Having spent the last seven years of my life in and out of education – teaching in six schools in three different countries - I came to WISE 2013 seeking clarity about my capacity and my role in helping to transform education, with a strong focus on Africa. As a young African who has experienced education at all levels in the continent, I am acutely aware of the deficiencies in African education (and I use the word “Africa” very loosely, knowing that there are different cultural and socio-economic contexts across the 54 countries on the continent). I have seen the weaknesses of outdated and ineffective curricula, poor learning environments, under-qualified, under-paid and disinterested teachers, distracted students, poor teaching methods and unproductive assessment models.
I have spent much of the last five years brainstorming about how best to lead/participate in the transformation of education in Africa. I have spoken at conferences and participated in panel discussions on these issues, but none of the talk has culminated in concrete ideas or strategies for moving forward. In the last six months, I have focused attention on collecting data on education systems in Africa, knowing that without adequate information about what exists, it will be foolhardy to propose transformative solutions. I concluded that it will be helpful to know about prevailing student-teacher ratios in different countries, assessment models (A levels, the International Baccalaureate, national examinations, etc.), extra-curricular activities and classroom structures among other things. I dreamt of a web portal where two or three clicks could give an overview of education in Mali, or school retention rates in Tanzania, or professional development for teachers in Egypt. I could picture in my mind’s eye how transformative this tool will be.
I was locked in my cocoon of excitement before arriving at WISE 2013, where I heard Professor Tom Cassidy give an overview of 21st-Century Learning Skills. I was instantly fascinated and determined to read more about them. The Framework for 21st-Century Learning developed by the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills has become a kind of holy book for me since then, as I’ve found myself exploring the extent of Global Awareness or Financial, Economic, Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy as themes of learning, or considering how Critical Thinking and Problem Solving can be effectively taught and imbibed in schools. I have come to realize how deficient my education was, but I have also found myself increasingly scared about the potential widening of an already wide gap in opportunities and intellectual depth between African kids and their peers across the world. This fear is propelling me to take decisive actions to help to address this phenomenal challenge that confronts Africa.
As my thoughts evolve, I am sure that a clear strategy will emerge from this season of exposure and motivation. I have no idea right now what my role will be in transforming African education, but I know for sure that I will not be a back-bencher. I care too much about the future of Africa to be a bystander. I need to get involved, right now!
There were many highlights to my participation at WISE 2013, but meeting Dr. Mamphela Ramphele must rank really high on the list. I have long admired her as one of the brightest intellectuals in Africa and I was very thankful to have a brief conversation with her after her stellar contributions to the first Thematic Plenary Session.
My participation at WISE 2013 would have been incomplete without the right photographs to keep my memory alive. In the midst of all the pomp that followed her announcement as the WISE 2013 Laureate, I managed to sneak in a word of congratulations to Ms Vicky Colbert, and a picture too :)
Intense and immensely productive discussions at the Learners’ Voice Workshop where Learners invited members of the WISE community to take an active part in discussions organized around themes including STEM, education and technology and education in emergency situations.
A day as a WISE Learner gave me the chance to work with incredibly creative learners from around the world. As learners, we also have the opportunity to meet with some truly fascinating people. Since we blog about our experiences, I’d like to share an interview with the German State Secretary of the Ministry for Economic Corporation and Development (BMZ) Mr. Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz, who joined us for a brief interview for Learners’ Voice Blog.
Representing Germany’s donor agency at the plenary, Mr. Beerfeltz announced a strategic partnership with the Education Above All initiative founded by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser which, along with Educate A Child (EAC) and its partners, are on track to bring more than two million out-of-school children into education programs a year on from its launch, and plan to reach 10 million more by the end of the 2015 school year.
Me: At the plenary you spoke of education as a process of learning for life. Please could you share your views on how this could be achieved?
Mr. Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz: A major problem we have encountered worldwide is that while many children today can read, write and count, after months of schooling they have no possibility to use the knowledge they have. Do you remember the girl from the video (shown at the plenary) who asked “Who can give me a job?” This is a question that young people around the world are asking today. When education fails to meet the needs of the labor market there is a problem. It is necessary to re-think how education should develop in general but also how it prepares students for employment in urban and rural areas.
Me: Please can you tell us about the initiatives of Germany in promoting education opportunities internationally through the BMZ?
