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.
In Guatemala we face diverse challenges when it comes to education. However, as a Medical Sciences student I think it is important to highlight education for children with special needs. Right now, Guatemala has a very poor public education system, which makes it hard for any kid to develop into a productive and independent adult. Less than 40 percent of Guatemalan teenagers can access high school education, and most of those who do will not graduate. And this is true of mainstream students. What about those who need curricular adaptation or any other kind of help? Most of the time they are denied the right to education for a number of reasons: the shame parents feel at having a child with disabilities; the economic barriers for them to afford education; or the shortage of organizations that are prepared to help and educate them. At this point in time, Guatemala is not ready to provide equal opportunities for all its students.
However, three years ago I got in touch with a great non-profit organization, the Margarita Tejada Foundation for Down Syndrome (DS). I worked with them as a volunteer and I had the opportunity to discover the different programs they created to educate DS children and adults, turning them into independent human beings, prepared to join society and play an active role. I believe they are innovators because they taught me how education does not need to be seen in terms of a classroom, chalkboard and notebooks. Education is transformation, and is about giving people the opportunity to fulfill their potential. The organlzation focuses on teaching people with DS useful skills such as handcrafts, paperwork, baking, cleaning and harvesting. This experience made me wonder: is it really necessary to measure educational progress through solving equations and taking tests? Benjamin Franklin once said: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Education is about acceptance and participation.
My proposal is to begin by identifying the kids with special needs, especially in rural areas of Guatemala. It is then necessary to create a volunteer network to support the families raising DS children, since the early years of life are an important moment in development to provide educational stimulation. There is no time to waste. We need to give those parents inexpensive tools,and useful information to stimulate their kids at home and take care of the medical issues they may have to face later on.
I am very excited and grateful to be taking part in the WISE Learners’ Voice Program. This is the chance of a lifetime to learn from people all over the world, sharing ideas and discovering different perspectives on similar issues. I think it is great that Qatar Foundation is opening a window of opportunity for students like us, to learn from the top people in the field. The gift of their wisdom is something that will definitely change us forever. I can’t wait to arrive in Doha and participate in the workshops and the summit.
Ana Karen Fetzer
Indonesia’s constitution guarantees ”education as a right, … and the government strives to achieve better quality of education for all citizens regardless of their skin color, regions, impairment, and religions, and social classes” (MoNE, 2008). A single national education system was established by law in 1989. As shown in figure 1, formal education in Indonesia is divided into two streams, which exist in parallel at primary and secondary level: there is the general education system which is managed by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MoEC), and has been decentralized to district government since 2001; and there are the Islamic Schools or Madrasah which come under the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) and the management of which is still centralized. (Weston, 2008, p.9). In terms of ownership and management, both general schools and Madrasah schools can be public or private (Weston, 2008, p.9). Despite having several tracks, a general school graduate has the option of proceeding to a higher level of education, whether at a general or Madrasah school.
Major Challenges to Indonesia’s Education
- In terms of access, Indonesia has met the target of universal basic education. However, access to senior secondary and especially tertiary education remains low, particularly for the poor. The number of children beyond the age of 15 enrolled from the poorest quintile drops dramatically, and by higher education, falls to less than 2 percent. Only 40 percent of 19-year-olds from the richest quintile were enrolled in school in 2010, a share that, worryingly, has not changed since 2006 (World Bank, 2013a, p.1).
- Looking at the pupil-teacher ratio in 2011, it would seem that Indonesia’s education system is strong with sufficient availability of teachers. Nationally, at primary level, every 16 students are taught by one teacher, and at secondary level almost every 15 students are taught by 15 teachers (UNESCO, 2011). But if we look closer at this situation, the national distribution of teachers is not good, because they are mostly concentrated in big cities, as the Minister of Education has admitted (Republika, 2011).
- In terms of quality of education, if we look at PIRLS, TIMSS, and PISA’s results, Indonesia is significantly below the international standard. For example, according to PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), Indonesia is significantly below the OECD average statistically, having scored 402 (493 average) in reading, 371 (496 average) in mathematics, and 383 (501 average) in sciences (OECD, 2011).
