Saul Nassé looks for collaboration opportunities in Doha and learns about the new direction for education in the Middle East.
I went to Doha at the beginning of November for the WISE conference which is the World Innovation Summit for Education. It’s run by the Qatar Foundation, and brings together a truly international set of delegates, particularly from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. I’ve spoken at WISE in the past, on the subject of education in remote communities. That was back in 2012 and I talked about how once education is digital and broadband is all pervasive, there will be no such things as ‘remote communities’ as access to learning content and applications will be universal.
This time around was my first visit to WISE as Chief Executive of Cambridge English. I went with Hanan Khalifa (pictured left at the WISE venue is Louise Bourgeois’s ‘Maman’ spider along with me and Hanan), our Head of International Education, who was interested in what potential there is for doing work with governments around the world to improve English through curriculum reform, teacher development, and appropriate use of our exams. Hanan is Egyptian and is an expert on the Middle East - so a particularly good companion on this occasion.
We both saw the trip as an opportunity to meet people from around the world, particularly the Middle East, for future collaborations. There were many digitally-oriented people at the conference and my pal Graham Brown-Martin introduced me to Colin McElwee from Worldreader which distributes free books for people to read digitally, particularly in Africa. We were discussing whether there might be an opportunity to share some of our content through them; an exciting prospect as Africa is really hotting up in terms of English language learning.
We also met representatives of government from the region and talked to them about curriculum reform projects and building teacher capacity. The Middle East has been hit hard by the halving of oil prices, so countries are looking with a renewed sense of urgency to the needs of their economies in a post-oil world and they’re keen to invest in their people. That means education is heading ever higher up the agenda.
I also had the chance to meet up with Andy Whitman, an old friend who produces Al Jazeera English’s weekly current affairs programme. Andy re-iterated the sense that Gulf States are investing in the infrastructure and skills that will build their economies for the future, and what an interesting time it is to be living there. He also took me for a tour round Souq Waqif (pictured right), which is not apparently quite what it seems… It all feels like it goes back to ancient Doha, but is actually a modern re-imagining of a traditional Qatari market. In many ways that felt like a metaphor for the trip – building on the foundations of English learning with modern pedagogic and digital innovation.
Group Chief Executive, Cambridge Assessment