met in Mexico share a belief in technology’s role, but certainly see the challenges that are apparent around the world…the need for training, the need to minimize distraction from core content, and the need to connect assessments to students.

During my trip, I also had the opportunity to meet with leaders at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), the largest university in Latin America, and Tecnológico de Monterrey. I was excited to see the wide range of resources (like virtual learning models) and connections to research and to industry at both universities. I walked through the health research lab at Tecnológico de Monterrey which was especially fascinating because they had students doing the gene splicing to help create the H1N1 vaccine for Mexico.

One of the highlights of the visit…in addition to the tremendous hospitality I received…was not just the real connection the institutions have with economic revitalization…but also the sense of responsibility the schools take on. The country and its education system are committed to helping its citizens, specifically, helping poor families get access to resources they need, facilitating job connections at the community centers, and providing opportunities to those who might not otherwise be able to afford the chance…this goes beyond any specific education agenda or initiative.

When I spoke to about 250 secondary school principals in Mexico, it was the first time I had done a presentation with a translator. My jokes are usually hit or miss, but it was hard to know which jokes were landing and making an impact because of the delay with the translation…people would always laugh a few seconds later. My travels take me to Brazil this week for the Innovative Education Forum, which you will hear more about soon…I wonder if my jokes will be funnier in Portuguese?