Letter From WISE—International Education Supporting Crises Worldwide

It was a real lesson in globalization. The airplane announcement went something like this:

“The local authorities have asked us to spray the cabin to prevent the spread of disease by mosquitoes. Please do not breathe in if you are allergic to spraying. And due to the recent outbreaks of Ebola, MERS, H1N1, and bird flu, please report to local authorities upon landing if you have any of the following symptoms: …” You can imagine the list.

The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) is the annual Davos for educators that the Institute helped to create in 2009 for the Qatar Foundation. Each year over a thousand educators, corporate leaders, and government officials attend to discuss how we can make what we do better. I chair a selection committee for the WISE Prize for Education finalists (this year’s laureate is Ann Cotton, who founded Camfed) and my colleagues Daniel Obst and Clare Banks run the WISE Program for Education Leadership—an intensive workshop for new university presidents from developing countries on leading strategically, communicating effectively, and networking globally. Two of the presidents this year were from Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The world and its problems are never very far from what we talk about throughout the conference. Education Above All (on whose board I have the privilege to serve) announced a major new program for refugees in the Kakuma Camp in Kenya. And WISE is one of the few international education meetings that is increasingly focused on refugee issues globally, especially how we can reach this very large but isolated group of young people so that an entire generation is not lost to the world’s talent pool and therefore available for recruitment to ISIS and other extremist groups.

We also know from the recent research done by IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund team that refugee camps contain hundreds of thousands of students and teachers and that almost none are able to go to school or resume their studies. That is why we have launched a “From Camps to Campus” pilot program that enables students in the camps to attend nearby local universities.

So back to the wake-up call on the airplane.

We are all facing too many risks. But perhaps the gravest will be the consequences of failing to bring the education we have through the Internet and also the spaces available in our classrooms to the many who now have no country and very few places to go—except to war.

If you would like to learn more about how universities and other institutions are supporting higher education communities and academics in crisis-affected areas, keep an eye out for the Spring 2015 edition of IIENetworker magazine, “Supporting Higher Education During and After Crisis,” which will be published in March 2015.