The latest news from the WISE summit for education

16th November 2012 at 18:21
For the last three days educators from around the world have gathered in the Middle East to share ideas and hopefully find inspiration at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Qatar

Ensconced within the vast and opulent Qatari National Convention Centre on the outskirts of the capital city of Doha, hundreds of teachers, leaders, decision makers, businesses and charities joined together in debate and discussion about the future of teaching and learning.

For a journalist, education conferences can often be a mixed bag; sometimes you struggle to find anything worthwhile to report and other times you are inundated with stories.Thankfully WISE 2012 proved, much like Gulf state itself with its massive reserves of oil and natural gas, to be an embarrassment of riches.

In fact the difficult bit was deciding which of the many debates, workshops and discussions to attend: cover `education and culture', but miss `education and community'? Sit through `bringing education to life' but forget about `early childhood education'?

To cater to the 1,000 plus attendees multiple sessions were organised in the same timeslots, and the sheer size of the venue meant you couldn't pop between them easily. Some of the sessions suffered from a lack of proper debate and from speakers being too earnest, but the majority were though-provoking and occasionally inspiring.

Stop teaching calculating and start learning maths

Perhaps the most strident message of the summit came from British mathematician Conrad Wolfram, who urged educators to `stop teaching calculating and start learning maths'.

He said the "chasm" between the quality of maths in education and outside is due to the over-use of computers. "We don't want students to be third-rate computers, we want them to be first-rate problem solvers," he added, in a message that went down well with delegates.

Likewise Andreas Schleicher, education policy advisor of the OECD, pleased decision-makers when he reaffirmed that it's not how much money you spend on education but how you spend it that makes all the difference.

Technology is the enabler not the solution

The role of technology in driving innovation in education was another hotly-debated topic across a number of sessions.

In the UK the debate often breaks down into a stand-off between the iPad-proselytisers and the techno-refuseniks, so it was refreshing to hear different perspectives from across the world.

The most surprising view came from Gabi Zedlmayer who, despite being a vice president at computer giant Hewlett Packard in Switzerland, said technology was the enabler, but not the solution.

A delegate on the floor made the popular point that technology would never substitute the teacher and content would always be important. But it was Rakesh Bharti Mittal , MD of Barthi Enterprises in India, who put things into perspective when he explained how new technology was often unaffordable in the developing world - he would rather buy more seats for his schools than solar panels.

If anything the discussions confirmed that, far from relying on technology in future, there is a continued need to invest in the growth and development of teachers.

Gordon Brown makes surprise appearance

Former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, last year's keynote speaker, was a surprise addition to a plenary session on the second day of this year's event and made what was seen by many as the definitive statement of the summit.

After making the point that people can't live without hope, he suggested a simple equation that everyone should remember: "Child plus educator equals eternal hope."

Outside of the plenary sessions and debates the summit acted as a shop window for some of the world's most innovative education projects, including the six winners of the WISE Awards 2012.

These remarkable schemes included a machine developed in Denmark that converts educational materials into Braille and other formats for blind and partially-sighted students, a school network in the United States that gives inner-city kids work experience with white-collar firms, and solar-powered floating schools that allow pupils in Bangladesh to learn during monsoon season. (Look out for more details of these and other projects from WISE in TES Pro over the next few months.)

The last word of the summit went to the worthy winner of the WISE Prize for Education 2012, Madhav Chavan, CEO of India's Pratham Education Foundation.

The organisation has introduced several mass-scale education initiatives on the sub-continent and its work reaches three million primary school children every year. He urged delegates to collaborate for change, and said: "It's about time we started working together to get it done. We can't leave it for the future, it has to be done today." And, despite the summit's global ambitions, he reminded educators that the work starts at home: "The education we want for our children has to grow from our own soil."


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