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'A whole lot of hot air, but if you go out to find it, there's insight at Wise 2014'

Ed Dorrell, deputy editor of the TES, writes:

On the outskirts of Qatar's capital Doha (think Milton Keynes on speed) is the gleamingly shiny Qatar National Convention Centre. Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre this is not.

Every year this vast venue on the edge of the desert plays host to a fairly extraordinary gathering called the World Innovation Summit for Education, a global get-together of educationalists, ministers, charity bigwigs, teachers – and even one or two pupils.

This mix of people straddles the world's most affluent to the most deprived. Not to mention some of the more unusual examples of national dress.

Funded by the hugely wealthy Qatari government and royal family, Wise can appear a little superficial. Everyone slaps themselves on the back, agreeing that education is very important, that more of the world's poorest children should be exposed to a decent schooling, that creativity in education is terribly important. That could be about it – and one could write it off as yet another gravy train.

But that is not the whole picture.

For all the grandstanding and sometimes tired platitudes, there are a series of fringe events that prove fascinating. This afternoon, for example, I witnessed a group of teachers from at least four continents swapping experiences on the best use of tablets in the classroom. One of the contributors from Latin America pointed out that this was one of the only ways of sharing such best practice around the world. It has to be hoped that this newly shared experience will disseminate.

In another, I looked in on a passionate debate led by Indian and African teachers on whether the private sector – in the form of low, low cost independent schools – could be the answer to the developing world's vast education needs. There can't be many other fora where such a conversation can take place.

Whether such discussions make up for the hot air produced elsewhere in this air-conditioned bubble is for others to decide. 


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