Mr. Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz: Worldwide we are active in more than 130 countries with more than 19,000 staff and an annual budget for development activities of 6.3 billion euros. We are now active in more than 20,000 projects worldwide and have invested more and more in the education sector year by year. We are now the largest bilateral donor in terms of Official Development Assistance.
Me: Please share your thoughts on the state of present sources of funding and how we can ensure that education remains a priority.
Mr. Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz: The UK and France are also active in funding educational projects globally. However their responsibilities have much to do with their past - France actively supports projects in their former colonies in North Africa and the UK supports initiatives in the Commonwealth, for instance. But we are relatively free to look around the world and find partner governments where we have the opportunity to realize concrete bilateral projects.
While on stage this morning I criticized the fact that fragmentation is increasing. At the BMZ we work together with the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) as a donor for their administration and projects. Much has been achieved through the GPE. However, much more can be done if the UN reform process continues.
In the interview Mr. Beerfeltz further highlighted the need to rethink education not only at primary school level but through policies that aim at designing educational chains that incorporate basic schooling and vocational training into a broader system of lifelong learning. Speaking of disparities that exist within education systems globally, he emphasized the need for greater investment of domestic resources into education.
When a math problem got sticky, Einstein played the violin. The pattern on the dress of the woman in Gustav Klimt’s famous painting Adele Bloch-Bauer I was inspired by the structure of a living cell, which he learned about from reading the works of Charles Darwin. Lastly, the design of one of the fastest trains in the world was inspired by the splashless water entry of kingfishers. These are just some examples of the kind of innovation that a multifaceted understanding of the world can produce.
In his address at the 2013 WISE Summit, the sociologist and philosopher Edgar Morin insisted that the pressing problems we face require a transdisciplinary approach. In other words, we must not simply exercise the kind of intellectual cross-pollination that helps us borrow ideas from neighbouring and distant fields, but we must also learn to look beyond our present paradigms — which deal more with the “how” than the “what”. “Right now we have separate experts each addressing questions according to their disciplinary skills,” said Dr. Morin.
For at least five centuries, coffeehouses have been the centers for breaking barriers between disciplines and paradigm shifts. Their low-profile atmosphere, permeable boundaries and informal nature provide a safe space for the free exchange of ideas, and this is where divergent thoughts collide and work in concert.
Over the three days of the WISE Summit, the Learners’ Voice Café played a remarkable role in catalyzing and facilitating such fruitful, serendipitous encounters. A day before the Summit, a group of Learners had been given the exciting task of thinking of activities that could make the space more engaging in the eyes of curious passers.
A simple redecoration (the tables had been aligned, so we scattered them), some colorful paper and markers, a flipchart, and Lego-like bricks did the job. The openness of the space coupled with the psychological comfort of its simple looks were a perfect setting meaningful conversations between Learners and other attendees.
A question now comes to mind: What if classrooms looked more like coffeehouses, or what if students were required to spend a number of hours studying, reading or doing some of their reflection in such environments? What if we held more classes, debates and exhibitions in cafés? Would we not begin to see the world with transdisciplinary eyes? Of course, this would only work if the salon-like space attracted a variety of high-quality minds.
According to Ray Oldenberg, coffeehouses were born in Mecca, and then migrated to Istanbul and, from there, spread through Europe. The rest is history. While many may perceive cafés as places for pure leisure or idlly hanging out, the thoughtful places—intentionally designed for cultural enrichment—have always been centers for generating ideas and learning. This may be one way we could bring learning to life.
As part of their year long assignment, The selected 2012 WISE Learners presented their projects to 2013 WISE Participants. They received feedback from a panel of experts and also the audience to improve their projects and link up with other initiatives. We talked with the Moderator of the session, Khalifa Saleh Al Haroon who is the Founder of iLoveQatar.net about how to do a good project presentation.
We often say Education is the future, Education is the key. So, how about the millions of children all over the world who have their dream and do not even know how to fulfill it because of the lack of education? Does this mean that they don’t have a future? Will they never get that key which will allow them to open the door to success?
These are some thoughts that I had this morning during the Special Plenary Session - Education at the Extreme: Education Above All.
There is a gap to fill between the education that we have today and the one that we really need in the future.
Regarding the dropout rate of people who live under the line of extreme poverty, I can say that generally this situation is not due to a disregard for - or disinterest in - education. Rather, it is a consequence of limited family resources or of conflict in their country.
