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President Meets with Bill Gates in Colombia

During a two-day visit to Cartagena, Colombia this week, President Oscar Arias met with Latin American leaders and Microsoft founder Bill Gates as he continues his quest to garner increased support for Costa Rican education.

Arias asked Gates to help strengthen the National Program of Education Technology (PRONIE) – specifically, by helping to place computers in every Costa Rican school and give every teacher here Internet access.

Asking for a $50 million donation may be ambitious, but perhaps not if you’re addressing the man who has topped Forbes’ list of the world’s richest billionaires for 13 years with an estimated net worth of $56 billion.

“It would be a magnificent support for our people if Microsoft would help us to put computers in every school,” Arias said in a statement from Casa Presidencial. “The cost would be about $50 million, but of course the value for these kids is incalculable.”

Now, approximately 70% of Costa Rican high-school students and 56% of primary students have access to a computer lab.

Gates, who met with Arias late Monday afternoon, said in the statement that he plans to visit Costa Rica to get to know the country’s educational system first-hand.

“It seems impressive to me that a small nation like Costa Rica is increasing its investment in education,” said Harvard’s most successful dropout, referring to Arias’ plan to increase education spending from 6% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to 8%. He added that increased technology in schools “would transform the processes of teaching and learning for the kids.

“Definitely in the world of technology when you have a critical mass, good universities and magnificent employers like HP (Hewlett Packard) and Intel that build capacity, the demand will grow,” he said of Costa Rican’s economy. Officials from Microsoft’s Costa Rica offices attended the meeting in Colombia, as did Science and Technology Minister Eugenia Flores and Second Vice-President Kevin Casas.

Also on Monday, Arias met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to discuss the pending free-trade agreements between their countries and the United States. Both nations have signed agreements with the United States but are waiting for their congresses to ratify them.

At the Information Technology Leaders’ Forum the following day, Arias urged assembled officials to support his proposed Costa Rica Consensus, through which developed nations would provide increased aid for developing countries that cut their military spending.

A draft of the proposal, which Arias has been describing around the world since his re-election last year, will start to take shape at a meeting of heads of state and representatives of international financial organizations in San José in the near future, the President explained.

The 1987 Nobel Peace Prize-winner told his fellow leaders they must “decide if we are going to use our money to turn our children into soldiers, or computer programmers.”

Arias returned to San José Tuesday night. During the trip back, he met with Panamanian leader Martín Torrijos to discuss strategies to combat drug trafficking and plan a bilateral meeting in the coming weeks.



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