Highlighting progress over the past year in the executive's drive towards higher standards, Mr Galbraith said:
'Every child must be helped to develop the skills they will need in their adult lives. We must enable them to face with confidence the challenges that will undoubtedly arise. But above all we must instil the habit and skills of learning which provide the flexibility to cope with the changing world.
'This executive was elected on the basis of its vision for a better future and education remains our priority. We have come a long way in a short time. We have offered a vision for improvement in education that has been widely endorsed. We have made new resources available to support initiatives to raise standards and promote social inclusion.'
'We recognise the need to look forward and plan ahead, using experience and expertise. The good practice being developed in new community schools must be used to promote excellence and inclusion in all schools.
'To ensure schools are adequately funded for their tasks, we have already increased resources to promote social justice and raise standards. Local authority grant aided expenditure has grown by 17 per cent since 1997-98 and the Excellence Fund will provide more than£400m of additional money over three years to support new initiatives.
'To ensure every child benefits from those higher standards, we are reducing class sizes in Primary 1 and 2; by August 2001 there will be a maximum of 30 in the first three years of primary education.
'To tackle problems before they arise, we launched the Early Intervention programme to improve literacy and numeracy in the early stages of primary school, committing£56m over the five years of the programme from 1997-2002.
'We have also taken steps to support children and parents both in and out of school through study support and alternatives to exclusion.
'These various elements not only contribute to improving standards but also allow all young people to share in the benefits which higher standards will bring.'
Turning to the impact of new technology on society, Mr Galbraith said:
'New technology affects the way we learn and provides new opportunities for the way we are taught. That process is bound to continue and we have to start thinking about how new technology can be used to make education more effective.
'Our children also need to be equipped to deal with the knowledge economy. We have increased the provision of computers to one for every eight secondary pupils and one for every 23 primary pupils. By 2003 we aim to have four computers per class. Only through setting and meeting such ambitious targets will our next generation be computer literate.'
He went on:
'We have also piloted the Standards in Scotland's Schools Bill through parliament. This major piece of legislation, together with the new investment we have made in schools education, promotes improvement and excellence in all of Scotland's schools. It is also a huge step forward for including children with special needs in our schools.
'Generally we need to ensure that young people have the opportunity to achieve across a broad spectrum of skills - and we need to celebrate that achievement. We must also pay attention to the key inputs, outputs and special action areas.
'These factors are not ends in themselves - but we must get them right if we are going to deliver a quality education to all of our young people. Taken together they will define excellence in what we provide. If we are effective in raising performance in each of these areas we can expect to see real and measurable improvements.'
The minister concluded:
'Although it is important, money by itself will never raise standards in schools. We are also crucially dependent on the skills, abilities, attitudes and behaviour of teachers. They play a key role in shaping young lives. Scotland needs committed and well-motivated professionals, a teaching force that is flexible and responsive to change.'