Under a crisp blue sky in Hong Kong Harbor, the NEST Forum participants rolled up their sleeves to discuss new ways to put education on the agenda of the ICT industry. Discussions were fast-paced, intense and often provocative. At the one point, a Nobel Laureate threw a book into the audience for emphasis.
“For me, this has been a turbo-speed learning process. I’ll probably need a week to absorb it all,” says Jan Eliasson, Advocate of the UN Millennium Development Goals. In today’s world, he said, no single group can solve the key problems related to development and education – it’s a matter of collaboration and breaking down walls.
With topics ranging from a teacher’s role in our networked society to the need for better public-private partnerships, there was no shortage of ideas. It took the skills and poise of TV journalist Lorraine Hahn to keep the agenda on track. She was helped along by a group of distinguished discussion leaders who led the targeted debates and breakout sessions.
The day kicked off with a warm welcome from Ericsson President and CEO Hans Vestberg, who said that the ICT industry has a great opportunity to take a leadership role within education. “If we can rethink education, we get a smarter society,” says Vestberg.
Views differed on how active a role the ICT sector should play. Some felt educational issues should be left to the expertise of policymakers and educators. Others saw an urgent need for influencers within the ICT industry to educate the educators themselves on the practical applications for Information and Communication Technologies.
According to Nobel Laureate Sir Harry Kroto, “We need to use these technologies to unlock the creative potential of every kid on the planet.” He noted how the Internet and new social media tools allow teachers and students to connect in a whole new kind of global classroom. “We should inject the brilliant ideas of every teacher into every classroom if we can,” he says. Among other bold claims, Professor Kroto also referred to Wikipedia as the greatest innovation for educators since the printing press.
So what did the day’s discussion leaders have to say about our current forms of learning? According to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, “the textbook is dead. It is no longer the basic building block of education.” In short, much of what are still widely considered fundamental learning tools are now being rendered obsolete – a view shared by many of today’s participants.
Injecting a further provocative note to the discussions was Professor Sugata Mitra, whose research has shown that deeper learning may be possible without any teachers at all. If we are evaluating students based on their ability to memorize basic facts, as we often have in the past, he said, then we are teaching yet another skill that computers have made practically useless. Instead, we need to reconsider the aims of our education and assessment methods altogether, Professor Mitra said.
Rather than focusing on the millions of children who lack access to education, British MP David Miliband chose to focus on the millions of students who do receive an education, but who are denied access to quality information and engaging learning environments. The pupils and students themselves, Miliband said, should be the focus of innovation in learning. Education should be about “lighting a fire, not filling a bucket,” says Miliband, quoting poet William Butler Yeats.
The day wrapped up with the diverse group of educators, industry leaders and politicians summarizing key actions they feel should be prioritized in the field of education. Throughout the day’s sessions, there was a clear sense of urgency to reassess the ways ICT can empower students and educators alike.