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International Education: On Location in Qatar
Exclusive From Qatar: Pres. Michael Adams, Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU), Speaks in Qatar
By Vicki Cobb

World leaders in education and more than one hundred journalists descended on the oil-and-gas-rich emirate capital city of Doha, Qatar, recently, for the second World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). Over 1,200 leading thinkers and practitioners from academic institutions, the public sector, international organizations, private corporations and philanthropic institutions, representing more than 100 countries, attended and networked animatedly with each other, while enjoying the amenities of five-star hotels and first-class service. The stated purpose was to focus on education as a world issue that impacts all other world issues, including poverty, reconciliation in conflicted areas, and the impact of modern technology. The Qatar Foundation, which sponsored the all-expense-paid conference, is a nonprofit organization focusing on education, scientific research and community development.

Qatar is tiny country, about the size of Connecticut, on a peninsula protruding into the Persian Gulf off the southeastern coast of Saudi Arabia. Its population is only 1.5 million but with its successful bid to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, and their asserted leadership position in education culminating in the WISE conference, they are celebrating a newly found global prominence. It is not without some challenges to traditional Islamic values (yes, there will be beer at the World Cup).

There were two main themes in the conference: Improving Education Systems, which addressed the need to modernize, reinforce and expand inherited educational systems, and Exploring Innovative Trends, which focused on developments in educational theory and practice. The objective of the conference was to produce actionable ideas. WISE is a global collaborative established by the Qatar Foundation under the driving force of Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser, the first lady of Qatar. The chairman of WISE, Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, Ph.D., said: “The perennial theme of WISE is ‘Building the future of education.’ The evolving complexity of this venture requires a response which is collaborative, international and highly flexible, engaging with new technologies, sharing best practices, and rethinking funding models. Our actions need to bridge the gap between formal and informal learning and embrace life-long learning.”

Many prominent Americans participated in the conference. Dr. J. Michael Adams, president of Fairleigh-Dickenson University and president-elect of the International Association of University Presidents, presided over a breakout session titled “Education and Reconciliation,” which discussed the role of education in post-conflict areas like South Africa and Northern Ireland. Dr. Carol Bellamy, chair of the Education for All/Fast Track Initiative and former director of UNICEF, participated in a session on access to quality education for all. Dr. Allen E. Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, moderated a panel on leadership models that are crucial to advancing education. Nancy Pelosi, the outgoing speaker of the House of Representatives, addressed the conference via video, as did Professor Jeff Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. James Bernard, worldwide director of Partners in Learning, Microsoft, cautioned that “innovative teachers are ‘islands’ unless they have the support of school leaders, and innovative schools are ‘islands’ without the support of an innovative education system.” Dr. Scott Cowen, the president of Tulane University, spoke about the unprecedented opportunity of New Orleans, which had one of the most under-performing school districts in the nation, to rebuild after Katrina with a 32 percent improvement in student performance. His focus was on strategic financial management to reconstruct both K–12 schools as well as the Tulane campus.

One of the highlights of the conference was the final plenary address of Lord David Puttnam, who has produced many award-winning films including “The Killing Fields,” “Chariots of Fire” and “Midnight Express.” Since 1998 he has turned his attention to education and currently serves as the chairman of Futurelab (UK), an independent nonprofit organization that is dedicated to transforming teaching and learning, making it more relevant and engaging to 21st century learners through the use of innovative practice and technology. “If we are to be serious about innovation and improvement, then I believe that governments everywhere will have to treat investment in teaching and learning with far more consistent commitment than has tended to be the case in the past. In this incredibly fast-moving environment, that means focusing a lot more time and attention on the continuous professional development of teachers than there has ever been previously.”

The immediate results of the conference, which were announced on the last day, are:

• The establishment of the WISE Prize for Education — the world’s first major international prize for education to raise the global awareness of the importance of education for all societies. The winner will receive an award of $500,000.

• The launch of a WISE publication and Web portal that will record major achievements and initiatives in international education to be complemented by an enhanced WISE Web site in 2011.

• A call for the establishment of a taskforce dedicated to education-system rebuilding in Haiti from the ground up. The taskforce will create a concrete action plan to be implemented by the world community.

In addition WISE has called for an acceleration of best practices and support for innovative ideas in education. More than 40 projects and initiatives have been identified by participants at the summit.

If the Qatar Foundation intends to make WISE the most significant education conference in the world, they are well on their way. #

See the interview in this issue and the video with Dr. Adams at http://www.educationupdate.com



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