The voice of a wise man resonates and his words echo in the beautiful theater of the Qatar National Convention Center. As the translator’s voice flows through the headphones, the voice of Dr. Edgar Morin can still be heard emphasizing the significance of the need for humans to understand other human beings. “To be alive is to understand the uncertainty of life,” he said. It is man’s destiny to deal with truth, error and illusion, which are the complexities of life. For a human being to truly live they must navigate between uncertainties. Life is made up of accumulated decisions. Thus, even when one makes a well-informed decision – it is still a risk. One will never know what will happen once that decision is made, it is all a gamble. It our world, the pace of change is rapid. There are therefore risks. Nevertheless, there are also many opportunities. One may perceive these risks as opportunities, or doorways enabling us to endeavor and succeed. Even if they fail, human beings are able to recover and grow, learning from previous decisions. It is through the intricacy of human error, truth and illusion that one may pick oneself up after making a mistake and take steps towards a successful life journey, accepting the convoluted paths of life that are full of errors, illusions and eventually truths. Living life without these life skills is not living life at all. If one must be taught these life skills, by then it is too late and one has not truly lived.
Dr. Morin spoke of the “others”, a term that was used by Europeans when discovering other peoples on different lands with different cultures. The “others” were never understood by the Europeans, and there was no effort to understand them. Dr. Morin, however, stressed the significance of understanding the other. Human beings today must understand strangers, they must understand their culture, and their ways, even their thinking. To understand their perspective is the most significant step forward. By understanding the “other”, that term or concept is annihilated and globalization is able to occur more holistically.
“We human beings are not aware of ourselves,” Dr. Morin said. We are three-dimensional. Human beings are creatures of indiscretion, technology, of myth and religion. We are selfish beings with the impulse to defend ourselves. However, by understanding and accepting the idiosyncrasies of error, truth and illusion, we will be able to learn to live the reality of life.
Young people are in between the stages of protective childhood and adulthood. They are rebellious. Within that rebelliousness, they may have hopes and aspirations. However, the key factor that is missing is hope. These words evoked hope in the hearts of the WISE Learners’ Voice 2013 – a group of young individuals with aspirations and dreams to bring about change within educational systems in different parts of the world. This diverse group of Learners was brought together by WISE that was established by Qatar Foundation under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. Her Highness’s amazing initiatives have given us, the youth of today, hope. She has brought us and many others together under a common theme – education. Indeed, she has led the way in guiding young people. She has, as Dr. Morin said, given us hope. We look forward to the rest of this amazing Summit which is full of informative and intriguing sessions, and we look forward to an amazing year together to work on our innovative projects and HOPE for the best!
The fifth World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) started this morning. It is the now traditional annual rendezvous at the Qatar National Convention Center where prominent education leaders gather to share their vision of the future of education.
The moment that I enjoyed the most was the presentation made by the previous intake of Learners who surprised the audience and the experts with their project. We really felt the impact of the WISE Learners’ Voice team’s work. I am very inspired by their work and am delighted to be part of this family.
As a 2013 WISE Learner, I am very pleased and excited to be networking with leaders and celebrities from all over the world.
Meeting the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Vaal University of Technology which hosted Haitian students in South Africa right after the earthquake was unexpected and an amazing experience.
The speakers really made a great and deep impression on me.
WISE is definitely the best place to network and share ideas.
I hope the next two days will be as incredible as the first one was!
Having waited several weeks for the commencement of the fifth World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) 2013, I couldn’t have been more excited to have been in the theatre of the Qatar National Convention Centre for the Opening Plenary Session, Special Address and first Thematic Plenary Session of the Summit.
Having Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser set the theme with an explanation that education isn’t very useful if disconnected from life, and H.E. Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani expand on that idea further with the vision of WISE to build the future of education through innovation, I knew that these three days were going to transform my way of thinking about education.
I came to WISE having spent huge chunks of the last seven years in and around education, and teetering on the edge of diving deep into the world of educational innovations, so I couldn’t have chosen a better place to be at this time. Rather, I couldn’t be more grateful to have been selected for the 2013 intake of WISE Learners’ Voice students.
