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

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I hate missing ISTE this year but don’t worry it’s for a good cause. 

State Department SealOver the past three days I have been meeting with other international education regions to discuss the World Virtual School Project (WVS). At the moment this is an International School project being driven by the Department of State: Overseas Schools Division. The history of the project goes back to 9/11 and the closing of the International School of Islamabad after the terrorist attacks on that day. Basically as the embassy and school were shut down shortly after for security concerns it became critical to find a way to have the education continue especially for graduating seniors and even 11th graders at the time. Long story short a virtual school was set up for those students to continue their education and graduate on time.

After this success story the State Department and schools in the region started working on putting a plan into place that would allow them to carry on school if for some reason there was a school closure. Out of this concern the World Virtual School Project was born and has slowly been expanding to International Schools around the world.

The State Department would really like to see all International Schools that are tied to U.S. embassies, consulates, and interests to have a plan to continue school if for some reason school closure was to happen. 

As luck would have it two of the three schools I’ve worked at have closed for different reasons. Saudi Arabia for terrorist attacks and Bangkok for political protests. So this type of system would benefit many different international schools around the world.

With this project also comes the added benefit of actually connecting schools to do projects both regionally and globally. Using Moodle as the backbone of the project, the project has slowly expanded to 65 schools and is growing.

The WVS also played a role this past year in Egypt and in Tripoli were the education of students was disrupted due to upraising in those countries. So as you can see this is a program that is needed and has been successful already.

Unless you’ve been in International Education you probably don’t realize just how vital this aspect is to supporting U.S. interests abroad. It’s hard to explain and would take to long here…so the next time you run into an International Educator have them explain it to ya. 

All in all it’s been an interesting three days here just outside of D.C. I’ve learned a lot about the project, about the U.S. State Department’s role in International Schools and the WVS project and it’s goals for the future. 

In the end it’s just another way that technology is helping educate students around the world.

passport
Flickr ID: clappstar

I can’t believe I have been back in the States three weeks already. Summer goes way to fast. Family, friends, and the continued remodel of our condo has filled my time which has kept me away from the computer…that’s a good thing when it comes to vacation time though. 🙂

Now I find myself some 30,000 feet over the mid-west on my way to Washington D.C. and the JOSTI conference. I was asked by the U.S. Deptartment of State and the Jefferson/Overseas Schools Technology Institute (JOSTI) organizers to represent the EARCOS region (Southeast Asia) as they discuss a program called the World Virtual School.

It also means that I miss out on this year’s ISTE conference. I’ll be following via Twitter and other streams but not the same as being there and connecting with your PLN in person and making new connections. Next year for sure in San Diego!

This year marked my 9th year of being overseas. Each year the U.S. seems more “foreign” to me. The more global I become the more strange the U.S. becomes. What is interesting is the fact that I get to see huge changes in the use of technology within American society. Unlike those that live here who see the technology slowly roll out. I get 6 weeks once a year to see how technology is changing America.

This year is no different and here are a couple of my early observations.

 

Social Media:
We know it’s everywhere, we know it’s what the “new web” is about. But it fascinates me to see Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare and Yelp signs in 99% of all the places I go to in Seattle (we’ll see if DC is the same). The last couple of years you’d find a sign here or there, but this year the Facebook f and the Twitter t are front and center in most shops. Asian societies aren’t there yet in their adoption of these tools for customer connections. American based companies are leading the way and we’ll see how long it takes, if ever, for this kind of social media induction to take hold in other parts of the world. Favor: US

socialmedia

QR Codes:
I predicted this would be the year these little buggers would show up in American society and I have to say not a bad guess on my part. What I notice from last year is a refinement of there use to really connect the physical world to the digital world quickly. Last summer they were around but used in some strange ways, or ways that probably were not working….but this year there use is becoming refined and in most cases I have found them to be very useful. Anyone who has been to any large city in Asia knows that QR Codes have been round for a good 4 or 5 years so it’s good to see the US finally catching up to these useful little codes. Favor: Asia

