Learners' Voice

WISE Learners’ Voice brings the views of students to the issue of rethinking education. The Program builds their communication, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills to ensure that decision-makers hear their all-important voice, and that they are prepared to take on leading roles in their field and the education world.

The current Learners’ Voice community consists of over 100 Learners who were recruited in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. They are from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, and from all around the world. They share a passion for education, and together they represent the unique perspective of the learning community in WISE.

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Education and Development Conference, Bangkok, Day Two

Today was the second day of the Education and Development Conference and another humid day in Bangkok. The agenda for the day was extensive with many fields and areas of expertise covered, including Educational Leadership and Ideas, Innovations, and Trends.

The first talk that really grabbed my attention was by Ms. Brenda Peters. Although she was born and raised in the UK, she is currently living and working in the Czech Republic and her research is based on children with special needs. This linked back to our residential session in January in Doha with Wheelock College where we heard about education for children with disabilities. Both these talks touched on very sensitive issues, and together they have provided me with enough knowledge to understand the specific requirements of children with special needs. Previously, I had little knowledge of this field due to low exposure to it. I now believe it is a very important issue and that it should even be taught to children in school to make them aware of it.

Mr. Ahmet Demir, from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, argued that there should be many forms of assessment, rather than just examinations at the end of a semester or school year. His proposed forms of assessment included monitoring class attendance and participation in classes that would go on to contribute to one’s final grade. This research proposal led to an interesting debate in the room. Mr. Ali Al-Mahmoud argued that this method could penalize some students, such as those who are too shy to speak up in class. I also respectfully disagree with Mr. Demir’s proposals since if they had been implemented at my university I would most certainly have failed! In my personal experience, I found it difficult to learn in lectures and thus there came a point where my attendance was minimal. Instead, I used my spare time to teach myself the content concerned as I found this was a much more effective form of learning for myself.

Mr. Seki from Japan gave a talk about the exchange program he launched to help Japanese students improve their English. His research showed that when his students went to countries where English was the first language, they would remain quiet. However, when they went to countries such as India and Thailand, where English was spoken as a second language, they were very active speakers. The reason for this is that, in the latter countries, people speak English with many mistakes, unlike native-speaker countries such as America. As a result, the Japanese students experienced less fear of making mistakes, which they felt would be embarrassing. After gathering this data, Mr. Seki now only sends his students to countries where English is not a first language. I really agree with his approach, as for example, when I am in Pakistan, I am shy about speaking Urdu because I fear I may also make mistakes.

As the day continued, it was time for the first presentation by a member of the WISE Learners’ Voice Program, which happened to be myself. I was slightly nervous and this showed through in the fact that I spoke a little too fast! However, my presentation on Increasing Access To Education Through Container Schools aroused a lot of interest with many questions and comments from the audience, as well as keen interest afterwards. The general feedback was that the project could be successful if we  keep the costs low and provide good teaching. Khalid and Jyoti also gave very impressive project presentations to wrap up a very interesting day.

Ahsan Malik

Day 2, Education and Development Conference

The second day of the Education and Development Conferences was exciting as I presented our team project along with my fellow Learners Ehsan Malik and Jyoti Rahaman. I talked about how our project could offer students an opportunity to discover an array of disciplines through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) and business thinking in fun workshops. They could discover their passion and make better choices with respect to their future studies. I also explained about how our team developed a three-week plan for workshops for students, starting with “Build Week”, then “Learn Week”, and finally “Do Week”.

The feedback I received from the audience was mainly about technical aspects of the 3D printer, the material it uses and its mechanism. I tried to answer from an educational point of view saying that our group focus was on STEAM and the printer is just a tool to promote this type of education.

Regarding the other speakers in the conference, I really agreed with Dr. Greg Shaw on how teachers should be taught teaching skills rather than just acquiring a degree and walking into the profession. He said that in Australia one can become a university professor just by obtaining a Ph.D. However, in his opinion as well as mine, this is very problematic. A Ph.D. reflects high quality research, not an ability to teach others. Therefore, teaching standards can be lowered because of this since those with just a degree will not have the skills needed to teach others.

I believe that there needs to be a newfound emphasis on providing teaching skills before one becomes a teacher of any sort. Mr. Ahsan Malik, who is of Pakistani origin and was born and raised in the UK, gave a great project presentation. Ms. Jyoti Rahaman also gave an interesting demonstration about her team project idea.       

