“Imagine. Create. Learn” – WISE 2014

The stage was set on 4th Nov 2014 in Doha, Qatar for the biggest, renowned names and audience to come together under one roof  to debate and discuss the biggest issue of the present time – education. The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) 2014 theme “Imagine, Create and Learn: Creativity at the Heart of Education” came at a time where creativity and innovation is at its lowest, where students are disengaged and where teachers have lost the passion. From 4th Nov – 6th Nov, the actors from various parts of world, in various positions and fields came to address the critical issue of creativity and innovation and how to create an  educational system that nurtures creativity in the youth today.

WISE 2014 Opening Ceremony
WISE 2014 Opening Ceremony – Doha, Qatar

The World Innovation Summit for Education was created under the leadership of Qatar Foundation’s Chairperson, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser in 2009. The aim behind WISE was not only to make it an international platform for creative thinking, debate and action, but also, to bring forward unique global approaches to education in order to build a unique future of education with collaboration.

This year Summit proved that challenges in the educational front are not confined to one country, one educational system, one group of students and teachers. Rather, the challenges are real and global in nature. If not addressed, an era will be lost to chaos. Without innovation, there is no change, there is no growth. And without growth, we will become stagnant. Innovation is the engine of growth and it is now what is required should we want to steer around the circumstances around the world.

The WISE 2014 Polls showed that 67% believed that schools kill creativity and 33% believed not. These numbers are representative of not only the issues within the educational system, but, they also show the state of the current times. We have chaos and destruction around us. Our children are being exposed to violence and terror of a horrific kind. Freedom of thought is suppressed. The global economies are on a stand still. Unemployment and poverty is high. There is hardly any peace. Happiness is now a new goal in a world where desperation and sadness surrounds us.

All of this stems from the fact that every one is running after materialistic goals. The external pressures which include pressures from parents and societies is all about going to best university, getting the best education, getting the top grades, getting the best jobs,best house and pay that ultimately would lead to a certain kind of lifestyle. Selfishness became the focus and somewhere along the line, helping others and being responsible for others was lost.  And the pressure didn’t end here. To get to the best university, you must have the top grades and for top grades you don’t have room for error, you just can’t do mistakes. There is no absolute room for trial and error.  If anything, the late US Financial crisis of 2008-2009 broke the model of selfishness as it exposed that the world built on selfishness, greed and power is unsustainable.

Learning Re-imagined

The message of WISE 2014 echoed this reality.  We are responsible for others and we can no longer  stand behind the scenes and be spectators. With the increasing inequality, it is time to step up and change our behaviours. And the simplest way to do it is to change the mindset of individuals and innovate the educational system that fosters not only human values, but also, nurtures unique creative traits in individuals. This means we cannot live in a world with no mistakes. Such a world does not exist. As Dr Tony Wagner from Harvard Innovation Lab said “Education demands failure. Make mistakes and learn. In other words, the mindset must now change if real learning is to take place.

Creativity and learning is a critical issue because we have become a machine based society. Students absorb rather than create. Unfortunately, part of this lies with the present state of educational systems. The educational system resembles the 19th century industrial organization where students are being released as products to the world on a conveyor belt. They are instructed the same material with the same instructional methods, same assessments via exams and then are given degrees at the end to certify that a certain standard of good has been produced. What the system fails to recognize that students are human beings, not products. They can’t be molded and perfected to meet a certain standard set by the corporate world and society. Students are disengaged because the stories they hear are not human. Each student brings with them a unique quality and skills that needs to be fostered.

There is a significant recognition that grades do not reflect a student’s capability or skills. A student with top grades might not have the skills that are required in the world today. Similarly, a student with no top grades might have all the skills that are required to succeed. Top grades in university does not necessarily translate itself into success. The students today have the knowledge but how that knowledge can be applied to real world problems is where they fell short. It is important, rather critical, to ask questions and be curious rather than having the right answer. As Tony Wagner stated “today the world no longer how much you know, but, what can you do with what you know is what is looked for”. In other words, more knowledge does not mean greater capability. The young generation must have the skills to solve complex, analytical problems with collaboration. And that is only possible if they can work through the paralyzing fear of failure as the fear of failure means risk aversion. Without failure, there is no learning. How would we know what works and what not until we have trial and error?

Wendy Kopp - Founder of Teach for All
Wendy Kopp – Founder of Teach for All
Legos For Creative Writing
Lego For Creative Writing

This change requires a transformation in teaching.  Teaching does not mean regurgitating the material. It is a dynamic process whereby teachers have to be creative, have to develop a mindset which encourages questions, thoughts and nurture creativity within students. Teachers have to become coaches and believe that each student is bound to succeed in their own unique way through their unique skills. Teaching has to be free from judgement. When teachers value mistakes and guide students rather than judging, its turns around the whole interaction with students. When students are believed in and encouraged in their thoughts and their creativity, students engage and are motivated to bring about a change. An educational environment which teaches students to help others, to be “women and men for others’, to be responsible for themselves and serve the community is the demand of our time.

If we are to change the global inequality, it must start with our educational systems which needs revamping. We need to re-evaluate our systems and really see whether our students are learning or are simply taking part in order to pass a course, to get a certain grade and move on.

We need to start listening to our real selves and nurture our own creativity. We need to embrace our own imperfections and stop judging others. We should value the human experiences, emotions and stories rather than valuing materialistic goals that only increase the gap between people. We need to engage with parents and community to build bridges of understanding and cooperation should we want to see our youth stepping up and helping others.

Until we as individuals, teachers, parents and community change, the world at large will not change. Until our education systems change to reflect the needs and demands of times, creativity and learning will continue to suffer. The real question now is will the actions come in time? or will we have to reach the lowest point to make the change happen?