- Despite the fact that the government has increased the education budget to 20 percent of the National Budget, transparency, good governance, efficiency, and effectiveness of the use of the budget should be in place.
- The government needs to boost public-private partnerships (PPPs) as one of the ways to increase resources, access to education, research, and innovation to improve the quality of education at all levels.
- There is a need to improve the quality and availability of teachers in all regions. Good quality teacher training, profiling, and also incentives should be priorities as teachers are the front line of education.
- The government should ensure people’s involvement in the education policy-making process, including in design, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. There are a lot of education policy decisions which are not evidence-based and are irrelevant due to the fact that government does not involve the people in the process.
One of the best practices which has been celebrated nationally comes from social movements, such as Gerakan Indonesia Mengajar (Indonesian Teaching Movement). This is an initiative that aims to give access of good quality education to all kids in Indonesia by sending the best Indonesian graduates to teach for a year in primary schools in remote areas. The movement also involves public participation and boosts community services in education through its other programs. Another best practice comes from YCAB (Yayasan Cinta Anak Bangsa), one of Indonesia’s prominent non-profit organizations, which provides education to help young people be confident and independent in making smart choices, choosing a healthy lifestyle that is free from drugs and HIV/AIDS. YCAB provides opportunities for school drop-outs and underprivileged young people to pursue their dreams and future independently through the provision of Basic Education, Digital Inclusion, and English Literacy courses. Furthermore, YCAB assists graduates with vocational skills to secure employment and empower low-income female entrepreneurs economically through microloans.
Expectations at WISE
I believe that the opportunity to participate as a WISE Learner will provide me with the necessary intellectual and practical environment to enrich and expand my understanding of creating supportive policy solutions to address the most pressing educational issues. I will also be able to learn from other WISE Learners who have taken many initiatives in their own countries. In return, I believe that my unique background, achievements, passion, and network can provide additional value for the program. I can be the door through which the program can engage with certain global youth movements and other education programs for social change, gain access to educational development in Indonesia, and collaborate on educational development.
Ministry of National Education. (2008). Country Report: Indonesia. Indonesian Public Policies on Inclusive Education. Presented at the 48th session of the International Conference on Education, Geneva, 2008. Retrieved from http://www.ibe.unesco.org/National_Reports/ICE_2008/indonesia_NR08.pdf
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2011), PISA 2009 Results: Executive Summary. p.8. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisaproducts/46619703.pdf
Republika. (2011). Persebaran Guru Tak Merata, Kemdikbud Kaji Perpindahan Otonomi Pendidikan. Retrieved from http://www.republika.co.id/berita/pendidikan/berita-pendidikan/11/12/10/lvyumb-persebaran-guru-tak-merata-kemdikbud-kaji-perpindahan-otonomi-pendidikan
Siniscalco, M.T. (2004). Paper Commissioned for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2005, The Quality Imperative: Teachers’ Salaries. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001466/146696e.pdf
SMEC International. (2006). Indonesia: Madrasah Education Development Project. Jakarta: ADB. Retrieved from http://www2.adb.org/Documents/Reports/Consultant/37475-INO/37475-INO-TACR.pdf
United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2011a). Global Teacher Indicators: Pupil Teacher Ratio. Retrieved from http://stats.uis.unesco.org/unesco/TableViewer/tableView.aspx?ReportId=3336&IF_Language=eng
Weston, Stuart. (2008). A Study of Junior Secondary Education in Indonesia: A Review of the Implementation of Nine Years Universal Basic Education. Jakarta: USAID. Retrieved from http://ddp-ext.worldbank.org/EdStats/IDNdprep08.pdf
World Bank. (2011). Unemployment Youth. Retrieved from http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.UEM.1524.FE.ZS/countries
World Bank. (2013a). Spending more or Spending Better: Improving Education Financing in Indonesia. Jakarta: World Bank. Retrieved from http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2013/03/17537371/spending-more-or-spending-better-improving-education-financing-indonesia
YCAB Foundation. How We Work. Retrieved from http://www.ycabfoundation.org/learn/how-we-work/
Paulo Freire describes the way in which “knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other”. Schools provide a space for transformative processes to take place. Now, more than ever, invention and re-invention of knowledge, social structures and the way in which people engage with the world around them is needed in order to address the economic, environmental and socio-political challenges of the 21st century.