Khalid Al-Saegh

Implications of Emotional Regulation on Young Children’s Emotional Well-Being and Educational Achievement
From March 5 to 7, four WISE Learners - myself included - are attending the 9th Annual Education and Development Conference hosted by Tomorrow People in Bangkok, Thailand. One of the highlights of the first day’s program was listening to Ms Djambazova–Popordanoska from Australia speaking about the link between emotional regulation and academic achievement. 
Ms Djambazova–Popordanoska believes that social and emotional skills are a basic human right and that they should be taught in schools as life skills. According to her research, effectively managing one’s emotions and controlling one’s outer expressions are skills that can be learnt. Emotionally competent children are able to induce and sustain a positive mood in various situations and a symbiotic relationship therefore exists between emotional regulation and emotional well-being. Emotions can either facilitate or impede a child’s learning and an inability to regulate emotions can have a very negative influence on their academic achievement in school.
According to research in the field of neuroscience, emotions compete for space in the working memory of the brain. Children experiencing intense emotions during class are therefore unable to concentrate effectively on what is being taught. For this reason, there is a direct correlation between the emotional well-being of a child and the child’s cognitive achievement.
Being a teacher myself, I find that this field of research has been neglected in teacher training and I believe it can add great value to teachers’ interventions with regards to children facing learning barriers. Ms Djambazova–Popordanoska emphasizes the fact that training to develop children’s social and emotional skills is not only important for teachers, but also for parents, who are the main source of support for their children. Social and emotional educational programs could include a variety of different life skills such as basic social skills, problem-solving skills, conflict resolution skills and also tools to express and regulate emotions effectively. Three important channels should be utilized in the teaching of these skills, especially when working with children from an early age. Teachers and parents should focus on the example they set for children, the way they respond to children’s emotions and educational conversations about how to express and regulate emotions in a positive manner.  
Ms Djambazova-Popordanoska has been involved in developing programs for teaching social and emotional skills in schools in Australia. I’m looking forward to learning more from her research in the upcoming days of the conference.
Esther McFarlane   High-res

Implications of Emotional Regulation on Young Children’s Emotional Well-Being and Educational Achievement

From March 5 to 7, four WISE Learners - myself included - are attending the 9th Annual Education and Development Conference hosted by Tomorrow People in Bangkok, Thailand. One of the highlights of the first day’s program was listening to Ms Djambazova–Popordanoska from Australia speaking about the link between emotional regulation and academic achievement. 

Ms Djambazova–Popordanoska believes that social and emotional skills are a basic human right and that they should be taught in schools as life skills. According to her research, effectively managing one’s emotions and controlling one’s outer expressions are skills that can be learnt. Emotionally competent children are able to induce and sustain a positive mood in various situations and a symbiotic relationship therefore exists between emotional regulation and emotional well-being. Emotions can either facilitate or impede a child’s learning and an inability to regulate emotions can have a very negative influence on their academic achievement in school.

According to research in the field of neuroscience, emotions compete for space in the working memory of the brain. Children experiencing intense emotions during class are therefore unable to concentrate effectively on what is being taught. For this reason, there is a direct correlation between the emotional well-being of a child and the child’s cognitive achievement.

Being a teacher myself, I find that this field of research has been neglected in teacher training and I believe it can add great value to teachers’ interventions with regards to children facing learning barriers. Ms Djambazova–Popordanoska emphasizes the fact that training to develop children’s social and emotional skills is not only important for teachers, but also for parents, who are the main source of support for their children. Social and emotional educational programs could include a variety of different life skills such as basic social skills, problem-solving skills, conflict resolution skills and also tools to express and regulate emotions effectively. Three important channels should be utilized in the teaching of these skills, especially when working with children from an early age. Teachers and parents should focus on the example they set for children, the way they respond to children’s emotions and educational conversations about how to express and regulate emotions in a positive manner.  

Ms Djambazova-Popordanoska has been involved in developing programs for teaching social and emotional skills in schools in Australia. I’m looking forward to learning more from her research in the upcoming days of the conference.

Esther McFarlane

Education and Development Conference Bangkok, Day One

Today, March 5, 2014, is the first day of the 9th Annual Education and Development Conference (EDC 2014). The build-up to the conference has been exciting as Ali, Esther, Jyoti, Khalid, and myself get used to the bustling city of Bangkok.

The purpose of the EDC is to provide a platform for participants to present their ideas and research in an interactive manner so that all participants at the conference - from a variety of cultures and backgrounds - can contribute.

