9 ways GESF 2019 is impacting the world

26 mar 2019 |

“I’m here to remind you that it’s my world too, and once this stage is packed away, my generation will be left behind to deal with the mess. So let’s try harder.”

The words of Braydon Bent, 10-year-old English vlogger and the opening speaker at the 2019 Global Education and Skills Forum, as he set a challenge for those in power to make changes to help the next generation.

Change was the unmistakable theme of this year’s Global Education and Skills Forum, as inspirational changemakers from across the globe gathered to share their knowledge and advice with delegates on how to make a positive impact on the world.

Key to achieving this are teachers. “In education, if we want to change the world, we need to back our teachers,” says Vikas Pota, Chairman of the Varkey Foundation. “When we bring teachers to the discussion, everything changes.”

His thoughts were echoed by Sunny Varkey, Founder of the Varkey Foundation: “Education’s greatest days are still to come, and teachers, as always, will light the way.”

As two days of insightful talks, debates and interviews took place with teachers, politicians and business leaders, here are some of the ways GESF 2019 will impact the world...

1. Education for refugees

The plight of refugees around the world has made the news over the last year as men, women and children flee war zones, persecution and natural disasters. Thousands of  Rohingyas, who have fled persecution in Myanmar, now face an uncertain future in temporary camps in Bangladesh.

Zainab Arkani and Ahmed Ullah, both young Rohingyas now living in Canada, spoke at GESF’s opening plenary to argue that refugees need an education in order to secure their future. “We have enough sympathy, and lots of donations too,” says Arkani. “Now it’s the time for us to build a school for the Rohingya people.”

Ullah pointed out that education doesn’t just give refugees the power to improve themselves and their lives, it turns them away from violence. “Let’s put a pen in the hands of the Rohingyas, before these people pick up a gun.”

2. EdTech in low-resource countries

The power of EdTech was a consistent theme during GESF, not least because 30 start-ups were pitching their innovative businesses in the hope of winning funding through the Next Billion Prize.

The three eventual winners were Ubongo, which uses entertainment to deliver localised learning; Dost, which empowers parents to get their children school-ready; and Praxilab, which makes virtual science labs accessible.

Educational technologist Amy Ogan, Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, also shared three lessons for using AI in low-resource settings during her session.

3. Realism over optimism
During the opening plenary, explorer and motivational speaker Mark Pollock, who became blind at the age of 22 and was paralysed 12 years later, spoke about how he overcame adversity.

As one of many changemakers to inspire our delegates over the weekend, Pollock helped explain the importance of realism in achieving goals. “To make progress, I believe we need to be realists, rather than optimists,” he explains. “Optimists may rely on hope alone and that risks you being disappointed and demoralised. If you’re a realist, you accept today and keep hope alive.”

4. Changemakers at the highest levels of government

GESF drew together world leaders including Tony Blair (former Prime Minister of the UK), Matteo Renzi (former Prime Minister of Italy), Juan Manuel Santos (former President of Columbia), Laura Chinchilla (former President of Costa Rica), George Papandreou (former Prime Minister of Greece), Julius Maada Bio (President of Sierra Leone), and Olusegun Obasanjo (former president of Nigeria). They were joined by 40 education ministers from countries around the globe.

During a session on changemakers in government, Blair spoke passionately about his legacy in education: “What matters is how much change you were able to make in your country,” he says. “The best hope for change is when the people and the [political] leadership are marching in step together.”

5. Getting results from giving

GESF also had 65 grant-making foundations in attendance - the greatest ever number assembled in the Middle East.

Philanthropists, like any investors, are looking for results, and this was an issue Julius Maada Bio, President of Sierra Leone, addressed during the inaugural Philanthropy Summit ahead of GESF. He talked about how he is committed to stamping out corruption in his country and building trust with charities and NGOs.

“Donors like to see results, but you also have to be patient,” says Cherie Blair, Founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. “Any programme needs to be given time and assessed continually.”

6. Giving countries a voice
A recurring theme during GESF was the forum’s ability to give a stage to countries that often don’t have a strong voice in the global education discussion.

During the opening plenary, Kennedy Odede, Co-Founder and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities, spoke about the hope he sees in Africa. “Youth are changing the world. As a man who comes from Africa, the population is really growing and I see teachers and students are fighting corruption.

“They are dreaming big and want to take our continent to the next level.”

7. Evolving teaching processes

In order to drive change, it’s important to look at new methods of teaching. EdTech has a big part to play in this, but according to Hanna Dumont, Senior Researcher at the German Institute for International Educational Research, the way that classes are arranged and taught can also have a significant impact.

The answer, she says, is adaptive teaching, which gets teachers to continuously monitor and assess their pupils, put them in mixed ability groups and encourage peer tutoring.

8. Neuroscience learnings
Daniel Ansari, Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at Western University, pointed out that neuroscience should go hand-in-hand with education in order to complement teaching methods and improve how children learn.

“Knowing about the mechanisms of learning, the way the brain carries out complex tasks, can change the way teachers work,” he explains. “To quote the psychologist Daniel Willingham, teachers need to have the mental models of learners in their classroom, and those models need to be informed by the science of learning, including neuroscience.”

9. Progress: the big picture

Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker spoke at the closing plenary by addressing some of the big issues facing mankind as we look to the future. He dismissed some of the negative fears about dumbing down of language due to ‘text speak’ and he spoke of a modern period of ‘enlightenment’.


Ultimately, Pinker believes that the human race is progressing and will continue to do so. “If we look at the ways in which we measure human progress, then almost every measure has shown improvement.”