WISE 2017: co-exist, co-create: living and working together

ET editor Charley Rogers reflects on the eighth annual WISE summit's message, and how edtech plays a vital role in global education

The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), a project of the Qatar Foundation, was recently held at Doha’s premium QNCC venue from November 15–16 2017.

The WISE summit is a gathering of experts from the education sector, as well as welcoming speakers and contributors from various other innovation projects across the globe. 2017’s Doha event, entitled ‘Co-Exist, Co-Create: Learning to Live and Work Together’ was introduced by the Qatar Foundation’s chairperson, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. The Qatar Foundation is a non-profit organisation that supports Qatar on its journey to becoming a diversified and sustainable economy. The theme of living and working together at this year’s event focused on various pressing issues, from innovative ways to bring education to those who are displaced, to the real uses of virtual reality in the classroom. The conference was attended by delegates from over 100 countries, and welcomed such esteemed guests as the BBC World News’ Ms Yalda Hakim, First Lady of Turkey Emine ErdoÄŸan, and Ghanaian President His Excellency Mr Nana Akufo-Addo. 

A gripping special address from CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria tackled a ‘post-truth’ world and how fake news is affecting the way that students today receive and disseminate knowledge. Touching on issues such as the political challenge of education in a post-truth age, and how education plays a key role in challenging the rise of fake news and in solidifying the existence of fact, Mr Zakaria commented that: “Technology has made it very easy to select facts from a vast, undifferentiated mass of information on the internet,” and that in an age where sensational news is much more popular than ‘boring truth’, fake news actually has an advantage.

“Facts are becoming the quiet victim in a world where people are emotionally invested in tribal politics,” said Zakaria, and “defending the seemingly simple proposition [of the existence of fact and truth] has become a highly urgent and important task.” And this is indeed the task of educators. 

In a world where tribal politics and an ever-changing landscape means that there are innumerable ways in which people are being divided, it is the task of education to unite us.

But how do we educate people in a digital world? In a world where, as Mr Zakaria commented, “the computer can outsmart us at so many things.” We play to our strengths. Instead of worrying about what the computer can do better, we need to focus on what it can never do as well as the human, and improve these capabilities within ourselves and our students; “to emphasise those qualities that machines will never be able to emphasise,” as Mr Zakaria put it. 

Despite the challenges that face education systems across the world, the words of Mr Zakaria’s address encapsulated the theme of the entire WISE summit; that education, and the use of technology within education, is the key to bridging the divides within the world, whether through providing digital links between students that are spatially distant, allowing the virtual exploration of lands and times that are otherwise inaccessible, or streamlining processes that allow underfunded schools to function more smoothly. Technology plays a central role in our world, and therefore necessarily in both what and how we teach future generations. 

The UN Secretary General’s comments also echoed the summit’s dedication to innovation and co-existence. He said: “Our century calls for new skills to adapt to a world of rapid change.” These messages are indeed hard to argue with. Here in the UK we have seen various changes in the education system, from the reintroduction of grammar schools, to maths mastery and the huge increase in university tuition fees. Not to mention the as-yet-unknown implications of Brexit. But in the face of these challenges, educators across the country, and the world, are working together to innovate, improve, and break down barriers to allow a full and modern education for all. Long may this effort – and the work and recognition of the WISE summit – continue.