Learnings and Reflections from the Education World Forum 2013
About a week ago, I posted a blog sharing my expectations on the Education World Forum 2013, as well as key details on Cisco’s participation as Platinum sponsor of this event. After what was a very interesting gathering, I think it is time to share with you some of the learnings and outcomes I took from the meeting.
This year, I was particularly struck by the vast predominance of attendees coming from Africa, the Near East, as well as other emerging regions of the globe. One of the reasons behind this pattern could be that many of these countries are starting to adopt a more visible position in the education debate (as it is the case for Brazil, now a major player in the global education dialogue and a major Cisco role via GELP) or that regional economic progress (with Africa housing 7 of the fastest growing economies in the world) is paving the way to more active engagement. Another reason could be that the Forum’s intention was rather to reflect more on how to improve access to achieve education for all and less so on leveraging lessons from more mature countries.
Nevertheless, improving access still remains a difficult task in many places and issues such as: poor infrastructure, lack of connectivity, high student to teacher ratios, low budgets, and reduced access to basic services such as sanitation, electricity and water, represent major barriers to overcome; in parallel: under qualified, under motivated teachers, inefficient school processes, outdated learning methodologies, ineffective assessments, and uncoordinated ICT initiatives keep surfacing as common denominators for both emerging and non-emerging regions.
One could say that with all these challenges, the odds for achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015 are rather slim. But even though it is true that progress in some instances needs to be accelerated, it is also true that successful models also need to be celebrated. Two of the models that caught my attention come from Latin America; the first one, presented by Minister Lucy Molinar of Panama based on four pillars: Curricula, Ethics, Teachers and Networks, and the second one, eloquently introduced by Minister Leonardo Garnier of Costa Rica based on Ethics, Civics and Citizenship, 21st Century Skills, Networks, Freedom and Responsibility. It was interesting to hear how important Ethics and “Networks” (of teachers, students, parents, and community members) are for accelerating success in education. But what also emerged as common feature between these two models, was the presence of an ambitious vision coupled with clear strategy, and political will for ensuring sustainability.
Teachers as well as students remain key ingredients of any successful model. Education systems need to work with government and the community to make sure the teaching profession becomes more attractive, respected, valued, and sought after. Successful education systems need to make sure teachers remain intellectually challenged and motivated, and that their work and desire to innovate becomes much better rewarded.
In parallel, any successful model needs to have the student at its centre, allowing them to be ambitious, and to have grand aspirations. One key aspect for this is to give students a voice in the education process. In that extent, I was very happy to see a session at the EWF program dedicated to that aim. On a very interactive dialogue supported by Cisco Telepresence Technology , and led by the Education Fast Forward Initiative, about a dozen of students from India, Egypt, South Africa, Canada, Kenya, the US, the UK, Australia and Brazil, were able to simultaneously connect LIVE with the attendees of the EWF to share their expectations and aspirations as 21st Century learners. Some of the key messages highlighted the need to engage the student in the design of their learning experience; having more active (and interactive) teacher involvement; catering curricula to accommodate for different learning styles; and focusing on ethics as a key value for education. It was inspiring to hear a claim from the students for education systems to transform so they can provide learners with the tools they need to join the workforce, and to address global challenges. I was impressed to see how issues like climate change, poverty, and hunger are seen as a major responsibility by these young generations and to hear from them that education and technology could join forces to help in their resolution.
This leads me to a couple of final reflections on perhaps one of the most vastly discussed topics at the breakout sessions of the Forum: the inevitable interface between education and technology. The power of education technology was superbly showcased in two sessions: Learning Quality and Innovative Curricula, where the leaders of Apps for Good (Iris Lapinski), and Teach a Man to Fish (Nik Kafka), shared their experiences about how scaling approaches across national systems needs to be linked to a comprehensive strategy of workforce development, and the ATC21s Workshop, where an integrated assessment system and online 21st Century Skills learning modules are now being integrated into national education plans in Australia, Costa Rica and Sweden, with full support from PISA.
Everyone at the Forum seemed to recognize that technology is a great leaver for achieving access and for improving quality of education. As one of the delegates put it: “achieving education for all will be either pretty expensive or pretty bad.. technology is the only way to increase opportunities for all kids to have good quality education”. The key question that remains is how to make the best use of technology in the classroom; how to embrace it, understand it, and seize its full potential; how to use it not only for transmitting information, but for building knowledge, tracking student progress, engaging students, and increasing learning outcomes. Achieving quality in education is indeed a journey where technology plays a fundamental role that in order to be successful, needs to be coupled with a thorough transformation processand a comprehensive strategic plan. I am delighted to see that the work we develop day to day here at Cisco and at the Global Education team helps education leaders around the world address these questions and embark together into this important journey.