Inventing tomorrow at the Global Education & Skills Forum

Editor Lucinda Reid attended the sixth annual GESF in Dubai to hear from outstanding speakers and meet the best teacher in the world

What do you think the world of 2030 will look like? This question was explored in detail at Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF), an initiative of Varkey Foundation, which brings together world leaders from the public, private and social sectors seeking solutions to achieving education, equity and employment for all. This year, the theme of the forum was 2030 and over 2,800 delegates and 290 speakers came together to discuss the future. But why 2030? I spoke to Vikas Pota, Chief Executive of Varkey Foundation, to find out the answer. 

“2030 is not an abstract concept because if a child enters schooling today, in 12 years’ time its 2030,” explained Vikas. “Not many people can put their finger on what is going to happen, which is quite frightening because we are supposed to be preparing children for the future.” 

To tackle the issue, the Global Education and Skills Forum invited an exceptional array of speakers to dissect the future. Tony Blair, George Osborne, Lewis Hamilton, Al Gore, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Hudson, Nicholas Hoult, Julia Gillard and Priyanka Chopra (to name a few) all joined in with the debate and shared their thoughts about education. To hear from so many influential people was an incredible experience, it’s not every day that A-list stars and politicians passionately discuss the world of education. 

One event during the forum looked at whether the world would be a better place in 2030. It was led by Nicholas Piachaud, Policy and Advocacy Manager at Varkey Foundation, and it illustrated that the delegates were pessimistic about the future of young people. However, after much discussion, it soon became clear that with disruptive innovation in education there could be a transformational change. For example, smartphones and online learning platforms have made education more accessible than ever. However, if change is to happen everyone needs to take collective responsibility to make the world a better place. This was a common theme throughout the forum, as speakers called for delegates to come together and make a positive future for 2030. 

Some of the people who are doing just that were nominated for the ‘Next Billion’ Edtech Prize. The prize, which was introduced at this year’s forum, was to recognise the most innovative technology to have a radical impact on education in low-income and emerging countries. Over 40 start-ups were selected to pitch for the prize at the forum and three winners were awarded $25,000 each, as well as the opportunity to pilot their technology in partner schools in South Africa. After an exciting pitching process the three winners were: Chatterbox, an online language school powered by refugees, Dot Learn, technology which makes online video e-learning accessible, and TeachMeNow, a global marketplace that connects teachers, experts and mentors to students. 

“I get sent a lot of emails asking what the schools of the future will be like,” explained Vikas. “In my view, I think society will react in different ways and schools will have to respond to that. So right now, we see in wider society the use of artificial intelligence, phone technology, augmented reality and in the end, we are all consumers and we will consume these things. Consequently, that will have a knock-on impact on schools. That’s why we organised the ‘Next Billion’ Edtech Prize to spur on innovation that works for kids and is good for kids in the developing world.” 

The ‘Next Billion’ Edtech Prize was definitely one of the highlights of the entire forum and after speaking to the start-ups I can safely say the future is in good hands. Plus, out of the six finalists, five of the start-ups were led by women, signalling that hopefully in 2030 the gender gap will be well on its way to being resolved. 

Andria Zafirakou

Speaking of inspirational women, Andria Zafirakou was named as the world’s best teacher as she was awarded the Global Teacher Prize 2018. Every year, the Global Education and Skills Forum concludes by crowing one incredible teacher with the coveted prize. Andria, an art and textiles teacher at Alperton Community School in London, was this year’s winner and won $1m which will be paid in equal instalments over 10 years.

Before the announcement of her win, I had a chat with Andria about how the prize had impacted her life. “My life has changed because I feel valued by the Global Teacher Prize,” she said. “I feel that the work I do within my community is important and needed. All teachers should feel like that because they all work really hard. Teachers are doing the most noble job in the world and for all the right reasons. I just feel so blessed that there are people like Sunny Varkey and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who understand and value teachers.”

This was the key message that stayed with me weeks after I returned to the UK. Technology will inevitably change education, and 2030 will look very different to today. At the forum, I heard discussions of robots in the classroom and virtual reality lessons, but it remains clear that the people driving that change will be the teachers. They are the ones at the core of a successful education system and they are the people who should be put at the centre of the discussion. It was refreshing to see the Global Education and Skills Forum not only support this, but also thank teachers for everything they do. This was incredibly powerful and an inspiring conclusion for the teaching profession. 

However, although the Global Education and Skills Forum is on its way to deciphering 2030, I am left wondering what 2019 will bring… 

To learn more, visit the Global Education & Skills Forum here.

5 unforgettable quotes at Global Education & Skills Forum 2018 

Education is a major part of our economy and if I was back in power today I would take an even more revolutionary approach to teaching. Education is the single most transformative thing that a country can do.” 
Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister 

When I learned to read and write I felt powerful.”
Mohamed Sidibay, education activist and former child solider

Empowering a woman starts with educating the girl.”
Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia 

History shouldn’t send you to sleep, it’s supposed to give you insomnia.”
Simon Schama, historian 

Robots will never replace teachers, because the educators’ role is to inspire and encourage. But, technology can aid teachers to support student learning effectively.” 
Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation 






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