More than 1,000 participants from around the world recently gathered in Doha, Qatar, for the fourth annual World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), convening under the theme ‘Collaborating for Change’. While the annual summit is the highest profile event of the WISE calendar, WISE runs a number of year-round educational initiatives. One of them is the WISE Awards to ‘identify, recognise and showcase’ innovative projects in the field of education.
Last August, 24 finalists were announced out of the hundreds of applications received from 89 countries.The African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) was among the finalists recognised for their African University Partnerships. ACBF provides financial, technical and institutional support through more than 50 programs with a view to increasing the number of skilled professionals across the continent. At this year’s WISE Summit, Samantha Nkirote McKenzie caught up with Frannie Léautier, the executive secretary of ACBF, to learn more.
Could you highlight some of the key takeaways for Africa from the November summit?
I've heard a lot of debates around how to prepare the next generation for a world that we really don’t know today. As Africa continues to integrate it may become one big country. So I think this will be one element of what should we do in education - to prepare young people for an integrated Africa.
The second one is on the risk side on the impacts of climate change.
Because of drought young people are moving to urban areas and our cities are not ready for the young people yet – to create jobs and offer them opportunities. So one of the questions is what is the risk coming out of climate change, and what’s the role of education in preparing young people to be ready for that uncertain world, to have the skills that will be needed to innovate to deal with some of the risks that come out of climate change.
Whether it's a drought-resistant farming, whether it’s in technologies that can function where there is flooding, whether it’s using the power of the sun to generate electricity to cool the cities and the areas where most people will be living, whether it’s in different forms of transportation that could be used to connect a continent that will have a lot of wet and dry patches and so on. So
And then the third one is the role of technology. We have a lot of experiments going on in Africa, including at our own foundation where we are linking up people through video conferencing for people to get content, and to learn and to interact with people through Twitter, Facebook and other ways.
I think for me the question is how you can best use technology to help young people observe the world around them. If you have an iPhone you could take pictures and video that would allow for more gathering of information and learning from what’s happening on the ground and sharing that in a more practical way.
Teachers - we don’t have enough. In rural areas we have large student-per-teacher ratios so we can we use our best teachers and use technology to make them available to a broader region and more young people. Then there’s the question of literacy and how we can quickly raise the level of literacy through technology, whether it’s radio or mobile phones, video, television and so on.
So I think those three areas have been really key for me in terms of extracting lessons on what may be valuable for what we’re doing.
What are the WISE learners saying?
One learner has been looking at how the educational experience can be transformed so that when young people graduate they graduate with a totality of skills. For example, if you look at the questions of democracy and good governance, having young people participate in managing the schools, managing the universities in student councils, student governments, that gives them the skills to be good managers, leaders and politicians when they come out of school. Also involving young people in designing the curriculum helps them to bring in their life experiences, so that what they learn is relevant. We bring in employers now to schools to talk about what they look for in young employees. But if you ask the young person what they need to succeed and also embed that into the curriculum then what you have is successful employed young people - they’re not just employed young people.
The recent WISE summit was your third. How have you seen the process change and evolve over the past three years?
I think the first one I attended was a big show with a lot of sharing of information. There were screens everywhere, there were people talking everywhere, it was like a marketplace for ideas.
Last year it had more depth in the sense that there were some of these projects that had come to maturity, there was an innovation book launched so it’s already collecting these ideas and putting them in a place where other people can use them.
This year it’s gone one step further in saying that these are things that have already happened, so let’s share why they have been successful and what are the challenges for the next phase. So it’s deepened some of these experiments and innovations. Now in this fourth phase we’re seeing if WISE can scale up.
Do you think that change will come out of this summit?
I think so because first of all look at who is in the partnership. You have the politicians, and the good thing is the politicians who are here are a mix of the former and the current, all the spouses of the heads of state, so they really get things done in the background. We have the educators, the vice chancellors of the universities, the teachers, school administrators, the people who supply the inputs to make education successful, like the technology companies, those who are designing learning environments. You have the people who have managed successful innovations to scale, the former first wives winner, the winner of the current prize professor challenge – a wealth of innovators here but also these young learners. It’s really the whole ecosystem of learning and since most of us are also parents, who are the missing link in education usually, we are thinking about the future of our children.
I think if there’s one that’s missing, and is important for the next WISE summit, is financiers. You have the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank, but I think there should have been more people from private banking.
I think it’s significant that you mentioned innovators who have successfully produced innovations to scale.
Right, because more than 90 percent of innovations fail so the important thing about innovation is the experimentation and trial. But the other one is to learn who has succeeded and how. Learning from failure is important, but also one has to know what success looks like.
Your Africa Capacity Building Foundation was a WISE awards finalist this year.
Yes, and we are very proud about that. What excited us about it is that at least the things we are doing that we think are innovative are being recognized. For example, supporting for over 20 years a group of strategic learners who have been able to get an education, which is a degree in economic policy, and then go to their home organizations and transform the way their countries do economic policies. These are the kinds of things we’re talking about here.
The other feature of these partnerships is that you can transform one university, but by networking them through, for instance, the support we give through the African Association of Universities you can get those lessons shared across universities, including at the leadership level, because this brings around 300 directors and vice chancellors and also the departments.
We can directly experiment with innovation through the Nelson Mandela Institute, the three of them that we support in Abuja, Arusha and Ouagadougou. I’m very pleased to see that our university partnerships were recognized because we are embedding some of the lessons that are coming out of WISE. How we can raise the game to the next level: bring in technology and make sure it can scale up even better, introduce a learning ecosystem so that the universities are microcosms for change, and bring young people’s voices into the design of our university curricula.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Maybe the one thing I would have hoped is that we in Africa can create a WISE Africa. This year many of the participants from that network did not make it so the continuity was very weak.
I think what we would strive to do better is to make sure there is a dynamic engagement going on at the continental level, working with the African Union, working with the African Association of Universities and the network of people who are innovators who came to the WISE summit, but it’s a challenge.