In Ireland, students have called for the reform of Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) in secondary schools. The role of education, and in particular CSPE, is central to providing a space for re-invention and transformation. CSPE in the Irish curriculum has the potential to be utilized as a politicized and transformative space where youth have the ability to develop their political literacy and identity in relation to modern-day democratic citizenship, socio-economic and political challenges. Currently, “the transformation of citizenship perceptions and political participation is not without challenges. Many young people have not developed the voting ‘habit’, which can pose serious problems in electoral democracies in the future when they potentially reach the ‘age of disillusionment’”. (EACEA, 2013)
This ‘age of disillusionment’ amongst youth is evident within Irish society at present. During a period of increasingly challenging economic and socio-political change, CSPE must play a central role in how young people engage with the process of democratization and citizenship. For example, “there is a general agreement that in order to motivate young people to participate, a far more in-depth education about politics is called for. Many argue that politics and policy studies should form a much more central part of basic school studies because, it is argued, many young people simply do not know enough about how their system works”. Furthermore, the ethos of a reformed CSPE curriculum should integrate the belief that “participation in democratic life cannot be reduced to membership of organisations, but should also relate to the attempts made by young people to influence policy-making and politics and their efforts to come together to discuss, think about and plan for social change. (EACEA, 2013)
Democratic participation and socio- political literacy are integral to the progress and development of Irish society and the world at large. Consequently, the reform and re-invention of Civic, Social and Political Education must be prioritized and implemented so that students are given an opportunity to develop the skills, knowledge and ability to engage with democratic citizenship and confront the socio-economic, political challenges facing the 21st century. It is through this process that schools have the ability to transform and reinvent the world around them by teaching their students to “Be a Voice, Not an Echo”.
EACEA (2013) Political Participation and EU Citizenship: Perceptions and Behaviours of Young People. Evidence from Eurometer Surveys. European Commission: Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency.
EACEA (2013) Youth Participation in Democratic Life. Final Report February 2013. European Commission: Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency. LSE Enterprise.
Freire, P (1996) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (Rev. Ed.) Penguin: London
How would you describe your national educational system?
The national education system in Pakistan could be best described as an entity full of paradoxes. On the one hand, there are government schools, which are poorly funded and universally maligned for their lack of impact. Access to these schools is free or highly subsidized, and thus they are the schools of choice for low-income families. In contrast to these, one can also find schools which pride themselves on their quality of education, and their ability to send students every year to the world’s top universities. Of course, an overwhelming majority of these schools are privately owned, and on most occasions charge fees in excess of the average monthly salary in Pakistan. It is clear that there is a massive problem with inequality in society which is accordingly reflected in the Pakistani educational system. People who can afford to pay top dollar can have access to world-class education, and those who cannot are doomed to the vicious cycle of poverty.
What are the major challenges?
Apart from the major challenge of access, a big stumbling block presents itself in the form of an outdated curriculum and teaching practices. When I was in secondary school, the textbooks I used to learn Urdu were written in 1973 and had undergone only minor revisions since. The world has transformed enormously since the 70s and I think that we students were cheated out of a tremendous learning opportunity by being instructed using outdated content. Urdu literature has moved on, and so have teaching techniques. Although it is essential to teach the classics, it is equally important to teach students the right way, something that can only be achieved by constantly reviewing teaching practice. Furthermore, the curriculum is tainted with a bias that views minorities in Pakistan (e.g. Hindus and Christians) in an unfavorable way. Given the current situation of Pakistan, these issues are extremely important, because the training of young minds is the only way to secure a better future for the country.
What solutions would you propose to these challenges?
The solution, in my opinion, involves ensuring that the educational authorities first decide what direction they want the country’s education to take. The country is presently divided over whether education should be provided in English, Urdu (the national language) or both. Similar debates are taking place over the methods employed to teach important subjects such as the natural sciences. Although it is good to have debate, there is an urgent need for clarity in order to drive educational policy forward. Once a clear path forward has been decided on, it is important to provide many resources as intensively as possible in order to achieve the desired outcomes. According to the World Bank, Pakistan spends just 2.4 percent of its GDP on education, and the trend is towards further cuts. Considering the relative size of the Pakistani economy and population, this is simply not enough. In order to get results, more resources need to be directed towards education in general.
