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Playing with the Big Dogs: My Microsoft E2 Experience

Wow!

Last week I explored education and labor topics in Singapore with education, economic and political leaders from all over the world! Not a bad way to spend a week! Culture, insight and expertise were on full display as leaders from over 20 countries shared challenges and ideas with one another. All of this was due to the collaborative efforts of Microsoft at their Education Exchange (E2) Summit.

Most folks know that Educational Collaborators is a Microsoft Professional Development partner. Microsoft invited some of their top partners to participate in the Education Exchange (E2) Summit in Singapore. The primary focus of this summit is to bring some of the most innovative teachers in the world together to share and learn from one another. This year, they had teachers from 91 countries! They invited one of our top Collaborators, Heather Daniel. Heather not only participated with the teachers but presented on the main stage as one of the world’s leading  Microsoft Imagine Academy trainers. Heather is writing a post on her experience with the Microsoft Innovative Educators. I’d like to focus on the Leader Summit, where I was invited to participate.

The Leader Summit was a smaller program that included panels with experts from schools and education ministries from Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Finland, Indonesia, America and many others. We also met with experts from the Economist, LinkedIn, various international universities and even the Chief Futurist of Singapore (yes, that is her actual title!). We explored topics of teacher training, labor market demands, school planning, and the role of computational thinking in schools. We worked together through the jet lag on topics that were mentally demanding yet intellectually invigorating! I had high expectations of this summit and they were all radically exceeded!

I could write a small book on the experience but below are some of my top takeaways:

Education is, and may always be, a response to a blend of global and local demands

Across the globe, it was pleasant to see how many ministry leaders have risen from the classroom. The depth and reality of their perspective demonstrated both vision and tangible practicality. It was also pleasant to see how universally understood it was that education is first about making great citizens and then, great workers. Despite everyone in the room being invited by a technology company, the deep commitment to the humanities was palpable. Developing great humans was something we all understood and worked towards.  However, as those ideals of citizenry moved toward the focus of careers, local demands took over, as they should. It was fascinating to listen to other countries speak of local needs and how their education ministries adapted to meet those needs. I was surprised to see how universally educational virtues, such as creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving were embraced. I was enthralled to see how differently those virtues were practically applied based on local challenges such as access to electricity, geography, population concentration or disparity, poverty and famine. Academically, I understood some of this before but E2 provided me the opportunity to feel these differences through deep conversations with the empathetic leaders living these challenges.

People, not technology, drive change

Again, this was a lesson I knew but never so starkly as through my experiences at E2. Now, this was a technology conference and all of the teachers were invited because of the way they used technology, primarily Microsoft technology of course, to advance teaching and learning. I saw some teachers who had classrooms where every student had computers, some with one or few computers and even one where there was no computer and the teacher had to draw the interface on the chalkboard (yeah, that guy was there too!). One thing was clear, regardless of the the level and amount of technology, the passionate and creative teachers find a way to get things done! Whether connecting with the elderly, cleaning up vast dumps, or developing ways to feed the hungry, it was the teacher, not the tech, that made it happen. Make no mistake about it, the uses of technology were powerful and meaningful, but, perhaps because the technology was a common theme, it was that much more clear that it was the people that drove the change. And, by the way, the world is filled with amazing teachers!

Technology companies can be a great catalyst for change

So, I know this sounds like a shameless plug for Microsoft, the sponsor of the conference and, quite frankly, they do deserve credit for the work they put into this every year. However, it is deeper than sponsorship of a conference to gather your best customers. Governments can be myopic. Ultimately, governments are tasked with caring for their constituents. Anyone heard, America First? However, we are members of a global society and most large technology companies, even small ones like Educational Collaborators have a global reach. They take a broad view and must think beyond borders. Making all of their customers successful is their goal. Shortly after the E2 Summit, I was in Palo Alto, listening to HP tell about how they worked with Haiti to clean up waste to get recycled plastics for their cartridges. Technology companies are some of the largest companies in the world. Educators can work with these companies to advance those nearly universal education virtues and have a great impact on the world while helping technology companies advance the goals of their clients. There is power here. Microsoft modeled how this could be harnessed for good. We should not stop there.

Singapore is the most engineered country I have ever seen

So, this one has very little to do with the E2 Summit other than Singapore was the host country. That being said, move over Germany, Singapore has you vastly out engineered! Granted, Singapore is small, and thus, nimble. However, I have never seen a country that so carefully watches the data and pulls the levers to influence education, jobs, the economy, construction, and culture. I’m not going to lie, it is a little scary. However, this young country of 59 years has created incredible growth and wealth for its population. They have a highly educated citizenry and everyone seems reasonably comfortable with the delicate dance of giving the intelligent citizenry more and more agency in this otherwise strong central government. It was fascinating and I feel fortunate to have seen it when I did. I believe the nation is at a political crossroads, given its global status and it will be fascinating to watch this nation over the next 60 years.

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