Case of haves and have-nots

27th November 2009 at 00:00
Michael Shaw reports from the World Innovation Summit for Education (Wise) in Doha

The first world summit of its kind on education saw British educators share their latest high-tech innovations, but face awkward questions from teachers in poorer countries.

More than 1,000 teachers, academics and policymakers from across the globe were invited to the summit last week. There, they were put up in five-star hotels and treated to video addresses by Tony Blair and Kofi Annan, and speeches from such luminaries as the co-founder of Twitter and former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder.

The lavish summit was organised by the Qatar Foundation, established by the Qatari royal family, and consisted of a series of seminars on the broad-ranging topics of innovation, sustainability and pluralism.

But the UK speeches, like those from other richer countries, often provoked frustrated responses from African and Asian delegates.

After a presentation on England's multi-billion pound schools re-building programme, a representative of Pakistan's Citizens Foundation suggested that it seemed a luxury, coming from a country where tens of millions of children did not have a school at all.

Daizal Samad, director of Guyana University, was more scathing. He said he had heard a lot of "lofty talk about connectivity and IT" from the British and United States delegates. But he explained that this was unhelpful for a country like Guyana where not a single primary school he had visited possessed a computer.

Delegates from other British institutions were better received - particularly Sugata Mitra, professor of education at Newcastle University, who described the groundbreaking work he has been doing getting pupils in India and Gateshead to teach themselves using computers.

But an underlying tension still existed through much of the summit over the disparity in schools' resources.

Kiyotaka Akasaka, UN under-secretary general, noted that "for the cost of an additional soldier in Afghanistan for a year, 20 schools could be built".

WISE WORDS

"Education reform is like a Russian novel - long with lots of wars and brawling, and everyone ends up dead." - Robert Hughes, president of New Visions Public Schools, New York City, quoting a colleague

"What our children are doing online today determines the function and form and community of our schools in 50 years' time." - Professor Stephen Heppell of Bournemouth University

"We can no longer afford the situation where a good education is conditional on parents' income . For me, it is crystal clear that education has to be a public good." - Gerhard Schroder, former chancellor of Germany.

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