Drawing on your experience, could you describe any innovative projects / initiatives / outstanding educators you know about?
During my time as a student, I have had the honor of being educated by wonderful teachers. One of my teachers in high school, Mr. Nicholas Jayanathan, actively encouraged the students to develop critical thinking skills when presented with any problem. Our high school did not have technologically advanced laboratories or fancy classrooms. However, Mr. Jayanathan made active use of whatever resources he had at hand. I think other educators can learn from him as he showed us that it is more important to develop skills than simply feed students information, while making maximum use of the available resources. He was innovative in the way that he provided additional value to the students while remaining within the existing bounds of the system. His teaching method was exemplary, and was unhampered by the scarcity of resources - a problem that afflicts education worldwide today.
Recently, I have had conflicting feelings about education in Nigeria. I have always been a strong critic of the level of decay and dysfunction in the public education system, but there have been quite a few innovations coming out of the private education system recently. In presenting an overview of the national education system in Nigeria, I will highlight the state of ithe nfrastructure, teacher qualification and training, and access to education in rural areas.
Across the country, several public primary and secondary schools have fallen apart due to the use of poor construction materials. Classrooms are built without windows, black (or white) boards, chairs or tables. Most schools have no libraries, dining halls, laboratories, or lavatories. Students are routinely found sitting on bare floors, open window sills, or sharing wooden planks with three or four other students. Needless to say, the use of technology is almost completely non-existent in public school in Nigeria. On the other hand, wealthy private schools have made considerable progress in infrastructure design, creating functional libraries and laboratories, and incorporating technology into classrooms. The challenge, however, is access: the vast majority of Nigerian students cannot afford tuition in private schools, and are thus confined to poor public schools.
I believe that teachers form the fabric of good schools, and I believe that the role of a teacher is that of a facilitator and mentor. In my experience, very little facilitation and mentoring takes place in Nigerian schools. Teaching is not a very enviable profession in Nigeria, thus only poor academic performers enrol in teacher training colleges where the bar for performance is consequently set very low. Entering the teaching profession with poor qualifications and no training programmes, teachers are unable to impart knowledge to students. In a random exercise conducted recently, the Governor of Edo State in eastern Nigeria, Mr. Adams Oshiomole, asked a teacher with 20 years of teaching experience to read an affidavit which she had signed. Sadly, she couldn’t read out the words on the paper.
If these sad occurrences are witnessed in urban schools, one can only cringe at the quality of education being delivered in rural schools. In rural areas, most of the kids are being left behind with only a handful of missionary schools in operation. There has been a general neglect of students in villages with no teachers willing to teach in remote areas, dilapidated school buildings and inaccessible roads. In water-logged areas, students are often found swimming across rivers to get to school.
In proposing solutions to the problems confronting national education in Nigeria, I believe that there needs to be a national blueprint for reform. There needs to be a plan for financing of education, increasing the national budgetary allocations for schools and ensuring that infrastructure upgrades are thorough. There must also be a review of teaching qualifications, ensuring that those who are entrusted with developing the nation’s future leaders are adequately equipped to lead that transformation. Alongside reviewing teaching qualifications, there must be a review of professional development programmes and increased remuneration for teachers. There is also an urgent need for curriculum redesign and increasing access to education in rural areas.
An example of an innovative approach to education is what I have experienced at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. The institution has adopted a Socratic method of teaching whereby teachers lead classrooms with an average of 15 students, and teachers serve as facilitators of conversations, empowering students to learn at their own pace.
By participating at the WISE Summit, I expect to share opinions and exchange ideas with a network of other young leaders who are as passionate about educational reform as I am. I expect to hear from practitioners who are already implementing innovative projects in their home countries, and network with potential collaborators for projects which I will initiate. Above all, I believe that the collective energy that will be transmitted at the Summit will inspire me to find my niche and lead initiatives for change in my country.