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

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TEP09

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I’m back in Bangkok and have had a couple days to really think about what this conference was trying to do, and where do we go from here.

The second day of the conference offered some deeper conversations for me. First was a session on eLearning in which I was able to give an 8 minute talk on how eLearning is and can be used in K-12 education. I was one of nine people given 8 minutes to talk and overall a well received session that highlighed ways to use eLearning in classrooms and at schools. Moodle was mentioned the most as a place to get started. Its price (free) and flexibility make is a great option for any school or nation to set up and start offering online courses.

The session after eLearning, Involving Parents and the Community, was also well attended and I believe hit the mark on what people were looking for. From using technology to communicate with parents, to creating mentoring programs for children who need a positive adult role model in their lives. The talks were varied and passionate.

In the end what this conference is trying to do is…..well…..it’s big. There are so many varying factors to consider and as I listened to someone present information on a successful solution in one country I overheard participants from other countries saying, “That won’t work for us!”

Culture, access, money, teachers, were all things mentioned in holding nations back. I had the opportunity to have a great discussion with the Director of Makini Schools in Nairobi, Kenya. They have just gotten broadband access and are now asking themselves what do they do with it? Here’s a school/country that is prime to take advantage of online learning. We had a great 45 minute discussion about his country, his frustrations, and where he hopes to take his schools in the future.

In the end…this is what this conference was truly about (and I’d argue the reason we still go to conferences) the ability to make connections with others. The sessions/presentations get you thinking but it’s 45 minutes spent in the hallways in deep discussion with someone you would have never of met otherwise that makes you want to go back.

The website claimed that you’d walk away with some 200 contacts. I’m not sure I ended up with 200 but I did meet some amazing people who are doing amazing things around the world. When you come to a conference like this you realize just how big and complex of a world we live in. That not everything is cut and dry and just because the solution looks easy and seems easy to us here, does not always mean the same will apply in other parts of the world.

Plans are already being made for 2010. The dates have already been set (Oct. 8-10, 2010) and if you think you would like to be a part of these global conversations around educating the world, this is a great place to start.

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!