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.