Reflections on WISE – The World Innovation Summit for Education

I do not usually like big conferences and summits.  All too often, people read prepared papers or speeches, and rarely inspire or speak from the heart.  However, the World Innovation Summit for Education held in Doha from 16th-18th November was surprisingly different.  Of course there were some fairly tedious presentations, but the Summit nevertheless did have a buzz about it.  People were talking, really talking, about the importance of education, and what we might be able to do enhance its sustainability, pluralism and innovation across the world.  There were also some really inspirational presentations – both by academics and by politicians!

However, the hosting of the conference  by the Qatar Foundation, bringing together 1000 of the world’s leading educationalists, and giving awards to six  outstanding examples of pluralism, sustainability and innovation in education, raised many interesting questions.  Why has so little yet been done globally to deliver on agreed educational targets? As the 2009 Global Monitoring Report summarised, “Progress towards the EFA goals is being undermined by a failure of governments to tackle persistent inequalities based on income, gender, location, ethnicity, language, disability and other markers for disadvantage”.

Three key inter-related issues come to mind:

  • All too often education is now being treated as a private good – people are being encouraged to pay for education in the expectation that it will bring them advantages in their future lives.  However, if we are to create a fairer, more equitable world, it is essential that education should be treated as a common rather than a private good.  An educated population is an integral factor in helping to ensure good governance, equality of opportunity, peaceful co-existence, and innovative solutions to poverty.
  • One of the reasons why governments across the world continue to provide insufficient funding for education, may be because in recent years they have come to believe that education is no longer a common good, but is instead a private one.  This enables governments to argue that people should pay for education themselves, rather than funding it from the common purse. Increasing fees for higher education in the UK are thus regularly justified by government ministers who argue that a degree brings increased lifetime earning capacity, and that individual students should therefore pay for it.  However, such arguments may also underlie the reticence of many governments across the world to fund education sufficiently.  Even though 23 countries contribute more than 7% of their GDP to public expenditure on education, 35 contribute less than 3%.  We need to work through existing global mechanisms more effectively to help ensure that all states fund education appropriately, so that all peoples can have equal and fair access to quality education.
  • How, though, do we do this?  How can we ensure that the enthusiasm and energy generated at events such as WISE is channeled effectively to initiatives that will actually make a difference?  UNESCO has for long sought to promote the importance of education across the world, but has been beset by too high expectations and too low levels of funding to have been able to make the impact that many of its staff would like to see.  How do we turn the energy that the Qatar Foundation released at WISE into systemic change?

Four more quirky observations from WISE:

  • I did not hear anyone publicly thank the French agency \Auditoire who did all of the organisation of the Summit on behalf of the Qatar Foundation. They were quite outstanding, and much of the success of the Summit was undoubtedly due to the experienced and dedicated team that they had in place.  Well done to all involved!
  • Carla Bruni attended – was I the only one who was left decidedly unimpressed?
  • Fidel Castro is alive and well in Doha – and can occasionally be seen in the Habanos bar in the Ritz Carlton – he did, though, look remarkably young – definitely in his prime!  But, it was nevertheless strange to see him there
  • I always thought that the role of a good master/mistress of ceremonies  was to ensure that everything keeps to time, that the speakers and participants are able to shine, and that they should do so by being almost invisible themselves.  It would appear that Nima Abu-Wardeh had been given a different set of instructions – or perhaps she simply had other ideas!


Filed under Education

4 responses to “Reflections on WISE – The World Innovation Summit for Education

  1. Christine Zarzicki

    I certainly agree that there must be more of a global emphasis on education not only as a tool for development but also as a basic human right. I understand the tendency for governments in developing nations to claim that education is a luxury, as there may exist other facets in their day-to-day lives that must take priority. But this tendency must change. It is not a coincidence that that affluent nations are educated and that the developed world stresses the importance of schooling. Education breeds intelligence, which leads to confidence and power, which then leads to innovation and success. The investment in education should not be a responsibility left to the individual. Governments must realize that allocating funds toward the educational sector will contribute significantly to the nations human capital, rendering individuals more fit for the work force, and thus stimulate economic growth. Education therefore can ultimately be used as a tool in poverty reduction.

    How can those who understand this correlation between education and development persuade those who do not, to embrace this idea? More conferences, more summits, or an aid program that is specifically directed at educational reform? I would imagine that it is not an easy task to convince the leader of a developing nation to move funds from development of infrastructure or industry, to the public education sector. Education is a long-term investment that will not provide tangible profits for years to come. Using the United States or the E.U. as an example of the ROI, appears to be promising, however it may stimulate negative sentiments based on the idea that the West always believes itself to have the best solution.

    Regardless of the approach, a change in global outlook must occur. Education is a basic human right that not only fosters human development; it can ultimately lead to economic growth, thereby reducing poverty.

  2. Sharon N

    Thank you for addressing this issue. Prior to this posting, I was not aware that there was such a large difference of GDP expenditure on education among nations. However, this seems to make a lot of sense particularly in developing countries, where the ‘elite’ of such nations are often concerned with maintaining their status; if other individuals have equal access to this resource, then opportunities that they are so used to having could potentially deplete. Since this is such a threat to their current lifestyles, it is no surprise that the funds allocated to education has not been revamped in such nations. Since the elite often have the greatest influence upon the government, unless these individuals truly WANT to share their resources with others, I believe that there will be no sustainable change made. Civil society has continuously had a great impact upon the policies that nations’ governments have implemented. So, unless citizens of nations truly believe that all members of society have a right to education, I believe that any reallocation of funds toward education will not have a great deal of longevity.

  3. kun

    I think it is dangerous that education is treated as a private good rather than common good. If governments continue holding such attitudes towards education, it would be impossible for people to have equal access to quality education, which would increase the divide between the rich and poor. The increasing education fees only allow students from decent families come in, and keep the students from poor families outside campus. And as the article pointed out that a degree means increased lifetime earnings. Therefore, students from rich families can get richer because of access to higher education, while it’s hard for poor students to change their fates. The increase divide would cause polarization which would have negative impact on social development and stability. So, a responsible government should earmark appropriate fund for education, especially assist the poor to have a chance to access to quality education.

  4. dmf

    All we need to do is to look at education in American public schools and compare it to that of good private schools. There is no comparison. Our public schools are not educating our children. As a teacher in a public school, I am in constant battle to teach my children, so that they have a deep understanding and are able to ask questions. That is not what my school district or most others want for their students. They want exposure for the children without any understanding. This will be my last year as a school teacher, because I am tired of fighting for the children in my class to get a good education, I am tired of exposure without any understanding being enough, I am tired of gifted students not being able to really read and comprehend, and I am tired of an education system that has much to do to improve with idea that money will solve it’s problems.

    The American public education system is dumbing down our students. We are not creating life long learners. Wake up, we are headed to a global society where the educated people will be making decisions for everyone and our children and children’s children will be left to do what they are told is best for them.

    This is not what I want for my country, and that is why my child will not be educated in a government school. I want him to be able to think and make decisions for himself.

    I want every child to receive an education, but we must take a deep look and see if they are going to be truly educated and be able to question the world around them or brainwashed and told what is best for them. Given the players involved, I feel the latter is probably the view behind this conference and educational group.

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