News Overview 2015

How to Make Education Innovation Travel

Symposium gathers education experts from all over the world

Education experts from around the globe gathered in Berlin for the Bosch Foundation’s international education conference. They traveled from as far afield as the USA, China, Korea, and Pakistan to attend the one-day event with the aim identifying global problems in the education sector and debating innovative solutions to them. The conference included four moderated discussions that focused on education from the viewpoint of policy-makers, practitioners, academics, and funders.

In his keynote speech to around 70 conference participants, OECD Education and Skills Director Andreas Schleicher explored the theme: "How to make education innovation travel?"

He warned that technology is outpacing developments in education and highlighted huge variables in the learning opportunities available to learners worldwide. OECD data indicates that neither state spending levels nor cultural differences hold the keys to the success of each country’s education system. Rather, Mr. Schleicher said "getting the most talented teachers into the most challenging classrooms" is vital.

Despite the importance of teachers working collaboratively and receiving feedback, Mr. Schleicher warned that many feel they’re working in isolation. He described the need for "professional autonomy in a collaborative culture" and concluded that: "The fastest improving education systems are the ones that are most open to the world."

The Policy-Making Perspective

Experts from the United States and Europe debated the role of policy-makers in education plus the challenges and limitations they face. Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education, White House Domestic Policy Council, named "achieving equity" the number one biggest challenge in the U.S. Describing the situation in Germany, Sylvia Löhrmann, North Rhine Westphalia’s Deputy Minister-President and Minister of Schools and Education, said policy-makers had to deal with both trade unions and heavy lobbyism. She described the unique factor of so-called "German angst" and explained: "There is so much pressure in the German system. This is a very important point concerning the feeling we have about schools and about learning." Xavier Prats Monné, European Commission Director-General for Education and Culture, gave a broader European perspective. He named an aversion to outsourcing and a tendency to uniformity, not diversity, as some of the drawbacks of publicly administered systems. The policy-makers agreed that their scope was limited. Mr. Rodriguez explained: "When we have seen policy that attempts to prescribe too much, that’s when it can begin to interfere with the art and important endeavor of teaching."

The Practitioner’s Perspective

Defining "good" education and how schools can provide it were amongst the topics debated by leading practitioners. Laurence Nodder, Director, UWC Robert Bosch College, highlighted the need to create the right ethos in schools, asking: "How can we help lead and create an ethos where it is more likely that the students and staff will discover that our sense of humanity is enriched, not diminished, by our diversity?" Teach for Pakistan CEO Noorulain Masood described a growing need to agree on a broad definition of "good education" in order to raise standards. Describing the situation in Pakistan, she stressed the importance of creating an equal sense of possibility for all children. "We believe that all kids can achieve, but what we also need to acknowledge is that a lot of people don’t believe that," she explained. Wolfgang Vogelsaenger, Headmaster of IGS Göttingen, questioned the efficacy of students learning simply to attain good grades. "If students learn for marks, they don’t learn for life," he said, adding that schools needed more freedom, not more standardization. Phyllis Leong Miao Lin, a student at the UWC Robert Bosch College, also voiced concerns. She said many students in her home country of Singapore were "increasingly baffled" about the purpose of their education and asking: "Are we learning because of curiosity or because of necessity and obligation?"

The Academic Perspective

Leading academics highlighted the need for more research into teaching methods. Sølvi Lillejord, Director of the Norwegian Knowledge Centre, described education research as a very "fragmented" field that is currently "under utilized". Stephen Dinham, MGSE University of Melbourne’s Chair of Teacher Education and Director of Learning and Teaching, pointed out the gap between teaching practices and contemporary research into teaching and learning. Open University of Hong Kong Vice President Wing-On Lee broadened the debate by citing the persistent income inequality still facing students in East Asia’s successful education systems. He asked: "If they can’t climb the social ladder, if they can’t change their social status, what good is their educational achievement performance to them?"

The Funder’s Perspective

The relationship between state funding and philanthropy was a major theme of the funders’ discussion. Outlining the situation in the United States, America Achieves Co-Founder and Executive Chairman Jon Schnur said NGOs and philanthropy played a "critical" role in creating new solutions to problems in education. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Senior Program Officer Sandra Licon said the most effective philanthropy funded projects that the government could not, with the aim of influencing public funding in the future. Commenting on the debate, National Public Education Support Fund Executive Director Terri Shuck explained: "One of the great traditions of philanthropy in America has been challenging power and challenging distribution of resources."

Summarizing Talks

During the conference’s closing remarks, participants were invited to consider the challenges facing education systems around the world. Marc S. Tucker, President and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, said a "paradigm change" was needed: "We must re-design the system. The top performers have been doing exactly that." Urvashi Sahni, Founder and President of the Study Hall Education Foundation, urged participants to think "more radically" and to broaden the education debate beyond national borders and economic performance. The University of Hong Kong’s Chair Professor of Education, Kai-Ming Cheng, agreed that "fundamental change" was on the horizon. "It is not about improvement of education. It is not about raising the standard of education. It is about doing education differently," he said.

Participants included, among others:

  • Roberto Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education, White House Domestic Policy Council
  • Xavier Prats Monné, Director General, European Union Directorate General for Education and Culture
  • Sylvia Löhrmann, Deputy Minister-President and Minister for Education and Training, North Rhine-Westphalia
  • Hans Anand Pant, Director of the Institute for Educational Quality Improvement (IQB), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; CEO, German School Academy
  • Noor Masood, CEO, Teach For Pakistan
  • Kai Ming Cheng, Professor Emeritus, Division of Policy, Administration and Social Sciences Education, University of Hong Kong
  • Stephen Dinham, Chair of Teacher Education and Director of Learning and Teaching, University of Melbourne, Australia