Article By: MC1 Rob Rubio
A diverse group of thought leaders from education, non-governmental organizations, government and military joined officials from the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, Calif., for the Transformative Education Forum, Oct. 30 – Nov. 2. With a focus on Africa, the goal of the forum was to share lessons learned and the latest research on how teachers teach, and how people learn, in hopes of building educational capacity not only on the African continent, but across the world.
“This conference, and the entire Global Challenges Forum effort, was recently established as a non-profit foundation in Geneva with the support of Mr. Talal Abu Gazaleh, of Amman, Jordan,” said NPS Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Leonard Ferrari. “Our hope is to hold these international dialogues in different locations around the world, to focus on specific, but important, global security issues. We intend to apply that dialogue and attendee experience to the security challenges of the 21st century in order to find sets of scalable and transferrable solutions. TEF3 is already planned to be held in Bangalore, India in the 2012-13 academic year, with local industry and government support.”
TEF organizer, June Gorman, added, “The U.N. has announced that the human family reaches seven billion people on this planet … we need to consider all of them when we think of how to design systems that work for all seven billion.”
Martha Kaufeldt, a well-known educator and speaker, presented on cognitive neuroscience, which she noted is the blending of two fields – cognitive psychology, which focuses on the mind, thinking and thoughts and where education was placed; and neuroscience, which is the study of the anatomy of the brain, the brain chemistry and chemical balances merging as educational neuroscience. She noted that understanding the brain and how it works and learns will help everyone, adding that research shows that the brain develops under five certain conditions that all need to be in place – health and nutrition, stress levels and emotional stability, environmental experiences, solid relationships and social connections, and growth rate over time.
NPS Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Leonard Ferrari officially opens the Transformative Education Forum (TEF), where a diverse group of experts shared lessons learned and the latest research on how teachers teach, and how people learn, in hopes of building educational capacity across the world.
A Plenary Roundtable Discussion facilitated by Gorman, Ken Gnanakan and Ajume Wingo explained that the human person has many interconnections such as societal, emotional, economic and physical and all of them need to be taken into account. The physical needs such as food are primary, as the brain simply cannot function without the chemical means needed to process information. Along with that is also the need for emotional and social safety.
Also discussed were the differences in learning via hard copy books or digital sources, and the determinative value of each. When discussing education and technology, Joe LoPiccolo, NPS Executive Director for Information Technology and Communication Services, commented that South Korea has a 2015 initiative to replace all books and paper with e-books. In libraries you can currently check out e-books as textbook rentals, which can save a college student literally hundreds of dollars by renting the e-book vice having to purchase textbooks
During the discussions, an attendee who works for the United Nations (UN) noted that paper documents needed for all attendees of a one-week UN meeting can cost upward of $400,000, and simply putting this into digital format has clear environmental, and cost, benefits, however the IT system must be functioning properly, as the documents will be unavailable if the system fails, so there are certainly pros and cons to going paperless. Another attendee noted that some studies indicate that children who spend large amounts of time on digital resources are lacking the emotional, social and cultural skills needed to interact with people when placed into live social interactions with others.
Mayor of nearby Salinas, Dennis Donahue, remarked on the value of agriculture as more than the production of food, but as a means of connecting people. “The Salinas Valley sits 20 minutes away from what is arguably the most beautiful and sophisticated seat of soil proposition in the world … and 60 miles south from the greatest economic engine the world has ever seen, the Silicon Valley … But there is no bigger human network in the world than agriculture,” he said. It was noted that regarding human networks, no matter where you are in a field harvesting something around the world, you probably have a cell phone, and have a setup to go mobile for applications and technology. Donahue expressed that agriculture has the potential to be scale based, and if you can feed your country and a continent, it is indeed scale based.
Norbert Mao, President of the Democratic Party of Uganda, commented on how Africa is seen as a market and a source of raw materials. “We have good soil which is not yet corrupted by fertilizers and good climate, but our governments do not invest enough in agriculture,” he said. He stressed the need of cooperatives, which can organize the farmers because African people are naturally cooperative.
An English lecturer from Malawi, Jessie Zondiwe Kabwila Kapasula, expressed her concern about the way that things are done with Africa, where the women are typically forgotten. She remarked, “Women also work very hard in the fields. Often what happens is we put in the labor, but when it comes to selling the product, we are not able to go and sell on our own.”
John M. Kimole, Director of Paulmark College in Kenya, explained that many people in Kenya are currently going without food. He said, “It is not because there is no land or water. There is good land and there is water … We need some kind of transformation in technology … We are working hard but not working smart. We need to be smarter than yesterday because the work is there, but we are not doing good management on the land resources.”
He noted that one would be shocked to see what technology could do when it is put into the right hands. He closed by stating, “My fellow Africans and our partners in the west, let us come together, stop reacting to issues, take action in the process of policy making and act on the things we’ll turn and defend for, and there will be transformation of all kinds. It is today. Our future is in the present. What we do now will make the future better. It is time.”
Through all of the diverse opinions and engaging discussions, participants expressed very positive comments at the close of the event.
Dr. Moses Satralkar of the Indus Training and Research Institute in Bangalore, India noted, “The Transformative Education Forum has had a deep impact on me personally, since I relate to your vision which I know can change the future of many individuals and even nations. Your passion and commitment to the cause is inspiring. This is an excellent initiative to promote social welfare through reforms in education; please be assured of my active involvement and support of the TEF in future.
Dr. Megan Boler, Professor of Theory and Policy Studies in the Department of Education at the University of Toronto, added, "The tone you set for this conference was pedagogically inviting and engaging, and created an atmosphere that brought together many diverse voices to the table around educational visions for a unique and rare event … I had fascinating conversation with the folks at the sessions today and met some remarkable people who I know I will remain in touch with."