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Prizes, literacy and innovations in education

Michael Trucano's picture
an innovation supporting a revolution?
an innovation supporting a revolution?


The buzz around this buzzword in education (the need for it, the celebrations of it, the challenges in catalyzing it) continues to get louder and louder, and the word itself seems to get invoked with increasing (almost de facto) frequency as part of discussions about the need for change.


How are we to meet and overcome many of the pressing, endemic, and sometimes seemingly intractable challenges facing learners, educators, education policymakers and education systems around the world if we aren't being innovative in how we define (and redefine) our problems -- and in how we propose to go about solving them?


There are many groups, events and activities that seek to document, share knowledge about, analyze and assess various 'innovations in education' around the world. The annual World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Qatar, for example, focuses explicitly on this theme. R4D's Center for Education Innovations does as well, in partnership with many international groups, including UNICEF (which has a special initiative on 'innovations in education' and whose much-lauded Innovations unit is for many of us a model for excellence within the international donor and aid community). The OECD's widely-read report last year on Measuring Innovations in Education seeks to offer "new perspectives to address th[e] need for measurement in educational innovation through a comparison of innovation in education to innovation in other sectors, identification of specific innovations across educational systems, and construction of metrics to examine the relationship between educational innovation and changes in educational outcomes."

Some observers may feel that this explicit focus on 'innovation in education' is overblown. We don't fund a lot of things sufficiently that we already know work, why don't we first concentrate on that stuff? Others may note that some 'innovations' in education promoted today have actually been around for decades, and thus perhaps no longer really qualify as 'innovations'. Sometimes the only 'innovation' in a particular 'new' approach is to utilize some new technology to do pretty much exactly what was done before, but now 'digitally', and in a way requiring a power cable or batteries. (I am not too sure that much of these thigns are really all that 'innovative', but many people who keep sending me related proposals seem to be convinced that they are.) Still others detect in many discussions around the need for 'innovation in education' the guiding hand of 'corporate education reformers' and/or of technology vendors with products to sell, and, as a result of past experiences, ideological leanings, an inherent tendency towards skepticism or a satisfaction with the status quo, and/or political calculus, reflexively push back (if not indeed recoil).


'Innovations in education' are about much more than just technology use, of course -- but there is also no denying that new information and communications technologies (ICTs) of various sorts continue to enable and catalyze many of the innovations that are being explored in the sector, whether they relate to e.g. teacher training; assessment; data collection and management; payment mechanisms; stakeholder engagement and transparency; or changes in the teaching and learning processes themselves; and whether they originate in the public, non-profit or corporate sectors (or even, as for example is the case of distributed communities of people working together to help build new software or educational content in ways that are 'free' or 'open', out of no traditional or easily definable 'sector' at all).

Sometimes the ICTs are hard to miss (as is the case with Uruguay’s pioneering Plan Ceibal), and sometimes they are behind the scenes (innovative low cost private schooling schemes like those pioneered by groups like Bridge Academies, for example, depend heavily on the use of ICTs to promote efficiency and cut costs), but increasingly they are there. Many traditional groups active in advocating for funding efforts to help end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity (the twin goals of the World Bank) are increasingly challenged to identify, make sense of and support the diffusion of 'innovations in education' in ways that are useful and efficient and cost-effective – and potentially, from time to time, even transformative.


A WISE Focus on Innovative Solutions to Ensure Learning

Harry A. Patrinos's picture

Harry Patrinos @ WISE 2012 Last week, I had the honor of being part of the fourth World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), in Doha. Pratham, the recipient of the 2012 WISE Prize for education, was praised as a renowned leader in the field of education for providing innovative, low-cost solutions for mass literacy and numeracy in developing countries.  Pratham’s CEO and co-founder, Madhav Chavan, received the award, which recognizes “world-class” contributions to education.

While in Doha, I had the pleasure of being part of a WISE panel debate with Mr. Chavan, which also included Financial Times correspondent Chris Cook and Dr. Talal Abu-Ghazaleh.  Anver Versi, editor of African Business and African Banker, was the moderator.  During this panel, we discussed innovative financing and the role of public-private partnerships in education.   Mr. Chavan began his remarks stating that, “Education is too important to be left to governments alone.”

Reporting back from WISE, the World Innovation Summit for Education

Michael Trucano's picture

some new approaches to development were on display at WISE 2012 ...The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) annually brings together "more than 1,000 prominent education, corporate, political and social leaders from over 100 countries to explore how collaboration in many forms and at many levels can become the driving force of efforts to inspire innovation in education and to design long-term strategies for its renewal". Now it its fourth year, WISE is one high profile example of how the small but natural gas-rich Middle Eastern nation of Qatar is seeking to establish itself as a locus for discussion and dialogue on a number of key global issues (another example is the hosting of next week's global climate change conference), with a particular interest in education (in addition to WISE, Qatar is also home to Education City) and sport (in addition to high profile Qatari sponsorship of the FC Barcelona jerseys and investment in the French soccer club PSG, the country will host the 2022 World Cup.)

The annual WISE Prize for Education, which comes with a gold medal and USD $500,000 and was awarded this year to Madhav Chavan of the Indian NGO Pratham, is an attempt to, in the words of the sponsoring Qatar Foundation, "[raise the] status of education by giving it similar prestige to other areas for which major international awards exist such as science, literature, peace and economics". (Think of the WISE Prize as a sort of Nobel Prize or Fields Medal for education and you'll get a sense of the ambition at work here.)