Instant Connectivity:
Many international travels, myself included, are still very frustrated with the lack of choices in the US when it comes to getting connected quickly and cheaply. How can the same data connection in Thailand cost 60% less than it does here in the States? Why can I walk into any shop in China buy a SIM Card for my phone and 100 minutes for $10 and a months worth of data for $15 and be up and running in less than 10 minutes. Here in the US there isn’t an easy way to get people/travelers connected…and if you’re not willing to sign the big 2-year contract….be prepared to pay through the nose for everything. I just can’t figure out why a company wouldn’t get on board with the rest of the world…..and don’t even get me started that because I’m on a pre-paid plan I can only have an Edge connection and not 3G on my Android phone (both AT&T and T-Mobile). Favor: Rest of the world

Economic Turn-around:
In Seattle anyway it feels much different this summer than last. Last year people seemed down, worried, and stressed. Some of those feelings are still there but there is also hope and optimism in the air that last year I just didn’t feel. This being said with all four of my closest friends, both in education and out, jobless. But all of them see light at the end of the tunnel….and that’s a good thing. Favor: US

Education:
An even hotter topic than it was last year education continues to struggle in the media and at all levels of government. Educators are frustrated, parents are frustrated, the government is frustrated. A lot of that frustration, I think, also coming from fear. Fear of the unknown and the feeling of the shift that is happening. I’ve been overseas for 9 years, 6 of those in Asia and the world is shifting and its pace is increasing. I think American’s feel that and don’t know what to do about it. What we do know is we can’t keep doing what we were doing because that doesn’t work anymore. But how do we “fix” a system that for so long kept America as a world leader? How do we “fix” a system that we’re still trying to figure out where it’s broken while the world continues to shift and mutate around us?

I think back to my days in Saudi Arabia even to conversations at the Education Project in Bahrain and the middle east. For generations now the Saudi’s haven’t had to work. The country made enough money to pay all of its citizens. They imported workers from around the world to do all the work and sat back and enjoyed the riches that came from the oil. Now with the green movement and oil supplies being depleted governments are trying to find ways to re-educate their citizens to work. In Saudi it is called “Saudization”. Where Saudis are slowly replacing the imported work force. Its been unsuccessful in most areas. Convincing a nation that they now need to work is not easy. Why change when everything seems to be going so well? For generations they were taken care of by the government…..and still are to some extent. But now they’re being asked to change, to work, to be a part of a different future…..and it’s hard. It’s hard to change when everything around you seems the same.

I think the same holds true for the American public education system. For many years it worked, we all reaped the benefits of it, but it isn’t working any more. All we know is what we all went through, what we all succeeded at: Parents, Politicians, Educators, we are all part of the system that needs to be changed and that’s hard because it seemed to work so well for so long and it’s scary when you can feel that the thing you held true, that you really knew because you went through it isn’t good anymore. We want to hold on, we want to “fix it” and it’s hard to let it go.

It’s a great time to be in education….and a tough time….and I think it’s going to get even tougher as public school systems just were not built for the fast pace world of today. As online learning in high schools continues to explode across America I think we’ll see public high schools be the first to crumble to their knees in a heap of dust before being rebuilt. That’s the revolution not evolution that Sir Ken Robinson and so many others have talked about the past few years. It’s the revolution that I touch on in my TEDx Talk, and it’s the revolution that needs to happen if the K-12 American public school system stands a chance to compete in a new world that is fast, flat, and connected. It won’t happen to all public high schools as some are making the change. Those with innovative leaders and the freedom to explore and try new things are succeeding…but that’s a small percentage of schools out there. 

Don’t get me wrong America has a lot to offer. The best university system in the world, a government structure that works and that people believe and trust in (both in American and out). A work ethic that I’ve only seen rivaled by the Chinese while I lived in China. Forward thinking in human rights, and free-will for all, and a culture where any man, woman or child has the opportunity to be what they want to be.

