Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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Bahrain

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The Education ProjectI’m in Bahrain to attend the Education Project. A conference that is being hosted by HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalif. His idea is to look at education on a global scale and bring together educational thinkers from around the globe to discuss and think about educating every child (Don’t ask me how I got invited to this….way out of my league here). The list of speakers is amazing and it’s great just to be included among the names on the list.

It’s a bold task….educating every child in the world and looking at the different models from different countries. It’s a big question and one that I truly believes has technology in the solution. For many children in the world education has to do with lack of information and teachers….two things that technology can solve even in the most rural of places if we can get them connected.

I believe the answer lies in cell technology and the ability to connect students to information. If you haven’t watched Sugata Mitra Ted Talk yet please do. I do believe he’s on to something and I think we can take what he’s started and spread it. Cell towers and cell technology now covers most of the worlds population. Cell technology is out pacing all other connection types world wide and once the cell towers are in place increasing there speed is nothing more than changing the signal on the equipment.

You can read my reflections from last year here. Looking forward to some more deep thinking around global education.

OK, so pretty much an overwhelming day that ended with dinner hosted by His Royal Highness Shaikh Salman Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa at one of his palaces. To the left is a picture I took as he made the rounds greetings all of the international guests who were invited about 100 in total. This picture was taken moments before he made his way to me and yes….I have shook the hand of royalty….pretty cool!

What was even cooler was the speech he gave to the participants of The Education Project (Twitter Tag: #TEP09) talking about what is needed in education. You can read the full report in the Gulf Daily News.

The Crown Prince talked about the importance of educating the next generation. In a part of the world where close to 50% of the population is under the age of 30, education is indeed an issue.

The Crown Prince said too many young people are entering the jobs market without the skills they needed for the post-industrial, knowledge-based economies.

It was great to hear the Crown Prince of an oil producing nation talk about a knowledge-based economy and asked the participants to use this time together to be innovative.

That was easier said than done in day one. I attended many sessions that looked promising on paper but the discussions drifted back to old ways of thinking. In one discussion I was a part of I brought up the idea of countries not building their own universities but looking for ways to partner with universities to learn online. Of course I was talking to a bunch of PhD professors who told me:

“Teaching is more than putting content online.”

I totally get that, but what I heard more and what came through even louder was the fear of not knowing what to do with it. There are many successful online universities. Now does it replace a great face to face teacher? No, but if you are in a country that has little to no post secondary options for students, or universities that can not or do not have the courses/degrees needed to support your local economy, online is a better choice than nothing.

I tried to encourage them to stop “Thinking Globally and Acting Locally” and to “Think Locally and Act Globally”.

I’ll take Bahrain for an example as it was the one that came up yesterday. Countries need to start understanding how the Internet, and the content and teaching that can take place there, can be incorporated into their local universities to enhance learning and create opportunities locally.

Let’s say for example that Bahrain can not find enough engineers to sustain it’s rapid growth and development. Instead of trying to recreate a college of engineering, could they not go out in search of a top engineering school to partner with, and create an online college for those who are interested? Singapore University has a college of engineering that is in the top 100 of all colleges in the world.  What if Bahrain could form a partnership with the Singapore College of Engineering to use what they do really well to affect change locally.

Think of what you need locally.

Find ways to use globalization to bring those skills and education to your community.

Of course this is a mind shift for many people, communities, and nations. To think we don’t have to have the best this or that….we just need to know where to find it, and how to use it successfully.

I’m hoping that day two of the conference will inspire more out of the box solutions for developing nations who are struggling with educational needs. We’re in the early years of online learning, but in rural communiteis whether in the US, Pakistan, Senegal (Who’s President I met yesterday as well, pictured to the left), or a host of other nations, if the option is either online learning, or no learning why wouldn’t you invest in online learning? It’s only going to get better and in the mean time you’re educating those that never had an opportunity to learn before.

Trying to fix the old system isn’t going to work, we need a whole new systems and I strongly believe it’s going to be the developing world where these systems will be tried, tested, and implemented first (See Disrupting Class). There is already wireless cell signals in the middle of the Congo now we just need to figure out how to get the power of the Internet into the hands of the children there. If anyone has ideas or the money to support such an adventure….please let me know…..and count me in!

Waking up to a view of the grand mosque in Bahrain this morning has me thinking about cultures and just how small the world really is. The conference starts later today but some of the conversations I’ve had already have me thinking about education on a level I think few think about.

Yesterday I happen to take the bus from where the conference is being held (National Library just behind the grand mosque) to my hotel with the regional director of Save the Children. He oversees a project in Cairo and in Palestine. He use to have four other projects but do to money shortages they have had to scale back.

His project is helping rural schools become part of the community and help communities see schools as more of a community center than a place they send their children to learn. We talked about re-education the community to understand it “takes a village to raise a child”.

We also talked about e-learning and how it might be the answer to some communities. We talked about the fact that there is a wireless signal in the middle of the Congo and what if we could tap into that signal with laptops for students? Is there a way we could create systems that would allow us to educate rural areas of the world over a cell wireless signal?

As dinner last night I chatted with Dorothy and Russell from New Zealand. Russell is the Principal of PT England School. They are in the process of writing a grant to make their whole community wireless. Using the fiber optic backbone between schools they want to put wireless access points on the roofs of their schools that will cover the 3km x 2km community. Russell explained that the schools are far enough apart that they will overlap their signals nicely and be able to blanket the whole community with a wireless signal. As he said “We pay for the internet 24/7, why can’t we make it available to our community?” If they are able to get the wireless system up and running then the next step would be getting laptops in the hands of students. If everyone has a laptop, that feeling is they wouldn’t have to worry about student safety of students being bullied and mugged for their laptops (another story we heard from a school that went 1:1 in South America, where the school bus was stopped and students robbed of their laptops on their way to school.)

If these are the people I’m meeting and the conversations I’m having before the conference, I’m just wondering what the conversations will be like later today at the conference.

Stay tuned…..

The Education Project Tomorrow I talk off for what looks to be a great three days in the Middle East. It will be my first time back to the Arabian Peninsula since we left Saudi Arabia in 2005. Needless to say I’m brushing up on the few words of Arabic that I know.

It’s an honor to be invited. The Education Project was set up by H.H. Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, The Crown Prince of Bahrain and Chairman of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board. The objective of the conference is to:

look at solutions for the gap in quality of the global education system. The Project will showcase seedling models of innovation and success in education, and encourage commitments from the private and public sector to adapt these models for wider roll-out.

The conference is broken into strands and once you commit to a strand you stay with it for 2 hours. Some great long-term discussions on the future of education systems globally. The list of key speakers is enough to get me excited and to think I’ll be sitting at a round table with some of these people discussing education on a global level (yes….I am way in over my head here).

I’ll be participating in following strands:

  • What We Teach: Skills, Creative Thinking & Abstract Problem Solving, Religion
  • Globalization and Increased Competition – The Good and The Bad Side of a Shrinking World
  • E-Learning
  • Empowering students, parents and the community

I’m sure I’ll be blogging and twittering about the conference as I have a feeling some conversations are going to make my brain hurt.