18 November 2009

A Davos for Education?

I just returned from the first World Innovation Summit on Education (WISE) in Doha. Qatar has made a long term commitment to convert its natural gas revenue into a world leading research capital. WISE was a further statement of intent.

With 6 or so US Universities already in residence at Education City, corporate R&D centres and Qatar University across the road, there are possibilities for new blends of research to generate global public goods in environment and energy. These possibilities need inclusive shaping and governing processes if they are to deliver for the world’s poorest and marginal. The Qatar Foundation funds much of this and seems open to such ideas. The three major themes of the conference were pluralism, sustainability and innovation. There were over a 1000 participants and 100 speakers drawn from all over the world.

My presentation was on Transformative Universities, describing some of the pioneering work done by our Participation, Power and Social Change Team in the area of blended learning. I highlighted their partnership work on the new Master’s in Development Practice being planned by Cairo University and Makerere University (led by Mariz Tadros) and the innovative Masters in Power, Participation and Social Change led by Jethro Pettit and Peter Taylor run by IDS for the University of Sussex.

This was my first large education conference and it was interesting how the sector is:

· looking beyond enrolment--grappling with delivering and assessing quality
· looking for ways to incorporate new ICT technologies
· struggling to deliver education in fragile contexts
· looking for ways to flexibilise rigid higher education systems
· missing the plurality of systems that one sees in health

The WISE conference wants to position itself as the annual global conference on education with the profile, if not necessarily the model, of Davos.

There seems to be a need for such a forum. Some are worried that this might diminish the role of UNESCO, but the new Head of the Agency was there and enthusiastically supported the initiative. If the sector is to address the above challenges, my sense is that UNESCO and the rest need all the help they can get.

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