To be honest with you all, this is a topic that is close to my heart and although most of the stuff they were talking about is exactly what I tell my students and at the conferences I’ve spoken at in the past, but it is always good to hear people who share the same views and at bigger occassions than in my tiny little computer lab or in a round table discussion.
The scenario was that a child who is born in 2000 will be going to university/college in 2017, and the big question was, what will he need to do to survive in our rapidly changing world once entering university and eventually leaving into the ‘real world’?
Where Are We Now?
Just to give an idea of what the level of education is like in the Middle East region, Dr. Mona Mourshed from McKinsey spoke about Arab students results in the TIMSS examinations.
The Trend in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is an international exam held every four years, with the most recent exams this year,2007. Over 60 countries participated with students from 4th, 8th and 11th grades all sitting exams in general mathematics and science. The highest scoring nation in the 2003 TIMSS exams was Singapore (the TIMSS 2007 results will be published in December 2008).
The Arab countries performances were all below the US average.
Less than 1% of the highest scoring students in the Arab countries scored the Singapore average.
Universities and employers in the Arab world also have their complaints, that 50% of school graduates do not have the necessary hard skills (Maths, Arabic, English) to succeed whilst over 60% of school graduates don’t have the necessary soft skills (Leadership qualities, Problem Solving, Team work etc..).
Good teachers lead to good performances from students
A way to combat these poor results is to raise the quality of teachers in the schools. Mona Mourshed pointed out that many teachers in Arab countries tend to come from the bottom 20% of university graduates whereas countries like Finland and South Korea only accept teachers who are in the top 10% and top 5% of their classes respectively.
Teaching in the Arab World has become the occupation of those who cannot find a job in their specific degree area. What is needed now is to “restore professionalism” into teaching.
The Power of Web 2.0 to Education
The potential of the internet is growing massively everyday, with more and more people gaining access to the internet via faster connections.
With this rise of internet users, the amount of content on websites has grown dramatically, and more interestingly, and is free. The idea of selling knowledge over the internet sounds absolutely absurd to many users nowadays, making it much unlikely to succeed.
This growing number of internet users also created the phenomena of ‘Web 2.0′ or what some like to call the “social web” where information is shared and most importantly generated by the users via certain applications such as Wikipedia, Facebook, Flickr, Digg etc..
Harden Tibbs, Chief Executive Officer of Synthesys Strategic Consulting Limited (UK) believes that a traditional and fixed curriculum will only graduate students who are inadequent or will struggle with our rapidly changing world.
Fixed curriculums are based on anticipation of what the future holds, and with the rapid change we are seeing everyday, the future has become very difficult to predict and anticipate.
As a solution, e-learning systems that run on a social interface should be developed so to let the student adapt and personalise their education and concentrate on areas of strength and soft skills to prepare themselves for the work areas and fields that haven’t been invented yet.
Adding to this point, Dr. John Palfrey from Havard Law School, USA believes that students must become “sensitive to change” to survive and excel in the future. He also feels that we are already feeling the transformation in education caused by the internet where many students nowadays would firstly search information via search engines like Google and Ask Jeeves opposed to visiting the library.
**On this topic I must mention a school visit I conducted a couple of weeks ago to one of Bahrain’s Secondary Girls Schools, to evaluate an ICT project on the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) and when I asked the students where they got all the information, they all said Google. When I asked them if they visited the library, one answered “Why should we? Everything is on Google!”
Enpowering Students and Saving The Planet
During the panel, predictions were made on what areas will students in the future be working in. The Vice President of the Royal University for Women (Bahrain), Siham Al-Suwaigh, believes that the growing concerns surrounding global warming and other environmental issues will open up a great market in enviromental research and development to be filled with newly graduated students in the future.
A surprise addition to the panel was the young Abdulaziz Al-Taraizouni, a Saudi studying at King Fahad University and heads an IT society at his university. He compares the education of old as the obtainment of “pure knowledge and nothing else” whereas modern education is looking ahead and is more concerned with the job market. He supported his fellow panelists in that students must gain the skills needed to adapt to all changes.
The society he heads is the ‘IT Leaders Society’ which is a society that encourages the students to find new and innovative ways to use and create technology. He finds that the society has given so much freedom for the students and much room to grow, develop and find themselves with the final product being the amount of productivity the students show in their work..
I managed to catch some of the afternoon sessions of the second day of FIKR 6 including an half hour segment on transformations in global thinking which was absolutely inspiring.
