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WISE 2023 will focus on GenAI – Felfoul

Ahead of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) November 28 – 29, 2023 in Doha, Qatar, Edugist has had an exclusive interview with Elyas Felfoul, director at WISE, Partnerships – EdTech Accelerator Programme. Felfoul spoke of his childhood, career development in the public sector, in Quebec, Canada and how he has transferred valuable skills acquired to his role at WISE. He explained why WISE 2023 will focus on genearative artificial intelligence (GenAI) and more. Excerpts
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Let us start from the very beginning, your childhood. What were some of the pivotal moments and persons you would say influenced who you are today?

I am grateful for several things. Firstly, I appreciate the fact that I am a citizen of the world. When my parents made the decision to move from our native Tunisia to Canada, it marked a pivotal moment that set a new course for my life.

While I take immense pride in my Tunisian and African heritage, I also take pride in being Canadian. Upon our arrival in Canada at the age of 12, I quickly realised the unique opportunities that lay before me. I understood that I now live in a meritocratic society, where hard work and dedication could help me achieve some of my dreams. With this awareness, I seized the opportunity and diligently pursued my studies and personal growth, working tirelessly to improve my life and broaden my horizons.

Can you tell us about your experience serving as a member of the Minister’s team in Quebec? How is this experience serving you today?

Serving as a member of the Minister’s team and supporting the Government of Quebec, Canada, was a profound honour and a transformative experience that honed my abilities and prepared me for more significant roles of responsibility.

Throughout this journey, I acquired a wealth of knowledge. My tenure with the Minister’s Cabinet spanned from the ages of 23 to 27, a period when I had just graduated from university. However, my involvement in politics began at the age of 18.

Participating in government service equipped me with a unique skill set and exposed me to a diverse range of experiences. These included honing my proficiency in effective communication, public speaking, and presentation skills, as well as developing a keen political acumen.

I cultivated negotiation skills, crucial for managing conflicting interests, and refined diplomatic abilities for engaging with international counterparts and collaborating with other levels of government. Additionally, I gained expertise in crisis management and demonstrated adaptability in navigating complex situations.

In summary, my time serving under a Minister and working within the government imparted me with a diverse and valuable skill set. These skills are not only applicable within the public sector but also highly transferable to various other professional contexts. Furthermore, this experience allowed me to contribute meaningfully to society and play a role in enhancing my role in leading a global education platform such as WISE.

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You are now the director at WISE, Partnerships, Edtech Accelerator Programme. What does this role entail? What are some of the policies you have championed at WISE?

For some background, WISE was established by Qatar Foundation in 2009 under the leadership of its Chairperson, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. WISE is an international, multi-sectoral platform for creative, evidence-based thinking, debate, and purposeful action in education. Through the biennial summit, collaborative research and a range of ongoing programmes, including the Edtech Accelerator Programme, WISE has become a global reference in new approaches to education.

I oversee an extensive portfolio of partnerships that encompass a wide spectrum, ranging from government relations to corporate entities and from non-profit organisations to philanthropic individuals. In addition to my role in Partnerships, I’m deeply passionate about my involvement in the Edtech Track. Together with an exceptional team, we craft and execute a strategic vision for our Edtech accelerator programme, which involves several key responsibilities.

Firstly, I spearhead the process of curating promising Edtech startups to join our accelerator programme. This entails identifying and selecting startups with the most potential for growth and innovation in the education technology sector. Furthermore, I am in charge of assembling and overseeing a network of seasoned mentors, educators, and industry experts who provide invaluable guidance and support to our participating startups. This mentor network plays a crucial role in nurturing the development of these emerging Edtech companies.

Additionally, I focus on nurturing relationships with potential investors, including VC and angel investors, who exhibit interest in backing the startups within our accelerator. This engagement is vital to secure the financial support necessary for the growth and success of these Edtech ventures.

Furthermore, I actively foster a collaborative and supportive community among our accelerator’s startups, mentors, and alumni. This community-building effort facilitates knowledge exchange and cooperation, creating a dynamic ecosystem where ideas flourish and innovation thrives.

Finally, I’m responsible for organising an array of networking events, WISE@, and other interactive activities that promote engagement and the sharing of knowledge within our Edtech accelerator ecosystem. These events serve as platforms for startups to showcase their innovations, connect with potential partners, and strengthen their presence in the Edtech industry.

How is Edtech leading to more inclusion and access to quality education? What are some of the challenges with examples?

