Better Late than Never: WISE Awards Report Back

**We ran into some snafus with live posting, so some of my report backs didn’t make it up.  I think you’ll enjoy them anyway, so here’s one from the WISE Awards ceremony held on the second day of the conference.**

Here in Doha at WISE, the World Innovation Summit for Education, six groups were recognized for innovation, sustainability or pluralism. I managed to snag interviews with five winners.  Martin Burt’s project in Paraguay, ‘the Self Sufficient School,’ seeks to enable the poor to make a living while living on the land. As he told me, “Experts talk about ‘eliminating poverty,’ but that’s too abstract. I’m talking about putting money in the hands of the poor, money they have earned.”

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I had a lively conversation with Joyce Dongotey-Padi of Ghana, whose project, known as WANE (Widows Alliance Network), aims to emancipate Ghanaian widows from the social, cultural and economic deprivation brought about by the prejudices they face because of their status. Ms. Dongotey-Padi is not a widow herself but was moved to act when a neighbor and friend became widowed and found herself virtually helpless and penniless.

I also talked with the Executive Director of Curriki, Dr. Barbara (Bobbi) Kurshan, and soon will put up an interview with her colleague Peter Levy.  Curriki’s name comes from ‘Curriculum’ and Wikipedia’ and is meant to suggest free, user generated curriculum for teachers.  Pretty neat stuff that is deservedly catching on and now has about 100,000 participants, almost all of them teachers.

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The project to educate girls and women in India, Nanhi Kali, caught my attention.  It began in 1996 but didn’t really take off until recently.  It now reaches 52,000 girls across 8 states in India, up from just 1700 girls in 2002.  Its stated goal is to reach 100,000 girls by the end of this year, but its real goal is to change the social attitudes that devalue girls and women.  Ms. Sheetal Mehta was at WISE representing the project, and her energy and optimism jump off the screen.

Unfortunately I did not get to talk with representatives of the two other projects but both are worth your attention.  Escuela Nueva in rural Colombia uses collaborative learning to transform the traditional classroom and promote entrepreneurial skills. It was initiated in 1975 in rural Colombia in response to endemic educational problems like high dropout rates, weak school-community relationships, ineffective teacher training and the lack of children’s learning materials.

The second one I missed is a successful distance learning project in the Amazon forest, where many small towns and villages are accessible only by boat.  It was launched in 2007 by the Secretariat of Education and Learning Quality of Amazonas State and today transmits live classes via a two-way videoconference link to 25,000 students in 300 secondary schools and 700 classrooms, throughout the 62 county districts. A teacher is also located in each classroom to support local activities.

The awards were formally presented at the gala Tuesday night by Her Royal Highness Sheika Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned.  Each project received $20,000.   The first WISE Awards attracted 500 entries, and I was told that the judges could have honored many more projects than they did, so expect an even bigger splash next year.

In Qatar: Interview with WISE Chairman, Dr. Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani

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Dr. Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani is the Chairman of WISE and Vice President for Education of the Qatar Foundation.  Dr. Abdulla knows the United States well, having gone to graduate school at Colorado State University. I spent a few minutes with this soft-spoken, focused and optimistic leader on the first day of WISE.  He was very clear about his high hopes for the event.

Not on the tape but revealing: When Dr. Abdulla learned that I live in California, his face lit up.  He told me with great excitement about the time he and a cousin rented motorcycles, took a 1-hour driving lesson, and then drove down our Route One from Big Sur down to Santa Barbara.  He told his parents, he confessed, only after the trip had concluded successfully.

Better Late Than Never: Report Back from Day 1 in Qatar

**We ran into some snafus with live posting, so some of my report backs didn’t make it up.  I think you’ll enjoy them anyway, so here’s one from the first day of the conference.**

About 1000 delegates from more than 120 countries are represented here in Doha, Qatar, at WISE, the World Innovation Summit for Education. Plans are to make this an annual event, and it’s backed by the Qatar Foundation and the prestige of Her Royal Highness, Sheika Mozah, the wife of the Emir. She opened the 3-day meeting with a rousing call for innovation in education.

WISEShe reminded us that more than 75 million school-age children are not in school and that nearly 800 million adults cannot read or write. And she sounded a theme that is of profound importance: the education gender gap is wide and growing, because discrimination against women and girls is deeply entrenched.

The need for innovation is clear, because business as usual means accepting severe teacher shortages, funding deficits and low completion rates. Can this conference energize at least some of the participants to work for significant change?

For this stranger,a lesson on arrival had to do with pronunciation of Qatar. I’ve always said ‘ka-TAR’ but they say ‘cotter’, as in cotter pin. The second lesson: This is a new country intent on leaping into the 21st century: Construction cranes everywhere, and what they have already put up is impressive. Google ‘Education City, Qatar’ and see for yourself.

About 50 journalists are here, and the organizers have ‘quarantined’ us at a hotel miles and miles from the meeting hotel, the Ritz. We are downtown, where life happens, and we have a 30-40 minute bus ride morning and night that gives us a chance to see some of Doha. Those ensconced at the Ritz are out on a peninsula, miles from anything else. They do get the famous Ritz chocolate chip cookies, however.

After Sheika Mozah’s speech, we were talked at, about the importance of innovation in education. Why is it that the pedagogy never changes? Does someone believe that’s the best way to communicate?

Off to Qatar for WISE

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I’m headed to the first World Innovation Summit on Education in Doha, Qatar. Hundreds of education innovators, policy makers and experts will be gathering there and I plan on recording video, audio interviews and filling you in on what’s happening there as it unfolds. This week, expect a post a day from me until Thursday, when I return.

To learn more about the WISE conference, visit their website: http://www.wise-qatar.org.