After a brief introductory talk from the hosts, the day was swiftly under way with the first talk by Dr. Richard C. Hunter on “Racial Discrimination in Public Education in the United States.” He gave a lot of historical background concerning how education has improved for ethnic minorities in the United States with his timeline stretching from the days of slavery, to the Jim Crow laws, to the landmark decision in the Brown case. However, he argued that despite such developments discrimination was still prevalent in the education system today.

Other notable talks that were interest of to me included a comparative study of how education in China has changed in the last decade by Ms Shuling Li, and “Dealing with Change in Zambia” by Ms Mukuka Lydia Mulenga. Both talks gave me a thorough insight into the education systems of countries that I previously knew little about. 

To close the day, my evening will be spent preparing for the presentation that I have to give tomorrow on our group project which is entitled “Increasing Access to Education Through Container Schools.” I am both excited and nervous!

Ahsan Malik

Education and Development Conference in Bangkok

The 9th annual Tomorrow and Development conference began on March 5, 2014 in Thailand. This is the first international conference that I have attended outside my country, Qatar. So far, the experience has been enriching and exciting. I’m enjoying the hospitality of the people of Thailand and the company of my fellow Learners.

The first day focused on many issues relating to class segregation and racism. Dr. Rchard C. Hunter from the University of Illinois focused on the history of African Americans in the education system in the United States and how it has developed over the past 60 years, from the case of Brown vs. The Board of Education to the ruling in favor of banning segregated education for blacks. His examples came mainly  from his own background, working in a Richmond Virginia school which used to be segregated in the past.

The rest of the speakers were mainly addressing economic and socioeconomic differences between the people of their countries, such as what is happening in Zambia: Ms.Mukuka referred to GDP changes that affect families and therefore have an impact on child education in primary and secondary schools. Meanwhile, Dr. Danuvas told us about the different paths taken by Thai families to ensure education for their children.

Khalid Al-Saegh         

Rethinking the Role of Technology in Education

If we are thinking about education and development today, we cannot avoid the role of technology. It gives us quick access to information that creates a fascinating world of learning. This is why policy makers, professionals, governments, and teachers around the world are trying to develop new systems and curricula to improve the learning environment where technology plays a huge role. However, we must consider how much we want to embrace technology in education.

As a member of the WISE Learners’ Voice Team I am participating in the 9th Annual Conference on Education and Development, organized by Tomorrow People, in Bangkok, Thailand, along with three other Learners, Esther, Khalid and Ahsan.

On the first day of the conference one thing that grabbed my attention was how Ms Shuling Li was emphasizing online learning throughout her presentation on “Chinese Regional University Teaching: A Critically Comparative Narrative Inquiry.” She was comparing the Chinese and Australian education systems to identify the role of the Internet in learning. She strongly believes that the online learning environment should expand and institutions should adopt systems to foster online learning. However, in her presentation she highlighted the relationship between culture and education in China, which raises the question of how online education would be able to replace face-to-face learning which is important to foster cultural values.

Before Ms Li’s presentation, Ms Snezhana from Deakin University presented her research work on why emotional management must be considered as a life skill since her research showed that emotionally competent children have high self-esteem which is crucial for their professional development and success in the future.

These two presentations reminded me of what we discussed and heard from professionals and policy makers during the WISE Summit in 2013 concerning the role of technology in education. With Athanasios Sardellis, I was fortunate to moderate a Workshop at WISE 2013 on “Education and Technology.” In our discussion, we reviewed several main issues that institutions are facing in terms of implementing technology in education. These are the communication and technological skill gap between teachers and students, technological illiteracy, lack of e-contents and technological resource management. In order to develop an effective learning environment, we need to tackle these issues when adopting technology in education. However, we cannot create a whole new learning environment that is completely dependent on technology such as online courses where face-to-face interaction is absent. It is true that online courses give easy access to knowledge, but the concern is that we cannot teach children the skill of emotional management through online courses. This is why I disagree with Ms. Li. The increase in online learning cannot measure educational and human development. It is true that technology-based learning makes the lessons effective and online courses are a great source of knowledge for eager learners. However, to foster real human progress, we need teacher-based learning.

“Technology can replace the textbook, but it can never replace the teacher.” Mr. Yasaar Jarrar made this statement at WISE 2013. I agree with him, and I think that when considering the role of technology in education we need to remember that education is a priority, and technology is not. Therefore, we must not be overwhelmed by the perceived need for ever greater access to technology and adopting advanced technology in educational institutions. As the quality of human-centered learning can never be replaced, we need to adopt technology to improve this human-centered learning system, not to replace it.

