Scotland should aim to have the best education system in the world by 2020, according to the first minister.
The main parties have been setting out their vision for the future
Jack McConnell was setting out his stall for the next election as Holyrood staged its first full-scale debate of the new session.
Scottish National Party Holyrood leader Nicola Sturgeon said Labour was more interested in Tony Blair's future.
The Conservatives raised CBI fears that businesses were spending money meant for training on "remedial" education.
Mr McConnell claimed Scotland had seen improvements in the economy, education, health, crime and poverty under the Scottish Parliament.
He said: "Scotland is a far better place than it was before devolution and it is a far better place than it was in 2003 too."
He said knowledge and skills were the main way to enhance the country's competitive advantage.
"Scotland has one of the best education systems in the world," said Mr McConnell.
"But we need it to be the best in the world. A truly world-class education system that will serve people throughout their lives.
"Our ambition is to have the best education system in the world by 2020."
Ms Sturgeon accused Labour of lacking both ideas and ambition.
She told the chamber: "It's time for big ideas, not Labour's low ambition.
"It's time to be positive about what Scotland can do. It's time for a government and a first minister that truly stands up for Scotland."
She added that there would be no "sitting on the fence" on nuclear power and nuclear weapons from the SNP.
"There will be no collusion in illegal wars," she said.
"There will be no cowering in the corner when Scottish airports are being used to transport American bombs to the Middle East."
Annabel Goldie claimed Labour was heading for defeat
Conservative leader Annabel Goldie accused Labour of letting Scotland down.
"The Labour Party is likely to suffer a bloody nose and be kicked from power," she said.
Ms Goldie also accused Labour and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners of failing to deliver improvements for Scots, despite massive increases in spending.
She said: "We are still lagging behind the rest of the UK in terms of economic growth, crimes and offences are significantly higher than they were in 1999, waiting lists are longer and waiting times are higher."
Green co-convenor Shiona Baird hit out at the "Punch and Judy act" between Labour and the SNP, saying the issues facing Scotland were much more complex.
"It's depressing to hear Scotland's constitutional future portrayed as a simplistic choice between divorce and marital bliss," she said.
The North East Scotland MSP called for people on the edge of society to be engaged far more and argued that not enough had been done to tackle climate change.
The Liberal Democrats' health and communities spokesman, Euan Robson, highlighted the executive's achievements in making free nursery places available and recruiting new school teachers.
But he said: "Children and young people at transitions between stages of learning need to be better supported and there are still too many low attainers."