For a considerable time, global political developments had overshadowed all agendas. It was necessary for people to take a breath, and issues related to education, which is truly the key to societal change and transformation, needed to come to the forefront of our discussions globally. In such a tumultuous period, the Türkiye Maarif Foundation again highlighted education with a distinguished event, bringing together ministers, policymakers, academics, teachers and global education enthusiasts. Events of this nature are also significant in the context of the “Century of Türkiye” vision.
The emphasis on sustainability, development, values, science, productivity, compassion, digitalization and youth in the “Century of Türkiye” vision, maintained through such summits, will generate high-quality projects. Additionally, there is the capacity to create an opportunity for highlighting Türkiye’s leadership capacity in these areas and for planning future steps more systematically.
The Istanbul Education Summit, held on Nov. 17-18 in Istanbul Üsküdar at the Bağlarbaşı Congress Center, proved to be a significant event in the realm of education. In opening speeches, the presence of a message from the president, along with the participation of the minister of education, professor Yusuf Tekin and Maarif Foundation President Birol Akgün, was valuable in emphasizing the significance of the event for Türkiye. The summit featured a high-level session moderated by professor Birol Akgün, attended by ministers, a keynote address, three panels, a youth session, a session on education in the “Century of Türkiye” vision and a session for the Maarif School principles. Recognizing the event by important figures in the field of education and policymakers in Türkiye is crucial and holds great importance for the country. The high-level session saw the participation of education ministers, making the event particularly beneficial with the presence of policymakers globally.
This year, they marked the third edition of the Istanbul Education Summit. Due to the pandemic, the inaugural year witnessed an online gathering focusing on new educational trends and transformations. The second summit delved into post-pandemic educational needs and the future of schools. Particularly post-pandemic, discussions centered around learning losses, the social and emotional impact of the pandemic on students and teachers and the effects of online formal education. Having participated in the second summit, I returned with valuable insights, especially regarding learning losses after the pandemic and the social and emotional implications on students and teachers. The discussions on the impacts of online education were particularly enlightening. It became a pivotal moment for a collective pause, redirecting focus back to education. The discussions during the second summit opened doors for reflection and a renewed dedication to education systems, academia, research and the development of innovative projects, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The 3rd Istanbul Education Summit opened with a high-level session attended by education ministers from Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Malaysia. Including ministers from diverse countries in the high-level session added a global perspective to the summit. The inclusion of policymakers at such an event proved to be highly advantageous.
As we all know, countries are often shaped by policymakers who serve as the vanguard of change and the critical catalysts for transformation. It is of great importance that policymakers possess a visionary outlook and stay informed about educational research and the private education sector.
Indeed, the Istanbul Education Summit is meaningful in fulfilling such a purpose. Evidently, exchanging ideas and experiences among policymakers contributed to a more holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities in education worldwide.
In the summit, the panels covered diverse topics, addressing the transformation of educational philosophies and paradigms, preserving critical thinking skills in the age of digitalization to stay humane, and exploring the role of societal changes, sustainability, school architecture and space in education. The comprehensive coverage of these topics aimed to encompass the mind, time and space, providing valuable insights and benefits to the participants.
The first panel delved into the construction of the mind and the change in paradigms within the field of education. In this session, the presence of three academics from three different continents has genuinely created an interesting synergy. This has allowed for a discussion of changes in global educational philosophies and paradigms from various perspectives. The session included professor Charles Reigeluth, an expert in instructional design from Indiana University in the U.S., Dr. Meryem Cafer Ismail from Zanzibar State University in Tanzania, Africa and professor Mark Winterbottom from Cambridge University in the U.K. The topics addressed primarily revolved around the relationship between the global economy and education and how it has influenced new educational paradigms. Dr. Meryem Cafer Ismail’s discussion of the widespread adoption of a student-centered and experiential education approach through student exchange programs and collaborative projects in different parts of the world could be interpreted in the context of globalization leading toward standardization in education. It seems that paradigms generated in specific academic centers worldwide are subtly imposed without necessarily considering the diverse needs of regions with vastly different contextual realities. While completing my postdoctoral studies at Purdue University, the U.S., I had a similar discussion with my advisor, professor George Bodner. Professor Bodner highlighted an observation he had generated from publications submitted from Türkiye. He asked me how well a learning theory we developed in the U.S. adapted to your country’s distinct characteristics and cultural context. I found it challenging to provide a definitive answer to that question. Professor Reigeluth, in his speech, mentioned that the most crucial features of this new paradigm could be learner-centeredness, collaboration and self-directed learning. He noted that the complete transition from the current state to this paradigm has not yet been entirely achieved. He also emphasized the importance of developing social and emotional characteristics in this context.
