“Changing societies, changing education” This was the theme of this year’s world innovation summit for education, WISE, that took place last week in Doha.
It comes at a time when the Arab world sees major political change, and questions are asked about how education will change under the new regimes.
Indeed social and political transformation loomed large over the summit, as well as new approaches to education.
Sheikha Moza Bin Nasse, Chairwoman Qatar foundation spoke about what she saw as the future for education:
“I believe that’s the time now, we can not afford going back to the traditional way of learning and educating. We have to reach and to make sure that what we are applying in terms of methodologies and pedagogies are meeting the needs and requirements of the young minds.”
Use of technology and tools that would ensure equal access to education for all, could turn out to be what characterises the 21st century.
However for some educators, who come from countries that are currently facing big challenges, such as Jordan, technology should not be an end but a means, and Tayseer Al Naimi, the former Jordanian Education Minister, warned against directly discounting more traditional methods in classrooms
“Innovation doesn’t just have to mean that we need to bring something new but we could look at the old models with a new perspective. This is what is needed in the region and in the Arab world. We need to redefine things and to redefine our education priorities and the greater goals of our education system.”
Information technology and social media have played a key role in assisting young Arabs in making change in their countries however, and those who took to the streets frustrated by their social and educational circumstances, had an ultimate concern: democracy and civil rights.
This was discussed in one of the summit’s debates, experts have all agreed that laying the foundations of citizenship and civic competency is more important than ever to make the change happen.
Mohammad Faour of the Carnegie Middle East Centre, Lebanon, spoke of how recent events have changed priorities in education.
“The students should learn their rights and their duties; they should learn how to petition a government officer; they should learn how to organise, communicate effectively and how to participate in their civic community.”
But change also needs political will, and new leaders in emerging democracies could open the way for real reform, and while the world is facing economic downturn, some of the educators in Arab countries have stressed that there is enough money to finance education, but this funding is not used in the right places.
Other challenges remain though, such as youth unemployment. Mohammed Faraj, one of thirty students who participated in the event, said that the big problem at the moment is lack of motivation:
“The students whether in schools or universities are just receptors, they don’t have much input. Students have brilliant ideas but they don’t have the chance to make their voice heard. We need the motivation to get those ideas out.”
Mohammed, like many from countries that have been hit by the Arab Spring is looking forward to what education will be like in the future.
This issue was at the top of the agenda at WISE, not only has it dedicated a half a million dollar prize for the best ideas to improve education (around €360 000), it also announced an award for the achievements that help advance the realisation of the Second Millennium Development Goals.
Qatar says it now hopes to play a key role not only in the development of education but also with the development of the Arab world as a whole.