WISE in Doha, Qatar
I spent last week in Doha, Qatar, at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). The architecture in Doha is amazing, and one of the highlights is the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by I. M. Pei. The photo below shows the west courtyard, with the skyline of Doha’s business district visible through the arches:
But I was there for a summit, not to play tourist, and I spent three action-packed days attending sessions. The quote of the week came from Mushtaq Chappra of The Citizens Foundation:
A problem unrecognized cannot be solved.
Mushtaq is an amazing man. He founded The Citizens Foundation, which has raised private funds and built 660 schools across Pakistan. He believes that enough money from private contributors can be raised so that all 180 million children who currently do not have access to primary education can be sent to school. His argument is simple: There are 10,000,000 millionaires in the world, and he only needs 330,000 of them to contribute to make it happen.
For his work, Mushtaq received a WISE Award. (You can read more about Mushtaq’s project as well as the five other award-winning projects here.) Mushtaq was only one of many education visionaries who attended the conference. Other attendees included:
- Dennis Littky, who formed his own high school where students choose what they want to learn instead of being told what to learn. Two days a week consist of structured classes, but the other three days each week are open for students to use the library, local businesses, nearby colleges, and the community to learn more about their chosen topic. The best part? These students are motivated because they’re learning what they want to learn and their standardized test scores are higher than those of students at any nearby school.
- Steen Jorgenson, Sector Director of the MENA Region for the World Bank, who argued that a carbon-credit model works for business, so why not adopt a “human capital credit” for education?
- Tim Rylands, an amazing educator who showed us Visuwords (a visual thesaurus) and Tag Galaxy (which may be the coolest site I’ve ever seen) and lots of other awesome educational tools for the classroom.
- Stephen Heppell, a professor at the Center for Excellence in Media Practice, who argued that a school of education should not be allowed to train future teachers unless they run a model school with demonstrated excellence. (Hear, hear!)
- Sara de Freitas, of the Serious Games Institute, who stated that wikipedia is the second most used research tool in the United Kingdom. (Sadly, I failed to ask her which one was the most used.)
The presenters’ stories were awesome, and my passion for education was renewed.
But perhaps my favorite part of the summit was the announcement made by the organizers at the closing session. At WISE 2011, they will be awarding the WISE Prize for Education, which will reward an individual or teams of individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to any field or level of education. The winner, as selected by an international jury, will receive a gold medal and $500,000. Finally — an award to recognize the accompishments of educators in the same way that the Nobel Prize recognizes scientists.
Finally, let me tell you about a great personal moment. Riding the elevator, I began chatting with a British educator. When he saw National Council of Teachers of Mathematics listed as my affiliation, he said, “Oh, I used to teach maths, and I used to love to use some of the resources on an NCTM site. Now, what was it called?” I asked if he was thinking of Illuminations, and he said, “Yes, yes, that’s it!” I then told him that Illuminations was my project. “Well, jolly good,” he said, “What an honour to meet the man who runs Illuminations. My week is complete!”