This second panel explored strategies for maintaining critical thinking skills in the digitalization era, emphasizing humanity’s importance in the face of technological advancements. In this panel, we had professor Chi-Kin John Lee from the Education University of Hong Kong, professor Marenglen Biba from New York Tirana University, Albania and professor Douglas K. Hartman from Michigan State University. Especially noteworthy was Douglas Hartman’s speech, where he pointed out that the results of international assessments on critical thinking skills are not promising for many countries worldwide. He emphasized the need for concrete steps to address this issue. In his presentation, he illustrated the importance of students questioning the validity and reliability of online data from various sources. He used the example of how the height of a mountain can vary in different search engines, highlighting the significance of students being able to scrutinize the validity and reliability of diverse online data sources.
Additionally, there was a specific emphasis on the need for our students to question the manipulative power of social media, posing the question of whose puppet we might be. In this context, the emphasis on critical analytical thinking regained significance. From my perspective, especially considering the serious manipulative impact of social media based entirely on opinion rather than facts and its tendency to imprison us in virtual and fantastical worlds far from producing knowledge and generating new skills, I believe such tools should be referred to as “asocial media” rather than social media.
It was important that professor Chi-Kin John Lee highlighted the potential advantages brought by digitalization when used effectively, such as the improvement in the quality of education and the provision of equal access opportunities. His specific emphasis on learning was noteworthy. Professor John Lee, expressing his belief in the inevitability of AI’s use in education, thinks there is a need to embrace the idea of its correct and ethical use. Once again, John Lee emphasized a crucial point: Education should not only focus on cognitive skills but also on nurturing character, values and virtues, as they are equally vital as cognitive skill sets.
This point is truly significant. What the professor highlighted here is a crucial aspect that will enable us to retain our humanity in this technological transformation decade, which is the main emphasis of this panel. In essence, this emphasis aligns with the learner profile present in many international programs. It serves as an answer to the question of what kind of generation we want to generate. For instance, we observe that each has a learner profile emphasizing values when we look at various international programs such as IB (International Baccalaureate), Cambridge and IM (International Maarif Program). While the meanings attributed to these values may vary between programs, focusing on values, virtues and character development remains very important. When professor Marenglan Biba looks at the process as an engineer, he emphasizes that AI is a game changer and has the potential to be a disruptive tool simultaneously.
He highlighted the potential benefits of AI in tasks related to big data analyses, emphasizing its ability to automate many manual tasks, etc., which could benefit humanity.
The third panel comprehensively addressed the impact of societal changes on sustainability, the role of school architecture in learning and the instructive role of physical space and contexts in schools. In this panel, the presence of Hau Ming Tse from Oxford University, with his architectural expertise, added a unique perspective by discussing school architecture and the concept of sustainable schools. Dr. Jennifer Groff, who spent an extended period at the MIT Media Lab, also contributed to the discussion, representing the private sector in the context of the panel topics. In essence, we witnessed how education is intricately intertwined with various fields and observed its relationship with both public and private sector resources. Additionally, former Malaysian Minister of Education Maszlee Bin Malik, a former policymaker, provided insights into the process. This was a multidisciplinary panel and the diversity of perspectives enriched the discussion significantly. Additionally, a mentioned tool in the panel, The OECD School User Survey: Improving Learning Spaces Together, which involves one of the panelists, Hau Ming Tse, as a team member of developers, is a significant tool within the OECD Learning Environments Evaluation Program (LEEP). This tool will provide you with opportunities to use the space more effectively by gathering data from key stakeholders in the school, including students, teachers and school administrators, regarding how you utilize the space more efficiently.
