Students learning via television and radio programs in Kenya. Civic engagement education in Egyptian schools. Leadership skills for bridging the digital divide in Latin America. The potential for artificial intelligence in classrooms. All of this and more came up at the concluding event of “Education Disrupted, Education Reimagined,” a three-part virtual conference series hosted by the nonprofit Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Doha in collaboration with the Salzburg Global Seminar.
The previous gatherings in the series, held in April and June, brought together 4,000 participants from 98 countries. Diverse was a media partner for the final convening, which took place on Monday and Tuesday.
As K-12 schools begin to re-open, the objective was “to explore the impact of COVID-19 on school leadership and what, if any, will be the indelible marks left by this crisis on how our systems and our leaders operate now and in the future,” said WISE CEO Stavros Yiannouka.
Speakers particularly focused on how leaders should approach inequities spotlighted by the ongoing global crisis, like the digital divide for those who lack reliable Internet, preventing students from the U.S. and beyond from accessing remote learning.
“What’s at stake is nothing less than the human project,” said panelist Dr. Santiago Rincón-Gallardo, an education consultant in Mexico and Canada.
He emphasized the importance of approaching inequities in education – and the communities most affected by them – through a lens of “solidarity” versus a “condescending view of equity,” the attitude that “the poor dears need extra help because they’re in such bad conditions.”
“You are not there to save the poor dears,” he said. “You are there alongside the people you’re working with to liberate learning, to create their own capacity to save themselves, to learn by themselves, to take care of each other, to better the world.”
That happens in part through representation, he added, making sure that leadership teams are diverse.
In a similar vein, throughout the conference, speakers emphasized the need for leaders to empower and give agency to teachers, parents and students.
For example, panelist Vicky Colbert, founder and director of the Fundación Escuela Nueva in Colombia, spoke about how student government has emboldened student leadership in a trying time and how the role of teachers is shifting from a “transmitter of information to a proactive “mentor” and “coach.”
For keynote speaker Dr. John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at University of Melbourne, one of the positive aspects of the pandemic has been the central role of educators as the leaders of pedagogical innovation, rather than policymakers.
The pandemic “forced us overnight to make major changes in the way we work,” he said. “Since COVID, I’ve struggled to see a single education policy that has been agile enough to deal with these circumstances, other than the bickering about whether the physical placement of school should be open for some, for all or for none. In the meantime, educators have engendered an educational revolution. They’ve worked out how to best serve their students online … confronted inequities and modified their teaching. My point is, this is a true educator-led change.”
While it’s a crisis, Hattie also sees COVID-19 as a potential “golden ticket” for education reform.
On a similarly positive note, speakers also emphasized that the pandemic has forged partnerships between school systems and across international lines, another step toward better, more equitable education systems.
Panelist Amy Bellinger – education workforce initiative lead at the Education Commission in the United Kingdom – described professional learning communities in Rwanda where school leaders meet to discuss shared problems and WhatsApp groups in Latin America where administrators can exchange questions.
Another panelist, Dr. Maina Gioko, head of professional learning programme at Aga Khan Academy, told participants about his school’s partnership with Concordia University in Canada, which sent printed learning materials to his school in Kenya to serve students without Internet connectivity.
“The pandemic has brought out our inadequacies,” he said. “And hence, it has led us to appreciate that we’re in this together and we need each other. Hence, resources and solutions that were previously hoarded or sold were offered or shared to all. This created an opportunity to access resources and ideas, and it was reciprocated. You get something and you’re able to give out.”
Several speakers focused on the contributions of education leaders in the Global South to an international response to the pandemic.
For example, Colbert feels like she’s seen great strides in Latin America since the pandemic began, turning attention to formerly “invisible schools” as an “entry point for innovation.”
“It’s a bit like the story of Cinderella,” she said. “We have so many difficulties, so many problems, that in a way this was good because it forced us to think systemically from the outset.”
Sara Weissman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.