WISE education summit held in Qatar

WISE education summit held in Qatar

Qatar - the country against which Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt recently imposed crippling sanctions amid claims that it supports terrorist groups - has just organized one of the most important education summits of the world since 2009.

What a bizarre contradiction! Terrorism often appeals to the under-educated, but the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) claims to be “the Davos of education summits.”

I was in the Qatari capital Doha for the Nov. 14-16 WISE Summit when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also happened to visit Qatar. This is when Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said: “We are much better without Saudi Arabia and the other countries.”

I also attended the WISE four years ago, when it was run by a Qatari Foundation led by Şeyha Moza, the mother of the Emir. From a certain perspective, this year’s WISE, which is the eighth edition of the summit, represented Qatar’s aim to make a transition to an “information society.”

According to Şeyha Moza and her daughter Hind bint Hamad al-Thani, who jointly wrote the preface of the summit’s booklet, the summit also aspires to another, more gender-orientated aim: “The visibility of women in the Arab World.”

Education is the only way out

After Patrick Awuah, founder of a university in Ghana, received the education award, the Turkish First Lady Emine Erdoğan made the opening speech of WISE, to a varied audience of almost 2,000 non-governmental organizations, educators, academicians and renowned speakers. The summit’s theme this year was “Co-Exist, Co-Create: Learning to Live and Work Together,” and the main speaker was prominent journalist Fareed Zakaria.

Zakaria drew attention to the “intellectual capital stock” of Doha. After his speech he shared the stage with Singaporean diplomat Prof. Kishore Mahbubani, who is well known in Davos circles.

Mahbubani is the one who said that the 21st century has seen power pass from the West to the East.

According to Zakaria and Mahbubani, in a world where immigration happens in floods, demands for minority rights are on the rise and cultural identities are increasingly divided, the only way out is education.

“I believe groups with pluralistic and multi-ethnic societies are the best,” said Mahbubani.

The founder of Google X Lab

Another leading light of the summit was educator Sebastian Thrun, the co-founder of Google Z Lab, Stanford University scientist and entrepreneur.

When Thrun turned his artificial intelligence lectures at Stanford University in 2011 into free online courses, 160,000 students enrolled in the first phase. The success of these courses, titled Udacity, emboldened hopes for the internet to become a provider of free University education.

Another successful project Thrun founded in 2012 also stressed the internet’s potential to democratize education.

We learnt from Thrun that programs such as Udacity are possible. So far Udacity has educated 18,000 graduates, in return for small amounts of money.

Other areas that caught my attention at WISE were online education, artificial intelligence in education and virtual reality.

The Chinese were especially interested in artificial intelligence education practices as a means of substituting teachers in rural areas prone to teacher shortages.

I was sad to learn that only $1.3 billion dollars is spent on education in the world today when $3 billion is the necessary amount.

Why was Turkey not there?

In this year’s WISE summit, immigrants and Syrian refugees whose education has suffered disruption were also on the agenda.

It is difficult to understand why Turkey - which currently hosts 3.5 million of the 5 million Syrian refugees worldwide - was absent from these sessions. What is more important: Turkey’s experience of hosting 3.5 million Syrians or Lebanon’s one million Syrians?

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