Overcoming barriers to an innovative future for education

The three-day conference was led by educational entrepreneurship incubator Mifras and GELP.

(From left) OECD Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher, Start-Up Nation Central CEO Prof. Eugene Kandel and Mifras CEO Dr. Bat Chen Weinheber (photo credit: YUVAL ASSAF)
(From left) OECD Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher, Start-Up Nation Central CEO Prof. Eugene Kandel and Mifras CEO Dr. Bat Chen Weinheber
(photo credit: YUVAL ASSAF)
Education and entrepreneurship experts from across the world gathered in Tel Aviv on Monday at the first Global Education Leaders' Partnership (GELP) conference to be held in Israel, tasked with helping drive global education into an innovative future.
Entering the venue, the international line-up of presenters and conference-goers were met with Albert Einstein's famous quote: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Attempting to avoid such repetition, industry leaders cited old-fashioned learning techniques, poorly-implemented educational reform and demographic change as some of many stumbling blocks for a sector that is critical to every child, and yet is struggling to embrace the opportunities of the 21st century.
The three-day conference was led by educational entrepreneurship incubator Mifras and GELP, in cooperation with the Lautman Fund, Trump Foundation, Daniel Foundation, Tzurim and the Education Ministry.
"This is the 21st century, we're undergoing a transformation, but when you look at the reality in the classrooms, the picture looks very different," Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills, told the audience of educators.
"When you think about disruptive change, creativity and entrepreneurship, you think about Israel, but memorization is still the most dominant learning pattern here," said Schleicher, who initiated the OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). "What’s it going to take for systemic transformation? Lots of good ideas are available, but the road of educational reform is littered with good ideas that have been poorly implemented."
Seeking to foster innovative learning environments, Schleicher has led the development of the OECD's Learning Framework 2030, an initiative aiming to bring together international stakeholders to accelerate global education toward a better, more relevant future in today's rapidly-changing societies.
"The notion of excellence is incredibly important in the 21st century. The greatest risk is that in a world of artificial intelligence, those who are not excellent in some way will lose their relevance," Schleicher said. "The question is how can we reconcile excellence with equity. The fundamental challenge is to change the work organization, to build incentive structures, to foster compliance and conformity. We do that very well in many other sectors of society, but just not in education."
According to Mifras CEO Dr. Bat Chen Weinheber, one of the primary challenges facing modern education systems is the creation of bottom-up growth engines.
"School principals, as leaders in their professional community, are the key to leading initiatives and change in the education system," said Weinheber. "They are the ones who can initiate and decide to take the institutions they head to a place of entrepreneurship and educational innovation."
Another key challenge for those seeking dramatic change in the education sector, said Start-Up Nation Central CEO Prof. Eugene Kandel, is tackling a long-term problem in a short-term political environment.
"Change only comes from below when there’s strong leadership from above," Kandel said. "We have seen changes through strong leadership from above in the case of mathematics."
"It requires prolonged leadership, and unfortunately the leadership is changing too fast. In the last 10 years, we have had three different ministers of education, each one coming from a completely different angle."
The only must-know subjects today, Kandel added, are four "languages": English, the local language, mathematics and computer language. All other subjects and values, he said, can be better absorbed through experiential learning, games and engagement.
Teaching today's children and teenagers the necessary skills to enter Israel's modern workforce will go some way, Kandel said, to filling the 15,000-strong shortage in skilled workers in Israel's hi-tech innovation sector.
In 1999, former investment banker and venture capitalist Vishal Talreja launched Dream a Dream, a charitable trust empowering young Indians from vulnerable backgrounds to overcome adversity and flourish in a fast-changing world using a creative life skills approach.
To date, the organization has impacted some 100,000 young people through its extensive network of educators and volunteers.
"There are large parts of the world, including developed countries, where there are children are growing up in adversity, exposed to lack of food and nutrition, neglect, extreme poverty and displacement," said Talreja.
"When any of these circumstances are present in the lives of children, it impacts their ability to achieve developmental milestones at the right age," he said. "In the environments we’re creating for our children today, educational systems need to recognize this. Where children fail to thrive, they won’t be able to access high-quality learning environments."