Four very different experiences from four different regions from Africa to Europe and both the Middle East and Far East shared seven minutes (each) to enlighten the attendees on how such simple concepts can make such a difference (in addition to a lot of money!)
Hecters of SMS gold
Daniel Annerose, founder and CEO of Manobi Corporation in Senegal discussed the impact of IT and Telecommunications in rural Africa. He first highlighted that in rural Africa only 2% of homes have access to landline telephone connections with an even poorer broadband penetration, thus any access to information was very hard to come by.
MTC (now Zain), as part of their international strategy to expand their market, tapped into the African market and invested heavily (approx. 7 billion USD$). One of the fruits of their success in Africa was Manobi Corporation’s project in helping Senegalese commercial farmers by using mobile phone technology .
The concept was simple. Manobi offered internet services over mobile networks that included market information to these Senegalese farmers who were predominately living in rural areas, thus they would be in the know from a single SMS or MMS message to their mobile phone. Farmers benefitted greatly to that some farmers’ income increased by USD$2000 per hecter of land. He concluded by predicting that 50% of rural Africans will have mobile phones in the next ten years.
Inspired by Gandhi..Self reliant youth who better the community
Philanthropy through education was the second experience covered where Mr Camaran Elahian (his wife’s name, Zohre Elahian, was originally to give this short and strong talk according to the programme).
Education has always been teacher centred, with all efforts in improving teaching. But if we are to seek innovation in education, we must look at the learner.
He believes that an education that is more student centered, where their point of view and voice is heard, is the way to combat hatred and encourage more cooperation worldwide. He added that his generation “did not leave a good legacy for the future generations” due to the ever-growing problems we face from pollution to conflict and wars. Despite this, the youth people of this generation are “hopeful”.
Mr Elahian used the Gandhi Project and its network in Palestine as an example on how young people can make a difference. The Gandhi Project promotes the ideas and concepts of non-violence resistance and community development, and aims to make the Palestinian community economically self reliant.
23 Youth clubs from around the world participate in this project, and when given the task to create some sort of celebration event (like Eid etc.) .All of the clubs sent proposals and asked for some financial support, all excluding Palestine that is. The Palestinians were able to give back to the community without being reliant on others.
Mainframe.. We don’t need one!
Shinsei Bank is the only global bank that fully runs on the internet. After the bankruptcy of the Long Term Credit Bank of Japan which followed by it’s nationalization in 1998, the new Shinsei bank were “aiming to get one million customers in one year”. This was a massive task and with a modest budget (in banking terms), it seemed impossible.
Not for Dhananjaya Dvivedi, the Chief Information Officer at Shinsei Bank and his team. The first thing most banks would worry about is their database and in particular what type of mainframe computer to buy. Shensei were simply unable to buy one so they opted to buying thousands of Dell machines with off the shelf Microsoft Windows connected to each other in an enormous network. This policy of low cost and high impact led the bank to gaining “two million customers instead of one”. This eventually evolved making all the transactions and procedures online, everything from overseas transfers to online ATMs to video phone calls. Shinsei Bank has gained its status between Japanese banks and has been voted as the best Japanese commercial bank three years in a row.
Building Blocks to Success
Lego, other than creating the world famous building blocks, had a programmable robotics kit called Mindstorms but with four years without an update and huge losses from other endeavors including PC software games and Disney licensing, something had to change.
With the rise of Web 2.0 technologies on the web, Lego decided to take a “calculated risk”.
With so much user created content all over the internet, Lego decided to do the unthinkable at the time (and especially to their lawyers) and bring in the consumer and their creative ideas into the development team.
This consumer driven business model was devised by Soren Lund and his team at LEGO Group. It started out as an underground website to invite four people from outside the company to join the Mindstorms development thus giving birth to the MUP (Mindstorm User Panel). this number gradually grew to ten people than Lego decided to bring the MUP to the surface and add another 100 panelists.
Lego deliberately made the registration process as difficult and unattractive as possible by only allowing people over 18 to register , an exhausting amount of forms and questionnaires that needed filling and forcing a fee to register. Lego expected 1,000 people to register.
They received 10,000 requests from 79 different countries.
After finally choosing the 100 panelists, Lego was astounded by the amount of creativity and hardcore commitment from the panelists. All this and they weren’t even paid peanuts, but were rewarded with prototype Mindstorm kits, and lego pieces.
Lego developed the new Mindstorms without a full professional development team, and without costs.
The panelists kept pushing us as a company for better products, better Mindstorm capabilities. This two-way dialogue with the users has benefitted Lego massively and truly shows that we now have intelligent and creative consumers in our markets.
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