Foreign,Commonwealth and Development Office
Education Secretary addresses the Education World Forum
Gillian Keegan celebrates the role of international education and promotes the benefits of embracing Artificial Intelligence in education (08 May 2023).
Good afternoon everyone.
I’d like to welcome you all to this annual gathering of education ministers.
You find us all in a celebratory mood and many world leaders from your countries joined us to celebrate.
The coronation of His Majesty King Charles showcased what this country is known for around the world.
Pageantry, tradition, our history, the importance of continuity. But it is not just a celebration of the past. We’re also focused on the future, even an ancient monarchy like ours is constantly evolving.
Who would have thought back in 1953 when we last held a coronation that the next monarch would be one of world’s original environmental champions?
Curiosity and flexibility are vital at any time but especially when the world is changing so fast.
That is why we need education – it allows us to change, it allows us to adapt, it ensures we can meet the future head on.
Many of us will be facing the same challenges. Others will have to tackle problems that are particular to them.
But one challenge we all face is this: How do we make sure our young people leave school or college with the skills to prepare them for a life of opportunity?
We have all found ourselves in situations when our skills didn’t go far enough. I once found myself on a plane travelling to Japan for a major negotiation with nothing but a book on etiquette.
What saved me was a huge appetite to learn from my hosts and my new-found karaoke skills.
Every child has an inbuilt sense of curiosity. None of them want to be left behind, they want to learn and do well.
It’s our job to give them the opportunity to do so. And if we do, we all benefit.
Give people the opportunity to learn and the end result almost always sparks innovation.
The more we collaborate and work together to solve our problems, the more we’re likely to see the power of innovation.
Take the pandemic for example. Look at what the power of global unity achieved when it came to vaccinating our populations. It showed that those who were quickest to innovate in a crisis were more likely to be the first out of it.
So, how do we make this work in education.
I learnt in business, you may not always be first but you can learn from the best and that is what we have done in the UK. We’ve learnt from all of you, and we want to continue doing so.
To inform our Skills for Jobs White Paper, we looked at world leading technical education systems, like in Germany and the Netherlands and those which have implemented more recent reforms, such as Ireland.
Our new vocational qualifications, T-levels, drew heavily on evidence from the Norwegian, Dutch and Swiss technical education systems.
Our reforms to the national curriculum in 2014 have given us world-class standards across all subjects and have drawn on best practice, such as how maths is taught in Singapore and Shanghai.
We benchmark ourselves against all of you – to drive improvement and instil innovation in our education system.
Working with thousands of businesses, we are learning all the time as we partner to design qualifications and provide work experience and training for young people.
But we don’t just want to take excellence from others, we want to share our own too.
The Teaching for Success Tunisia is a project with the British Council, the Ministry of Education and the British Embassy which will give teachers the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to teach English more effectively. So far it has resulted in more than 5,000 primary school teachers learning simultaneously online.
While Heriot-Watt Dubai was the first campus of an overseas university to open in Dubai International Academic City in 2005. There were 120 students to start with. Now there are nearly 4,000.
I hope that this conference can be the first of many conversations I have with you about how we can work together to innovate and improve our education systems further.
Innovation and collaboration are essential for economies at every level and in every corner of the Earth.
No country has a monopoly on bright ideas so the more we talk to one another, the greater the scope for coming up with solutions.
One of the most fruitful ways of doing this is by encouraging international students.
We are proud that the UK remains a destination of choice for so many students. With four out of the top 10 universities in the world, the UK’s higher education sector is truly world class. In fact, 55 current world leaders were educated right here in the UK, only one country is educating more world leaders and that is the US.
International mobility is increasing but so is global competitiveness for talent. We are in a global race, not just for talent but for technology. The industries of the future, whether AI, quantum computing, green technology or life sciences, rely not just on having talent in our own countries but on deep and lasting partnerships.
For example, I am proud that Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn was able to come from Australia and study here in the UK at Cambridge. Her research on enzymes and genetic material could pave the way for people to live longer, healthier lives.
Human rights advocate Ambiga Sreenevasan, travelled from Malaysia to graduate in Law from Exeter University in 1979. She eventually became president of that country’s Bar Council and has been awarded the US International Women of Courage Award.
So I am hugely proud that we are welcoming more than 600,000 international students every year.
International education is popular. It makes us all richer. We all benefit as we build partnerships and lasting bonds. That’s something we value hugely.
And of course, we are equally keen to see our students go and study abroad. Which is why I am delighted that the Turing Scheme, our global programme to study and work abroad, is now approaching its third year.
This year the scheme is unlocking opportunities for more than 38,000 UK students and learners who will gain international experience, developing skills and expertise.
I’m especially pleased that this scheme is extending the horizons for students who might never have had that chance. 51% of the international placements across 160 countries all over the world have been earmarked for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Turing Scheme is truly global in scope, with every country in the world eligible as a destination for UK students, including EU countries. This is great news for all students, including those studying languages, as many more countries, cultures and languages are within reach for UK participants.
Thanks to Turing, Lanchester Primary School in Durham was able to take 16 children to their partner school in India.
The children found themselves immersed in a totally new world and as their head teacher Jane Davis said: ‘they experienced more in a week than some of us experience in a lifetime’.
Whether it’s construction students from South West College in Northern Ireland, who went to Canada to improve their knowledge of green building techniques, or budding entrepreneurs from Nottingham Trent University getting to sample work and study, and probably some dance moves, in Latin America, the Turing Scheme is unlocking international opportunities for students, pupils and learners across the UK.
Actually Turing who also taught and studied internationally was, as many of you will know, widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.
Which brings me to a subject that divides opinion and that is the use of Artificial Intelligence, particularly in education settings.
I know in some countries there is a knee-jerk reaction to AI. It’s going to be the end of mankind as we know it, some cry.
To challenge this response to a future technology I want to call on a voice from the past. Winston Churchill once said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
We’ve had the difficulties. Now let us make the most of our opportunities.
Which is why here in the UK, AI is making a difference in schools and universities already but there is far greater scope for really transformative change.
AI could have the power to transform a teacher’s day-to-day work. For example, it could take much of the heavy lifting out of compiling lesson plans and marking. This would enable teachers to do the one thing that AI cannot and that’s teach, up close and personal, at the front of a classroom.
We need to respond to it just as we have to other technical innovations in the past like the calculator, or more recently Google. We’ll learn about it, then apply it to deliver better outcomes for students.
We’re excited to learn about what it can do. Whether it could radically reduce the amount of time teachers spend marking, how effective it could be for personalised and adaptive learning and how it might be used as an assistive technology to improve access to education.
My department has already begun this journey by publishing a statement that examines the opportunities, as well as the risks, that generative AI brings to education.
We have a lot more thinking and learning to do to understand the potential here and I am committed to working hand-in-hand with experts, educators and all of you in this room as we do that thinking.
I’d like to thank you Dominic and your team for all your hard work in organising EWF and enabling ministers from so many countries around the world to meet today.
Innovation, resilience, a desire to learn. This is how we will be stronger after the pandemic. We must embrace change and learn from each other.
Alexander Graham Bell, a man whose innovation, resilience and desire to learn, have totally transformed life for all of us, once said: “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened.”
Sometimes a door opening can lead to the most extraordinary places which is how I find myself here before you today.
Let us overcome our fear and open these doors and be ready to embrace the opportunities that are waiting there.
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