The World Innovation Summit on Education, WISE, has become one of the leading global education platforms in recent years. More than 1000 experts gather in Doha every year, aiming to develop innovative solutions and ultimately inspire change in education. The top WISE prize of half a million dollars is so far the first and only international cash prize dedicated to education. The reward is a milestone in the development of education and aims to shed light on outstanding contributions. Euronews interviewed this year’s winner, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed for the BRAC project.
Euronews: “Sir Albert, congratulations, can you tell us about your projects?”
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: “I am the chairperson and founder of an organisation called Brac and we started 40 years ago working for poverty alleviation in Bangladesh. But with poverty alleviation we also wanted people to have education. We run 35,000 one-teacher schools with 1.2 million children in them. Over the yeqars around 5 million children have grduated and gone to universities and become doctors, engineers over the years. We also have a university with 4,000 students.”
Euronews: “What does this prize mean for you?”
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: “This prize means a lot to me in the sense that this is the first time it recognizes education. Prizes encourage people to do their best, to be excellent. This is what prizes are for, encouraging the search for excellence and those who are seeking these prizes will go for excellence.”
Euronews: “And what are you going to do with the money?”
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: “The money will go into education. I ll set up some schools, one or two libraries, something like that.”
Six education projects were also rewarded for their innovative contribution to education. Amongst them is CONNEXION in the US. It is a content platform that enables the free and open use of high quality educational materials. And the Vietnam open education resource is using this project to provide free internet based information for both learners and educators.
In Hanoi, students are using VOER, Vietnam Open Educational Resources. Modelled after The Connexions Project at Rice University in Houston and MIT Boston, Open Educational Resources provides an online platform where teachers and students can explore new methods, and share materials.
Dr Minh Do, the VOER Programme Director at The Vietnam Foundation said: “VOER website has about 700,000 hits per month and about 50,000 unique visitors per month. They can go online to read or they can download the e-book, or even order the printed text book.”
VOER is a free service, and depending on the size of the book an average printout costs around 1 euro.
Quynh Chi, a student at the University of Culture Hanoi, said: “I think VOER is really practical and it’s easy to access. I can use it everywhere – in my classroom, in the house, in the coffee shop, with WiFi or 3G.”
Today, 20,000 modules are available, contributed by universities and individuals sharing their teaching materials, forming discussion forums and giving feedback.
Another award winning project is Suena Letras. It is an initiative that aims to teach reading and writing for deaf pupils and rpomote the use of sign language. The Centre for Development of Technologies for Inclusion in Chile, Mexico and Argentina, is one institution which is benefiting from this project.
Being deaf is always a challenge. In Argentina, the challenge includes very few schools for deaf children meaning many of them don’t learn to speak either orally or via sign language. But in some places things are changing.
Gabriela Falca, the mother of a hearing impaired son, Juan, said: “He started to communicate and to realize that sign language was a communication tool. Sometimes, like when I get angry and he doesn’t understand, then sign language helps him understand what I’m saying. For me it is difficult, learning sign language isn’t easy.”
Luckily for him, the school for hearing impaired children in only 10km away from Juan’s home so he and his family have been able to learn sign language. The school uses software designed in Chilli.
Cecilia Avalos, a teacher at the school, said: “Sign language is a visual and spatial language. But written language is different. Deaf and hearing impaired people don’t have the phonetic supports that hearing people have, to be able to learn to read and write.”
But learning to read and write is easier with new software that makes visual learning entertaining and interactive.
Cecilia Avalos said: “This software is very dynamic. It is very attractive because it is based on sign language, and the technology also makes it attractive to young people. The sign language is very rich, with an impressive abstraction level. Studies show that the intellectual level of people educated using sign language from a young age is not affected by the lack of communication.”
Aurora Velez interviewed the project’s founder Ricardo Rosas.
Euronews: “Your project has received various national prizes and now this international recognition here in Doha. How is the Suena Letra project benefiting from this?”
Ricardo Rosas: “First and foremost we gain visibility. It is important for us to be known in different geographical areas because we are determined to extend the project as far as possible. Our programme teaches deaf children a language as if it was a second language and can translate many idioms.”
Euronews: “So someone from Japan and someone from Chilli can understand each other?”
Ricardo Rosas: “To tell you the truth there is no universal sign language, the same as there is no universal spoken language. National languages for deaf people change from country to country, including places which share a common spoken language like Latin America and Spain: they have different sign languages. The good news is that the sign languages are closer to each other than the respective spoken ones. So we can say that today deaf communities can at least understand each other a bit.”
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