I had the privilege and good fortune to be invited to attend the 5th annual 2017 Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates – a conference sponsored by the Varkey Foundation, Harvard, MIT, Carnegie Mellon and a number of other entities. Close to 2000 individuals from 140 countries were present in what was by far the most diverse setting I have ever encountered. Attendees included dignitaries, celebrities, education ministers from 40 countries, international experts in a number of fields as well as public and private school classroom teachers – all focusing on and discussing what it means to be a true, well-educated global citizen and what critically important role all countries must place as its number one priority – education - in order to address and help solve current and future world-wide problems and complexities.
The conference is one that emphasizes the power and impact of teachers across the globe and the importance of the teaching profession at large. The culminating event is the awarding of the Global Teacher of the Year Award ceremony. Each year 50 teachers from across the world are invited and 10 are selected as finalists. The winner, this year Canadian Maggie MacDonnell who teaches in an isolated fly-in-only poor and troubled Inuit community in the Canadian arctic, not only walked away with the honor but indeed a prize of $1,000,000. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was beamed in to offer his personal congratulations. The actual prize was announced from an international space station, and the audience on screen witnessed a parachuter jump from a plane, land safely on the grounds of Atlantis, the Palm and then run the trophy onto stage.
Much of what we saw and experienced in Dubai was extraordinary, completely over the top, glitzy and often unreal. Monica, Saudea and I saw the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa 2,716.5 feet or 828 meters tall; we witnessed the spectacular musical Dubai Fountain show; we visited the Dubai Mall with over 1200 stores and spectacular museums; we were in close proximity to one of the richest men in the world, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rachid el-Maktoum; and Saudea even convinced me that I should put caution to the wind in the Atlantis Aqua Park and join her several times on two very scary water slide rides - “The Leap of Faith” (a 100 foot almost vertical drop) and the “Shark Attack” (you end in a tube in the midst of a gigantic shark-infested water tank).
Bigger, grander, better, over the top – Dubai in a nutshell! However, the red-carpet extravaganza to celebrate teachers (and the global winner) symbolized quite effectively that just maybe we often recognize and place emphasis on celebrities and stars who are not necessarily the most important ones in our lives. Why should teachers who make a difference in children’s lives every single day not be celebrated, recognized and placed center stage with bright shining lights directed their way, walking away with the big prize, the congratulations from world leaders, and knowing that they are respected, valued and recognized? The 5th annual Global Education and Skills Forum was eye opening and a wonderful reminder just how important excellent teaching and teachers are.