The panels were meticulously designed to address the evolving landscape of education, focusing on the philosophical underpinnings, the human aspect in the digital age, and the broader societal and environmental influences on learning environments. These discussions were not only thought-provoking but also provided practical insights that can be applied in educational settings.
AI in education
A keynote address titled “Leading the Change in Education” focusing on AI was delivered by Charles Fadel. In particular, the keynote by Charles Fadel shed light on the role of AI in the future job market. His assertion that AI users will surpass non-users in job opportunities left a lasting impression, prompting contemplation on the importance of adapting to technological advancements. In his speech, Charles Fadel discussed a fascinating idea called “education engineering.” Here’s what he meant: While “engineering education” is about teaching and learning engineering, “Education Engineering” is like civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering. It means applying precise methods, processes and engineering tools to education. He used a car analogy in the same session that caught my attention. The metaphor highlighted that just like a car helps us travel faster and carry more than walking, we need to ensure everyone can learn how to “drive” AI. This doesn’t mean learning to write algorithms but stresses the importance of gaining advanced digital literacy skills.
One of the significant opportunities I seized by participating in the summit was the chance to converse with Charles Fadel. Particularly in our bilateral dialogues, we observed that AI has a truly transformative and significant impact, great transformations such as handwriting and the internet. In this context, AI must distinguish itself from other educational technology tools. This is because AI, being a product in itself, sets itself apart from other educational technology tools in its content generation capacity. For instance, VR can be used as a tool, blending it with suitable instructional design to create student-centered education. However, it’s crucial to remember that, in this case, VR is a passive tool, and an instructional designer actively designs the process. AI differs from other educational technology tools due to its capacity and ability to generate content. While it is acknowledged that AI currently has limited capabilities, what the future holds is something we will discover together.
By the way, I would like to mention an exciting event that occurred on the first day of the summit, Friday. Perhaps, like many who follow the AI agenda, it was a development that surprised all of us. On Friday, the CEO of OpenAI, Sam Altman and another co-founder, Greg Brockman, were fired from the company by the Open AI board of directors. It was an event that took place just a day before we discussed AI at the Istanbul Education Summit – an incident that might be considered interesting enough to be noted in history. These were the first two top executives who lost their positions due to AI, and they were among the key individuals developing AI. While this is likely related to managerial issues, it could also be considered one of the initial warning signs regarding AI’s risks, even if it doesn’t take away their jobs.
The summit was a rich experience that brought together esteemed individuals from the field of education and facilitated discussions on crucial topics that shape the future of learning. The Istanbul Education Summit served as a platform for meaningful conversations and networking opportunities. The diverse sessions and esteemed speakers made it a valuable experience, leaving me with a deeper understanding of the complexities and possibilities in the ever-evolving field of education. The commitment to addressing current challenges and envisioning a sustainable and innovative future for education was evident throughout the summit, making it a commendable and enriching event.
We can confidently state that the Istanbul Education Summit has become a brand. The rapid establishment of its significance in education, both globally and locally, with its first and second editions laying the foundation and the third one setting the stage, is truly a gratifying development for Istanbul and Türkiye. The serious intellectual diversity among local and international participants attending all three summits seems to position this event at the forefront for academics, teachers, the private sector, and anyone interested in global education. Having had the opportunity to revisit many presentations from the summit through online platforms, it is evident that we have a substantial education agenda that warrants thoughtful consideration. We will eagerly await the fourth Istanbul Education Summit, which I believe is essential to the “Century of Türkiye” vision.
*Associate Professor at Afyon Kocatepe University