Jyoti Rahaman

Interview with Dietmar Nickel, former Director General for Committees and Delegations and former Director General for External Policies of the European Union.

Dr Nickel, who now teaches courses on European Parliament at the Europa-Kolleg, Hamburg speaks about his experiences as part of the EU ad-hoc delegation to address the Kashmir conflict, on why he thinks education could be a potential game-changer in resolving conflicts and on the pre-conditions for sustainable peace.

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Although the conflict over Kashmir is now more than 60 years old, the process of negotiations between India and Pakistan is still frail and a solution is nowhere in sight. What prevents the Kashmir conflict from being resolved?

This question takes me back to the time when I participated in two delegation visits in 2004. In my work, I had to use my knowledge on the background of the Indo-Pakistan conflict. I was born in 1947 and the conflict is just about that old. This indicates how entrenched the positions still are on both sides. It is alarming that we see little movement on either side to come to a lasting solution. There had been violence just a few weeks before we got there.

Kashmir is an extremely strategic position and lots of rivers flow through the area. Rivers translate into water and energy, and therefore have significant economic value for both India and Pakistan. The area is of strategic importance even to China.

For me having two nuclear powers sit alone to resolve a dispute is not a good status quo. Particularly when the world has seen three wars fought around the question. The international community has made efforts, however UN mechanisms cannot solve this dispute by putting pressure on India or Pakistan, such efforts have in the past been counter-productive, but the parties can be provided with help from the UN, if India or Pakistan wishes to demilitarize the area then the UN could play a role. Lots of Indian soldiers today play an important role in United Nations missions around the world, there could be blue helmets in the area as well.

What tiny steps could be taken by both sides on the road to lasting peace? Is there a recipe for peace that could work in Kashmir?

Fear is the biggest obstacle to peace and stability today. In Kashmir, the violence has created an atmosphere where people on both sides of the border are afraid of their children being kidnapped or prevented from going to school. The existence of these conditions can prevent any conflict from being resolved. If a transition were to happen one day we would hope that it would happen in a peaceful way. It cannot be via a war.

In the meantime the situation can be improved by stabilizing the status quo. If we have a more stability and less violence then we have conditions where a dialogue can take place. Violence is against the interests of the people on the ground. The conflict is an unfortunate situation which cannot be addressed exclusively from outside and any solution can be reached only when all sides renounce violence. There are concerns within India that Pakistan is sending militants across the border to India, if this is true this it has to stop.  But there is a very massive presence of the Indian army in the area which is an unbearable factor.

There are many examples of conflict resolution from around the world, but it is often very difficult to take what works in one country and use it as a model in another part of the world. Every conflict needs to find its own recipe for peace. There is a big debate on whether greater democracy could be this universal recipe. In the west we believe that this is the case but at the same time it is said very rightly, that democracy works best when democratic principles are part of a good economic and social performance for everybody.

On the role of education in resolving conflicts.

Education has an enormous role in Kashmir and around the world, if you were to imagine that education systems starting right from basic primary education to vocational education were provided in the area, this would lead to better economic prospects for young people in the region. Along with basic necessities, good teachers have an important role too and there needs to be greater security and academic independence for teachers.

The idea of being able to rebuild their lives, homes and families again in peace is a huge motivating factor for young people. Investing in education and job creation would change everything- the impetus for militancy and discontent is much greater when people lack security over basic needs. Creating better physical conditions to facilitate education, on both sides of the border is necessary. Of course this cannot be done over a year or 5 years, it takes time, perhaps even decades- but if we really want to address the question of intergenerational long term peace then this is of utmost importance. There is no short cut to peace. Internationally, achieving the MDG’s are an important target, and we need to continue working on making education accessible to all beyond 2015.

Nikhil D’Souza

Emerging Thoughts on 21st-Century Learning Skills

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.

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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!

Faith Abiodun

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.    High-res

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 :)
Faith Abiodun   High-res

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 :)

Faith Abiodun

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.   High-res

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.

An Interview with Mr. Hans-Jürgen Beerfeltz, the German State Secretary of the Ministry for Economic Corporation and Development (BMZ)

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.

Interview:

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.

Nikhil D’Souza

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.
Oubai Elkerdi   High-res

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.

Oubai Elkerdi

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.

Iman Usman