3 Takeaways From The Global Education And Skills Forum

Katie and I were honored to be a part of the first annual Global Education and Skills Forum this weekend in Dubai. Organized by GEMS, a worldwide education provider based in Dubai, the conference tackled some big problems and drew some big names into the discussion. From President Bill Clinton to Prime Minister Tony Blair to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, there was no shortage of star power at the forum.

But what’s more important is not the big names at the event. It was the delegates from dozens of countries with many hailing from Africa, India, the UK, and most of Europe. I learned more from my fellow conference attendees than I expected! It was delightful to gain some insight from the international world of education. As you could guess, Edudemic (based in Cambridge, Massachusetts USA) articles are typically about the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.

The Global Education and Skills Forum connected Katie and me with numerous country leaders, education providers, and thought-leaders. (Note: we weren’t paid to attend but our travel was provided.) More on our meetings with world leaders later. For now I wanted to quickly share some of the interesting tidbits I came across today. Most were uncovered during a panel I moderated (or at least tried to) on the ‘disruption’ of education technology. Long story short: we are only at the beginning of that disruption. And that’s a good thing.

Fareed Zakaria deliving a keynote at GESF.

Fareed Zakaria deliving a keynote at GESF.

1) Global leaders are becoming thoroughly invested for the long-run in improving education and leveraging the power of technology.

In a discussion about the viability of MOOCs in developing nations, a minister of education for Zimbabwe posited that their participation in MOOCs has actually led to teachers leaving the country in order to pursue an academic career in a developed nation.

In other words, MOOCs (like edX and Udemy in particular) were brought into schools and teachers were able to act more like facilitators / guides. They then took their newfound knowledge of flipped classrooms and personalized learning using MOOCs and brought their talents to developed countries like the U.S. It’s a fascinating problem that I never would have thought of had I not been at the conference.

Panel discussion at GESF.

Panel discussion at GESF.

2) We’re never going to get education technology to everyone. But instead of focusing on bringing as much technology to as many people as possible, let’s focus on starting with a few.

It’s all about getting the ball rolling at this point. Whether it’s a struggling school district in the United Kingdom or an entire country in Sub-Saharan Africa, the problems are similar. Getting the technology into the hands of everyone is downright impossible. It doesn’t matter if the problem is a lack of electricity or a lack of funding, a major roadblock is a major roadblock.

So the takeaway from the Global Education and Skills Forum is therefore to at least make an effort. I met with dozens of education leaders and heads of state from around the world over the last couple of days and they all had similar sentiments: let’s at least start bringing some technology into our schools so we can see what works for us and not just keep saying it’s impossible because we can’t reach everyone.

In other words, we are at a sort of tipping point of education technology for the developing world. That alone is interesting since I’d dare to say we’re at a similar tipping point in the developed world as well. This gives me pause and hope that the whole world will someday be on equal footing in terms of integrating technology into education. Only time will tell.

Panel discussion on Smarter Content, Better Learning at GESF

Panel discussion on Smarter Content, Better Learning at GESF

3) The roles of parents are one of the most important (but often ignored) facets of education technology.

Parents play a critical role in the integration of education technology. Whether it’s by lending a cell phone or smartphone to their children for a BYOD classroom or by acting as a ‘guide on the side’ during homework, the parental role is critical.

This was an overarching theme to talks delivered by Fareed Zakaria, my panel on edtech, and Tony Blair. I heard from a few members of the GEMS team as well about how involving parents every step of the way is important. We chatted about how parents are becoming increasingly involved in distance learning, online education, MOOCs, and the device-based learning we’re seeing in classrooms around the world.

It was truly amazing to see a question about the changing role of parents pop up at just about every panel and side discussion at the forum. So to all you curriculum writers, edtech integrators, and device enthusiasts … remember to incorporate the parents!

More Coming Soon!

Those are just a few of the many takeaways from this weekend’s event. We’ll be posting some of our other insight and experiences here over the coming week so please feel free to check back in a few days (after the jet lag subsides a bit!). Also, I encourage everyone to register (whenever it opens) for next year’s GESF to be held in Abu Dhabi. See you there!