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DUBAI, 24 January 2022 – The COVID-19 pandemic may have completely disrupted the lives of students and teachers, but it has also offered an opportunity to refocus and explore what the ‘classrooms of the future’ should look like. At Expo 2020 Dubai’s International Day of Education, education authorities, students and teachers agreed that in order to safeguard a more prosperous future, schools must offer hybrid learning models that integrate technology, focus on growth, emphasise emotional and social education, and prepare for a professional landscape that is rapidly evolving.
Opening the event on Monday, His Excellency Hussain bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi, UAE Minister of Education, highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the potential of technology in education, forcing the world to explore sustainable educational systems that meet the needs of students.
Praising Expo 2020 Dubai’s passion to spotlight education as a beacon of hope for students and educators around the world, Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director General for Education, UNESCO, said: “The pandemic demonstrated that schools are not simply places to learn but also a social space, and provider of vital healthcare, nutrition and protection services. It also shed light on our teachers and their talent… and no technology can replace a teacher in the classroom.
“When we consider the future of education, I emphasise that this is not a blueprint, but a living document. It’s about collectively reimagining our future by forging a new social contract for education. This calls for change, healing past injustices and enhancing our capacity to act together for a better future. We need to rebalance our relationships with each other, with the planet, and with digital technology.”
Tannya Jajal, Chapter Lead, Women in Tech UAE, said: “Whatever technology we adopt will be with the aim of making learning more awe-inspiring and personalised for the learner, and how that looks may vary between learners… and in the future, as long as the right policymakers are in place, then we can leverage technology for good quality education – it would be thanks to technology, but not entirely reliant on technology.”
A former foreign policy adviser to three UK Prime Ministers, Tom Fletcher, Principal of Hertford College, Oxford University, UK, who emphasised that school would be an idea, not a building, said: “Education is upstream diplomacy, which is why I work in education. If we are better at educating the next generation, then conflicts will be easier to manage and we’ll be better prepared for global challenges… We will move away from memorising facts, to more social and emotional learning. Education of the head, hand, and heart – a combination of knowledge, skills, and values – will be at the core of the new education model.”
Trailblazing students joined the event to share their perspectives on learning during the pandemic, and their insights for the future of education. Adam El Rafey, 11, who was able to join the first-ever virtual cohort of the Canada-based Knowledge Society, a renowned human accelerator programme that went digital due to the pandemic, shared a compelling summary of his vision for education: “Students should be judged based on ability and capability rather than age, and project-based learning will help us learn how to make a real-world impact. When it comes to technology – imagine learning about Mars through a textbook, but then being transported there by augmented or virtual reality to study the atmosphere and physical changes. Schools also need to focus more on future-focused subjects and skills so that we can continuously adapt and overcome future challenges.”
Soon to be university-bound, Eray Calimano addressed standardised testing: “We need to review assessments and grades. I’ve always seen a number that leads to a letter, instead of an opportunity to look at mistakes I can avoid or how to improve. When it comes to how we look at success, we need to recognise growth and not just a number.”
Alaa Mohamed Elsayed, 14, found time to pursue courses that sparked her interest in programming as a future career. Passionate about ensuring education is accessible, and young girls in particular, Alaa emphasised the important role technology could play in making the right to education a reality that can be fulfilled.
Transformational teachers held masterclasses to share their journeys with fellow educators, including Mexico-based Diana Lorena Rubio, Global Teacher Prize nominee (2021), whose STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) club encourages young people to transform their ideas and dreams into projects and prototypes where they solve real problems, reinforcing that any child has the potential to become a scientist. Similarly, Ranjitsinh Disale, Global Teacher Prize winner (2020) discussed his innovative teaching methods, including the addition of QR codes to books that link to audio poems, video lectures, assignments and stories to engage students.
The International Day of Education forms part of the Programme for People and Planet, which runs across the entire six months of Expo 2020 Dubai, featuring 18 International Days and 10 Theme Weeks, each of which is exploring key issues of global significance.