SmartBlog on Education contributing editor Tom Whitby was in Doha, Qatar this week for the 2012 World Innovation Summit for Education: Collaborating for Change. Here is his second blog about his conference experience.
When I accepted an invitation to attend the World Innovation Summit for Education, WISE 2012, in Doha, Qatar, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. In my own arrogance, I thought I was a seasoned education conference attendee. I have been to maybe a hundred education conferences, both good and bad. I planned or helped plan at least a dozen local or statewide conferences. I even considered myself an experienced critic having done several well-received posts on various professional education conferences. There was very little in all of that to prepare me for what I was to experience in Doha.
The idea that I had about an international conference relied heavily on my ISTE experience. After all, the “I” in ISTE stands for “international.” It never occurred to me that I would need an electronic translator to understand what was being presented or being asked about by presenters and audience members. Translators were given out to everyone before every session. I was not prepared for the number of security checks. I never realized how people needed to adhere to cultural protocols. After all was said and done, I realized that the life of an American educator is in worldly terms, a sheltered life indeed.
The more I attended sessions at WISE2012, the more I realized that this was not an education conference that focused on the needs of educators, but rather it focused on the needs of education. Those are needs, not of the educators, but of the learners. Those are needs not of school districts, but of countries. This was truly the needs of education on a global scale. Many of the educators at this conference were not academic teachers, but administrators of non-government organizations established for the purpose of providing education.
Education of girls came up time and time again as the clarion call of this conference. The reason was that if we educate a woman, we educate a family. It is a simple explanation to address a complicated problem. Many countries depend on women to be the teachers. These countries do not always have the luxury of selecting college graduates. They often rely on women with an education that culminated somewhere on the secondary level. The fallback position for educated women would be that at the very least, they could educate their own families.
Another area hampering education throughout the world is the lack of infrastructure, as well as barriers of country and climate. The Qatar Foundation, through WISE, provides funding for the development of floating classrooms. In an area of the world where seasonal flooding dictates the progress of the country, students cut off from roads to their schools for extended periods of time can now be safely served by these solar-powered, floating bastions of education. This innovation, sponsored and funded by WISE, will be supported and duplicated in areas that require such solutions to advance education.
My final eye-opening issue was the problem of educating students in areas of conflict and war. Americans are fortunate that we are not a nation involved in armed conflict on our own soil. Our children, with few exceptions, do not come under fire on the way to school. Their lives are not threatened as a direct result of getting an education. These are not factors that hold true for all countries. Conflict, at best, constricts education, and at worst, destroys it. This is an issue that many countries face, but it is not complicating the lives of or even is on the minds of many Americans. It is an issue that must be addressed.
These are only some of the issues discussed at the WISE 2012 conference. This conference does not lessen the problems discussed at American education conferences, but it does give them a different perspective. I was profoundly affected by many of the issues at this conference. It was attended not by many classroom teachers, but by a great many educators. There was far less discussion about methodology and more about the survival strategies of education. This was a necessary and powerful meeting of policymakers and organizations that deserve support and recognition for what they try to do every day for our world. An educated populace is the key to making our world a better and safer place. Collaboration of concerned world citizens is the only path to that goal. This was the WISE education conference.
Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He previously spent 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.