From 22-24 March 2019, I was in Dubai participating in the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) that is a unique, huge get together of people dedicated to education. There were many teachers from primary and secondary education, lots of school principals and many people in charge of educational policies at a local and national level. Across many panels there was a clear interest in educational technologies (edtech). Actual edtech projects were often presented by parties with a commercial interest, both startups and established institutions such as Coursera.
Higher education was addressed in a few panels, including the one I participated in. The people I spoke with from higher education were mostly directors and policy advisors. Most of them were in charge of projects in the Global South, in particular in African countries. EUR was the only Dutch university present.
Across panels, conclusions drawn from personal experiences coincided with research results (OECD, World Economic Forum, ILO, etc): among all factors contributing to pupils’ success in school, the teacher stands out as the most important factor. Obviously, not just ‘any’ teacher, but a professional one. A well-trained teacher makes the difference in the individual’s life journey. Many testimonies were moving and inspiring, for example about a teacher in a refugee camp, or a music teacher who helped a student to change his goals and reappraise music as an enjoyable activity rather than a career. An important insight for me was that teachers should understand that they both teach and learn, because new students bring in new experiences. This implies that teaching is confronted with changing demands, which can only be met if teachers embrace the attitude of being a learner themselves. In this sense, teaching is among the professions where lifelong learning is a key feature of any career.