The Qatar Foundation recently launched the first World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in the capital city of Doha on November 16-18, 2009.
Three years in the making, its overall objective is to take on the task improving/providing global access to education for citizens as a basic human right through promoting/scaling/replicating concrete initiatives that are sustainable, innovative, and inclusive.
Over 1000 educational professionals, practitioners, and media from 90 countries participated in this invitation-only Summit, that was competently assisted by a small army of over 200 logistical/support personnel and many volunteers from the Qatar Youth Foundation.
The Summit attempted to find common ground among the many competing and often contradicting issues between what constitutes best and available practices in both the emerging and developed world’s educational systems. It will now become an annual event, whose agenda and true global impact will grow as concrete partnerships, collaborations, and opportunities to create systemic educational change are brought to the Qatar Foundation and the Royal family’s attention.
There was a decided focus on higher education (voices speaking out about poverty, gender bias, and disability were heard too) as being the key pathway to economic opportunity, global citizenship, and peaceful resolutions to social problems that have plagued humanity since the dawn of civilization.
It was a great honor and responsibility to be invited to share my experiences about what works, push the traditional boundaries/notions about the rightful/reasonable inclusion of learners with disabilities in education, and hear about how people with disabilities would be part of an international movement towards educational equality and equity.
The Summit concluded with an intentionally generalized, but bold statement of 10 core education priorities, an announcement of two initiatives and a renewed commitment to the three main areas of focus for WISE in the future. There is much to hope for and work towards that will be part of crafting the realization of these priorities, and plenty of room for learners of all ages across the world experiencing a lack of educational opportunities due to institutional ignorance (best case scenario) and/or bias because they have learning, sensory or neurological that pose barriers in traditional academic settings.
Here is a first-effort Flipshare clip (poor production values which I promise to improve upon!) of Dr. Abdullah bin Ali Al-Thani’s call for action and promised support of future WISE priorities.
With so many pressing issues, it was a relief to hear the moderator, Nima Abu-Wardeh single out learning disabilities as a global educational issue within the context of the right to social inclusion. With an estimated 15% of the world’s population affected by this family of conditions, people with these learning barriers make up one of the largest underprepared and unrecognized educational minorities.
Predictably, a number of attendees who are commentators in the educational blogosphere (present company included) have already posted their thoughts & questions- both what can be done within our circles of influence to clarify/push the agenda as well as wondering how this signature event would not end up becoming a one-and-done affair.
A glimpse of what should be more to come for students and adults with disabilities was announced at the end of the Summit. It is a collaborative project between the Shafallah Center and USC targeting people with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
For many of us, going to conferences that discusses any kind of educational reform usually means hearing a rehash of the same problems, generalized statements of changing the status quo, and a feeling of resignation rather than resolve. It becomes several days of blah blah blah and then we go home. We do look forward to seeing other colleagues finding that workable solutions to “education reform” oftentimes reveal themselves in the hotel bar somewhere between the second and third cocktail!
As more of those who attended the Summit find, connect with each other, and share with their peers, I am convinced there will be ample opportunities to develop local and large-scale interventions as there was no lack of talent, best practices, and committed people. There is simply no acceptable way to return to status quo, now that we have been able to connect with other kindred spirits and have a sense of what is just beyond our reach to do.
There were many top world educational professionals I met in Doha who openly disclosed growing up and still dealing with dyslexia, ADHD, Asperger’s/social blindness and mood-related disorders. The fact they felt comfortable with themselves and where they are in life provided for me an additional layer of a sense of community.
Then, I remembered that we represented a small sliver of a successful minority. That current students from around the globe with these conditions were not invited. That we must expand the educational focus beyond college and students under the age of 25 because those who are older have been and remain completely excluded from any nation’s public agenda. That there remains a global unemployment rate of almost 90% of the world’s 850 million people estimated by the World Health Organization to have a disability.
I expect we will continue to be busy for a while addressing issues that will take a generation to carry out. But- as I am not willing to give up on any generation of persons with barriers to learning success- remain a pragmatic idealist who to bringing public attention, political constituency, and quality services to youth/adults with hidden disabilities.