But does America have the ability to adapt, to go into beta mode and figure schooling out on the fly? Because the world won’t stop turning to allow us to figure it out. We need options, we need creativity and we need the ability to take risks, try new things, and the ability to say we failed and be OK with it. That’s what will make the public school system strong again…the same work ethic that made America a world leader in the first place will have to rebuild an education system built for a new and constantly changing future.

Just out of the first session at The Education Project here in Bahrain which set the stage for what is going to be some hot debated topics in the coming days.

Tony Wagner (Co-Director of the Change Leadership Group, Harvard Graduate School of Education, USA) set the stage for the first session with three key points that are facing global education today.

  • Global Equity
  • Teaching and Assessing
  • Motivating the “Net Generation”

Global EducationGlobal equity came up a couple times in the debate of how do we insure that all students have the skills to be part of a global society today but still hold on to our cultural beliefs? It is a worry, that global education will lead to a homogenized society. I see this today already happening in international schools and the countries I visit. People apologizing for who they are or where they come from. An Indian woman stood up and talk about this at length on how the culture plays such an important role in education no matter where you come from. That culture is not just national, but local as well. A great point was made that even national standards if not able to be adaptable at the local level can surpress culture. Something we need to think carefully about as we think about global education.

Charles Leadbeater (Consultant for innovation in education and author, UK) made some great points as well around the idea that we need to spread ideas not scale ideas. He talked in length about a push vs pull education system. When we talk about scaling a model we’re pushing that model out to schools and it’s very top down. What we need is to spread ideas and principles that can then be taking, adjusted to local needs and pulled within the larger educational systems in which we educate. He made a fantastic analogy to McDonald’s vs Chinese Buffets. McDonald’s is a system that is meant to scale. No matter where you are in the world McDonald’s taste the same, looks the same, is the same. Chinese Buffets are principles that spread. There are no Chinese Buffet chains, but the idea of what a chinese buffet should look like and feel like is taken, adjusted to local needs, area, building, culture, and adapted and delivered very successfully all over the world. What we need is educational ideas and principles that are chinese buffets in nature and can spread and adapt.

There was talk once more about collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, curiosity and imagination. All things that education has been trying to teach for years. These set of skills/disciplines/ideas have not changed over time. There isn’t a school system out there that would say they are not trying to teach these. The ideas are the same as they have always been what has changed is the context in which we use them. Collaboration is not working on a project in class, it’s collaborating between classrooms, or on a global scale. Problem-Solving is the same has it’s always been, what we need to rethink is how we motivate students around problems that they want to solve and are authentic to them.

Curiosity and imagination are the scariest ones to me, as we know that we are all born to be curious and imaginative (it’s how I burnt my hand on the stove when I was younger and why our tree fort was a safe place from the lava pit below). Kindergarten rooms are filled with it, they are free flowing, kids have time to play time to explore, but as students go through the education system we slowly pull away this time to be curious and imaginative and focus more on reforming to school norms. I’m listening to Dan Pink’s book Drive at the moment that fits in with this notion of curiosity, imagination and motivation.

Dr Bassem Awadallah (Chief Executive Officer, Tomoh Advisory, UAE) shared with us some stats on the youth and population of the Middle East and Northern Africa.

  • There are 325 million people in the Middle East and North Africa
  • 120 million are under the age of 15
  • 15-24 age group make up 20% of the population ~100 million people

He went on to talk about how this region continues to suffer from an out of date education system do in part to the overall development of the region. He worries about the idea that many cultures in the region have closed education systems and as long as educational systems are closed they will not allow for curiosity and imagination to flourish. He talked about that education reform can not happen in isolation it needs to happen on a larger scale that includes business, society and government.

Other quick quotes/ideas that came out during the session:

Education + Technology = Hope

We push when an effective education system is a pull system. Students need to pull education towards them around passion, curiosity, and imagination. To often we throw money at a problem and push it out to schools.

Kids are going to the web to leave the single teacher classroom. The web is where the network is.

Isolation is the enemy of improvement

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.