EdTech is like a tool that helps people learn using the internet. It can help people in faraway places or areas with not many resources get a good education. For example, websites like Khan Academy and Coursera teach people all over the world. EdTech also changes how you learn based on what you like and how you learn best.

For example, a programme called Duolingo can change how hard the lessons are depending on how you perform. This helps you learn better and not get bored. EdTech also has tools specifically for those with learning disabilities. Lastly, EdTech is usually cheaper, making it accessible to more people. Some websites, like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), are even free or very affordable.

Unesco Global Education Monitoring Report 2023 has raised some concerns about the use of technology in education, which ones are most pertinent in your view and how can they be addressed?

Overreliance on technology, the risk of it becoming a substitute for effective teaching and learning strategies. Teacher preparedness is another concern, teachers may not always be adequately prepared to integrate technology effectively into their teaching methods.

When you select applicants to benefit from your accelerator programme, what are the top five qualities you look out for?

We prioritise the quality of our Founder/Co-Founders, with a preference for diverse gender representation. Our focus is on startups centred around the primacy of education and their potential for meaningful impact. We are particularly intrigued by narratives showcasing the potential for scaling in different geographic expansions. Naturally, financial sustainability remains a fundamental criterion.

The WISE Summit is in November, how is this year’s edition different from the previous ones?

Every WISE Summit is very special. This will be my 10th year and I love that WISE is first and foremost a global community of thinkers and doers. We tend to capture what our community is intrigued to solve, learn more and adapt and without any hesitation, the topic of AI is prominent in people’s imagination.

This year, we will focus on AI. The emergence of Generative AI poses profound questions about the future of education. While there is significant scope to address some of the perennial challenges confronting education, GenAI is also bringing to the forefront additional challenges that extend beyond education: The proliferation of deepfakes will make it increasingly challenging to distinguish fact from fiction, threatening to turn the current epidemic of fake news, disinformation, and misinformation into a full-blown pandemic.

If machines can now be as creative as humans, what is left for humans to learn and do?
China and the US currently dominate GenAI and have embarked on a trade war over control of the new technology threatening to leave other cultures behind. WISE 2023 will explore these challenges presenting nuanced debates and discussions on the likely impact of GenAI on the future of education. The objective will be to identify potential solutions and help chart a path forward for policymakers, practitioners and everyone with an interest in education.

What is the nature of the support system you have for winners of the $20, 000 Awards?

Winning projects are supported by WISE through different channels:

• Money Prize: Each WISE Award-winning project will receive US$20,000.
• WISE Communications: Projects recognised by WISE are featured on the website, showcased and shared with the WISE community via social media.
• Multimedia productions: Special documentaries and videos are produced to showcase the work of the winning projects.
• WISE Books: Several WISE Awards finalists and winning projects have been featured in WISE Books which explore current challenges and solutions facing 21st-century education.
• The Global Summit: Representatives from Award-winning projects are also given the opportunity to present and discuss their work at dedicated sessions during the global biennial summit in Doha, Qatar.
• Support to other WISE programmes: Representatives of former winning projects have been involved in other WISE projects, either through mentorship, participation in the selection processes, or fellowship programmes.

What is the future of Edtech and where do you see the accelerator programme in this future?

I’m extremely enthusiastic about the future of education, and I believe that Edtech has immense potential to revolutionise the learning experience in numerous ways. Firstly, let’s talk about the impact of AI. Two significant developments are on the horizon.

Firstly, AI-driven chatbots and virtual tutors will revolutionise education by providing real-time support to students. These intelligent systems will be capable of offering immediate assistance and guidance, ensuring that learners receive timely help. Additionally, AI can empower educators by analysing data to pinpoint areas where students might be facing difficulties, enabling personalised interventions tailored to each student’s needs.

Secondly, AI will play a pivotal role in personalised learning. Edtech will continue to evolve, adapting to the unique requirements of individual students. This means offering customised learning paths, adaptive assessments, and tailored content, creating a highly personalised educational experience.

Another exciting trend we can expect to witness is the proliferation of gamification in education. Gamified learning platforms are set to make education more engaging and enjoyable. By incorporating game elements such as points, badges, and leaderboards, these platforms will motivate students and foster active participation in their learning journey.

Furthermore, I anticipate a significant emphasis on enhancing accessibility in education. Edtech will remain dedicated to ensuring that education is accessible to diverse groups of individuals, breaking down barriers and providing equitable learning opportunities for all.

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