'Tragic' cuts at home mar glory days on global stage

18th November 2011 at 00:00
UK educational creativity is at risk, Qatar summit hears

If it had been an international sporting event, the score would have been: UK, 4; Rest of the World, 3.

That was the impressive awards tally at the World Innovation Summit in Education (WISE) in Qatar earlier this month, where British-backed education projects attracted more plaudits than any of the other 120 countries represented.

Yet the success was bittersweet, as some speakers from England warned that their school system is at risk of becoming backward-looking due to cuts.

Creative Partnerships, which has helped 4,000 schools in England offer more inventive learning, was one of six projects from around the world chosen for a WISE award. But when its name was announced at the glitzy ceremony in Doha, the presenter said that "their funding has just been cut by the UK Government".

Like several other innovative UK educational groups, it is now trying to build up its work in other countries. Diane Fisher-Naylor, director of business development for Creativity, Culture and Education, the organisation behind Creative Partnerships, said: "It's ironic that it's at the point we've had our funding cut that we have received international recognition."

Valerie Hannon, board director of the UK Innovation Unit, said the gap between Creative Partnerships' international reputation and its treatment in its home country was "symptomatic of the direction of travel", "which many of us find nothing less than tragic".

Much of the WISE summit was dominated by speeches and comments from educationalists around the world exploring how to base curriculums more on problem-solving and creativity, and how to find alternatives to traditional teaching.

"Any observer must realise that the UK is markedly out of step with a global movement towards re-conceiving how educational opportunities and learning are made available," Ms Hannon said. "We are looking to go back to the 1950s, and others are looking to the 21st century and all its uncertainties and possibilities."

The other UK prizewinners were celebrated entirely for their work abroad: the Open University for its Teacher Education in Sub Saharan Africa programme, which has trained 400,000 teachers through online resources; and BBC Janala, which has helped an estimated 26.3 million people in Bangladesh learn English.

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, who has dual British and Bangladeshi nationality, was awarded the first WISE Education Laureate for his work founding BRAC (formerly the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), now the world's largest non-governmental development organisation.

BBC presenter Kirsty Lang noted that two thirds of the young people convicted after the London riots had special educational needs and many had poor exam results. "What went wrong?" she asked.

In stark contrast, there was optimism from representatives of Arab countries that education would improve after the "Arab Spring" this year. Professor Marwan Awartani, acting president of Al-Quds University and chairman of the Arab Foundations Forum, said he hoped to see changes in Western schools, too. "Education is the last autocracy," he said. "We need a global education spring."

`A CENTURY IS TOO LONG TO WAIT'

Gordon Brown has called for every child in the world to be in school within the next four years.

The former Prime Minister received a standing ovation for his speech at WISE, in which he argued that the 2015 millennium development goal for primary education was still achievable. At current rates, it would take until 2100 to provide education for the 67 million children who cannot attend school.

"A century is too long for the children of the world to wait," he said. He also pressed for a world fund for education, similar to the existing world fund for health, although the idea was dismissed by Elizabeth King, the World Bank's education director.

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