I must admit I hadn’t heard much (if anything at all) about Professor Edgar Morin before today, but the instant I saw him glide onto the stage with an ethereal sense about him, I knew he was going to be speaking mystical truths. He didn’t take very long to delve into the themes of truth, illusion and error, stating that it is man’s responsibility to deal with error and illusion. His conclusion that young people require light at the end of the tunnel to enable them to navigate through the complexities of life was particularly apt in my opinion. Life is indeed ambiguous, and with the peculiar impatience that characterizes young people in this century, proper guidance is more than necessary.
The highlight of the morning for me was the Thematic Plenary Session featuring Ms. Androulla Vassiliou, Dr. Yasar Jarrar and Dr. Mamphela Ramphele. Apart from the expert coordination of the moderator, Mr. Anthony Mackay, I was blown away by the lucidity of the thoughts delivered by the panellists. Dr. Ramphele particularly inspired me with her comments about the need for an enabling environment for global learning to take place in Africa, and the fact that teachers must be empowered and elevated as enablers in classrooms. I was also very impressed with Dr. Jarrar’s conclusion on the theme of the growing use of technology in education, stating that technology might replace textbooks but not teachers. I couldn’t have been more satisfied with these statements.
As I reflect on the day that is now behind me, I’m very thankful again to have had the privilege to have listened to these great speakers, and taken a good number of photographs. I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest of the conference, and hoping to concretize my role in the education of the future.
Few notes from the 2013 WISE summit:
The WISE Summit of 2013 was by far the most instructive, interesting, and prestigious summit I have ever been to. It was very organized too! During this summit, I had the opportunity to meet and network with different persons from all over the world who were there with one main concern: how to improve and reinvent education. This networking helped me to exchange ideas and thoughts about education, but most importantly, and since I am a WISE Learner, helped me to channel my voice about my own experience as a student who graduated from a Tunisian system (high school) and later from an American one (undergraduate program).
The highlight of this event for me was listening to key speakers. They talked about Education from their own perspective, and many of them introduced either theoretical or practical solutions to tackle down some educational issues that the world is still facing in the 21st century.
One inspiring, yet philosophical talk was the one of Dr. Edgar Morin. He basically talked about how it is crucial nowadays to bring an innovative reform to educational systems. According to him, this reform should prepare students not only to become professionals, but more importantly to grow as global citizens. Education should be the tool with which individuals can better understand the world, the civilizations, how to be sociable and how to live together.
Another interesting intervention about education was from one of the panelists, Yasar Jarrar during the session entitled: Bringing learning to life. As a Partner at Bain & Company in the UAE, Yasar Jarrar stated that in order to respond to the job market demands, we should bring together the world of education with the world of work in order to bridge between these two entities. He mentioned that nowadays most businesses are not happy with skills and attitudes of graduate students; there is lack of creativity and of critical thinking. Overall, as he puts it: the problem is not about creating jobs, it is about filling in the existing ones. Although many people from the audience and the other two panelists did not entirely agree with him on the point that STEM should be the main focus of schools and subjects taught in classes, there was a consensus among the latter that what schools teach must be compatible with the modern needs of societies.
This debate on STEM leads me to write about another inspiring talk/ lecture that deals with websites. The session was called The web is the 4th Literacy. It was run by Mark Surman, Executive Director at Mozilla Foundation. Through an analogy he established, making the website similar to pieces of lego where each piece represents an important part of the whole, he conveyed the message that computers are not just for delivery, but rather they are tools for us to explore and contribute to.
In conclusion, for this blog post, I only tried to jot down few notes from WISE’13 that made me reflect on what is most important to know about in education and how to make it more accessible to others. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the whole initiative of WISE was to realize that if leaders and elites have the commitment and determination to make education reachable to broader sphere of people, no borders or barriers will stop them. Educate A Child is a great example of how Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser was able to reach more than million children in impoverished areas and provide them with the right equipments and tools to access world class education within a short span of time. Another successful initiative was Escuela Nueva, founded by Vicky Colbert, the 2013 WISE Prize Laureate.
Dr. Edgar Morin delivered a very inspiring speech at the WISE Summit. He brought to the table some ideas which are broad yet relevant to everyone. This is a short video of him speaking about the importance and the necessity of establishing unity across fields of study with the purpose of understanding the bigger picture, and growing as citizens of the world.
One of the perks of being WISE Learner is you get the chance to meet with some of the most prominent leaders, thinkers, advocates, and activists. Last night, at the WISE 2013 Gala Dinner, I got the chance to talk with Former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard.