Reforms take centre stage at education summit

Educational reforms may be the most valuable investment a country can make in a rapidly changing world, said experts at the first annual Transforming Education Summit (TES) being held at Emirates Palace.

By Aisha Tariq

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Published: Thu 10 May 2012, 12:17 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 11:55 AM

Hosted by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), the two-day event started on Tuesday under the patronage of General Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE Armed Forces, has drawn leading international figures from numerous sectors, including academia, government and business, to discuss how education can be improved and extended throughout the world.

The official opening of the event was attended by Shaikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chief of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court, 200 prominent experts and decision makers from 30 countries as well as 40 speakers from around the world.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a vocal advocate for the development of a Global Fund for Education, addressed the summit on the first day of sessions. “What will distinguish nations in the future is not simply the ownership of resources,” said Brown, echoing a common theme among the summit’s speakers.

“What will distinguish a country in the future is the quality of its people, the potential and talent that is brought out by the education system in the people of that country.”

The event focuses on the practical implementation of education reform—on “how” to transform, rather than “what” to transform, according to Adec Director-General Mugheer Al Khaili.

“We tried to make this conference different from others. Today books, theory are everywhere, but we want to know where it is successful,” he explained. The summit includes interactive sessions in which delegates are seated by sector, such as government or education, and present collective questions and suggestions to the group.

“We will create a community,” pledged Al Khaili, referring to TES working groups that will continue to meet after the event and follow up on its findings and proposals.

In his keynote speech, Brown summed up his model for educational improvement in four recommendations: “Focus on the quality of teachers. Focus on school leadership and make sure you have the best head teachers in schools, colleges and universities. Focus on the creativity in the curriculum so that we are focused on how people think and not just what they think. And focus on how new technology changes the role of education.”

The British former premier placed special emphasis on the impact of teachers, noting that an effective instructor could improve or detract from students’ performance by up to 50 per cent.

Andy Hargreave, a renowned American researcher and author on education reforms, also identified teacher quality as the driving factor in transforming education, outweighing changes in curriculum, technology or accountability.

A key obstacle to improving education, according to Hargreave, comes from teachers’ lack of status. “The mammoth in the room that nobody will mention is that teacher quality does depend on some level on teacher pay.

We will not have quality teachers unless we take bad pay off the table,” he said, arguing that wealthy nations should have the vision to redirect resources to invest in their professional capital.

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