With King Saud University Delegation to German Universities.

Latest News

Entrepreneurial and innovative schools the way forward: Education leader

Dr. Mezyad Alterkawi, CEO Riyadh Technology Incubation Center

DOHA: A top Saudi education figure claimed on Thursday one of the best ways to improve struggling and poor schools in the Kingdom and the wider Middle East region is to introduce entrepreneurship and innovation.

Dr. Mezyad Alterkawi, CEO of the Riyadh Technology Incubation Center, which is part of King Saud University (KSU), said he wanted to adapt an innovative education model developed by Martin Burt, executive director of Teach a Man to Fish, an organization that works to support schools and education programs in developing countries.

Burt, who was addressing a plenary session on exploring innovative trends on the third and final day of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), talked about his work to transform struggling schools into those that were self-efficient and entrepreneurial.

“It is definitely a concept that could work in the Middle East,” he told Arab News on the sidelines of the conference. “Imagine this woman here, with a very pretty scarf. Now imagine appealing to the dignity of those mothers and their children and giving them the ability to learn how to make that scarf, and make a decent living out of it too. It's not supposed to work, it's supposed to be counter-intuitive, but it works.”

In his presentation, Burt described a bankrupt school in his home country of Paraguay, which through the work of his not-for-profit organization, managed to turn into what he described as an “educational-productive enterprise,” generating 100 percent of its budget by combining theory with actual practical experience. For example, students are not taught math in an abstract way, but they learn how to develop and maintain an accurate balance sheet. “Let's try to believe that education can pay for itself and that the solution to problems in education may be in appealing to the dignity of those we are trying to serve,” he said.

At the end of the session, Alterkawi expressed enthusiasm in working with Burt to adopt his education model in the Kingdom and the wider Middle East region. “(Poverty) does exist everywhere in the world,” he told Arab News. “In my initiative to Mr. Martin, we can definitely have value in learning that model and replicating it in my country and in the region. The young of the poor understands that education is the only savior to emerge from this dilemma and disease. We can take advantage of that understanding and environment to really adopt the model anywhere.”

Alterkawi added that KSU had already asked the government to stop providing funding for the university within the next few years.

“We have taken some of that wealth and placed it in what we call an endowment, so we have an endowment program at the university that we can generate revenue from, being pumped into the research chairs,” he said. “Those research chairs will actually generate revenue for the sustainability of education. That’s why this model can be a prototype … and really come out with something that can definitely be of value.” He also said current KSU rector professor Abdullah bin Abdul-Rahman Al-Othman used exactly the same resources as his predecessors before making the decision to stop receiving government funding.

“So it’s not really allocating the money, so to speak, but understanding that you must (make best use of funds) and provide the mechanism to do so,” he added.

“The schools can do exactly the same thing on a smaller scale, partnering with the higher education institutions where more resources are available.”

Alterkawi suggested that KSU would be fully prepared to take the lead in helping schools become self-sufficient and entrepreneurial, paving the way for other universities in the region to follow suit.

Burt was joined at the plenary session by Chairman of Futurelab Lord David Puttnam, Worldwide Director for Partners in Learning at Microsoft James Bernard, and Peking University President professor Zhou Qifeng.

Lord Puttnam said there existed increasing intergenerational alienation, where the youth did not trust older decision-makers to do anything right anymore and called on them to “urgently focus on winning their trust back.”

“If we are to be serious about innovation and improvement, then I believe governments everywhere will have to treat investment in teaching and learning with far more consistent commitment than has tended to be the case in the past,” he added.

“In this incredibly fast-moving environment, that means focusing a lot more time and attention on the continuous professional development of teachers than there has been previously.”

Lord Puttnam said the development of online technologies offers the opportunity to dramatically increase the effectiveness of educational systems, in both the pace and quality of learning.

“It is time we started to talk about the productivity of education as well as its effectiveness, as I find it hard to see how we are going to increase the one without the other,” he said.

Director of the Earth Institute Jeffrey Sachs, who is also special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, gave a keynote speech to wrap up the summit.

There was also the announcement of a $500,000 WISE Prize for Education. Nominations will be invited from Feb. 1 with a jury eventually deciding the winner, to be named at the next WISE event in November 2011.

Source: http://arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article212062.ece

A plenary session on exploring innovative trends on Thursday — the third and final day — of the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha. (AN photo)