Global Education at Davos: Talking the Same Language

What was refreshing about Davos was the utter simplicity of the truth and openness of dialogue between those who attended the World Economic Forum's Annual Summit last week.

Take Bill Gates's frank admission that he was quite naïve in disregarding "personnel systems" in education and healthcare -- which are mundane topics, but critical to implementing change at ground zero. In specific he referenced the importance of investing in teachers as an important lever in making a true difference. At the Pinchuk Philanthropic Roundtable, Richard Branson and Bill Gates spoke about their experiences and where they were headed. You can watch the session here.

I was invited to facilitate a session that asked what the skills and talent needs for future society and job markets are. The World Economic Forum has a community of (very) young high achievers whom it refers to as "Global Shapers," who are under the age of 30. They brought great value to our discussion in stating that a values-led education that prepares students to meet unknown challenges of the future is where we should be focused. We really don't know whether the jobs and professions of today will stand the test of time -- who would have thought that we would be employing social media managers even five years ago?! A point well made, I thought.

The World Economic Forum is launching a new initiative titled "A New Vision for Education" and asked me to speak on the subject of education finance. Given the work we are doing in promoting public-private partnerships in education, the thrust of my argument was that the primary concern of all parents and students is the quality of their education, and not who was paying for it. Whilst it's easy to take a Western-centered perspective, we should look at the millions of children not in school, and the hundreds of millions who are illiterate -- and unable to achieve their potential. All kinds of clever ideas such as vouchers, social impact bonds, development bonds have been discussed on a macro scale, and I found the establishment of a global education bank that takes a long-term and patient view on investing in education to be most imaginative.

On a micro scale, but equally important to address, is the mistrust between the public, private, and social sectors when it comes to education delivery. They literally do not speak the same language and often work to different objectives that are difficult to course-correct because the goodwill, confidence, and atmosphere required to have a mature and transparent dialogue do not exist. I speak from experience when I say that overcoming the education crisis will require major confidence building measures by all stakeholders, and I hope that the Global Education & Skills Forum, which is being held March 15-17 in the UAE, helps to facilitate such dialogue.

We have to be focused on the prosperity of future generations and do everything we can to prepare them to contribute meaningfully to our collective progress.

Finally, I was also asked to moderate a session with the deans of Columbia, Carnegie Mellon, CIEBS, University of Singapore, University of Cape Town, and Oxford that centered on the role of universities and how they were adapting to prepare tomorrow's students for learning, living and leaving a legacy in a complex and interconnected world.

For me, University of Singapore's Professor Tan Chorh Chuan's comments on the importance of social values in a globalized world struck me the most. The global financial crisis, the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer, and the ever-growing consumption of natural resources worries me, and based on the session I facilitated with the Global Shapers, it's evident that young people are alert and as concerned as I am -- which is why we should prioritize the focus on social values in our highly interconnected world should be central to the "New Vision for Education."

All in all, this year's annual summit has seen an unprecedented number of discussions on education, which I'm proud to say we have been pushing for the past few years. We can't make economic progress without addressing systemic challenges such as those listed above, and organizations with as great a convening power as the World Economic Forum owe it to those at greatest risk to do everything they can to bring a quality education within the reach of every child.