The Education Secretary Addresses the World Forum for Education

Hello everyone. I would like to welcome you all to our annual meeting of Education Ministers. We were all in a celebratory mood, and many world leaders from your country joined the celebration.

The coronation of His Majesty King Charles made the country known all over the world. Glamour, tradition, our history, the importance of continuity. But it’s not just a celebration of the past. We are also focused on the future. Even ancient monarchies like ours are constantly evolving.

Who would have thought that the next monarch would become the world’s first environmental champion when the coronation was last held in 1953? Curiosity and flexibility are always important, but when the world is changing rapidly, it is particularly important.

That is why we need education. Education transforms us, adapts us, and enables us to face the future head-on. Many of us will face the same challenges. Others have to grapple with issues specific to them. But one of the challenges we all face is how can we ensure that young people leave school and college with the skills that will prepare them for a life of opportunity?

I’ve been there before. I was once on a plane traveling to Japan for a major negotiation with nothing but a book on etiquette. What saved me was my great desire to learn from my hosts and my newfound karaoke skills.

All children are born with an innate curiosity. No one wants to be left behind, they want to learn, they want to do well. It’s our job to give them the opportunity to do so. If we do, we will all benefit. Give people a chance to learn, and the end result is almost always innovation.

The more we work together to solve problems, the more likely we are to realize the power of innovation.

Take a pandemic for example. See what the forces of global solidarity have achieved when it comes to vaccinating our population. It was shown to be high. So how do we make this work in education?

I learned in business that you may not always be the first, but you can learn from the best. That’s what we’ve done in the UK. To inform the Skills for Jobs white paper, we looked at the world’s leading technical education systems, such as Germany and the Netherlands, and those with recent reforms, such as Ireland.

Our new vocational qualification, the T Level, is heavily based on evidence from the Norwegian, Dutch and Swiss technical education systems. A national curriculum reform in 2014 resulted in world-class standards in all subjects and leveraged best practices such as mathematics teaching in Singapore and Shanghai.

We benchmark ourselves against all of you to drive improvement and bring innovation to our education system. By working with thousands of companies to design qualifications and partnering to provide young people with work experience and training, we are constantly learning. Not only do we want to take away excellence, we also want to share it ourselves.

We provide teachers with the skills, knowledge, and confidence. To date, more than 5,000 primary school teachers are learning online simultaneously. Heriot Watt Dubai was the first overseas university campus to open in Dubai International Academic City in 2005. Initially, she had 120 students. There are now nearly 4,000.

I hope this conference will be the first of many conversations I will have with you about how we can work together to further innovate and improve our education system. Essential for all levels of the economy above.

No country has a monopoly on good ideas, so the more we talk to each other, the more room we have to come up with solutions. One of the most effective ways to do this is to encourage international students. We are proud that the UK continues to be the choice of many students.

With four of the world’s top 10 universities, the UK’s higher education sector is truly world-class. In fact, 55 current world leaders were educated here in the UK. There is only one country that educates more world leaders, and that is the United States.

International mobility is increasing, but so is the global competitiveness of human resources. We are in a global race for technology as well as talent. Whether it’s AI, quantum computing, green technology or life sciences, the industries of the future rely not only on domestic talent but on deep and lasting partnerships.

For example, I am proud that Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn came from Australia to study in the UK here in Cambridge. Her research on enzymes and genetic material could pave the way for people to live longer, healthier lives.

Human rights advocate Ambiga Sreenevasan traveled from Malaysia in 1979 to graduate from the University of Exeter Law School. She eventually became president of that country’s bar association and she won the United States International Women of Courage Award.

So she is very proud to host over 600,000 international students each year. International education is popular. It makes us all richer. We all benefit from building partnerships and lasting bonds. It’s something we take very seriously.

And of course, we would love to see our students go and study abroad. That is why we are pleased that our global program for studying and working abroad, the Turing Scheme, is now entering its third year.

This year, the scheme offers over 38,000 UK students and learners the opportunity to gain international experience and develop their skills and expertise. I am especially pleased that this system is expanding the horizons of students who may not have had the opportunity before.

51% of international placements in 160 countries around the world are assigned to people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Turing Scheme is truly global in scope and all countries around the world, including EU countries, are eligible as study destinations for UK students.

This is great news for all students, including language learners. UK participants have access to even more countries, cultures, and languages. Thanks to Turing, Durham’s Lanchester Primary School was able to take her 16 children to a partner school in India. Children are immersed in a whole new world and, as principal Jane Davis put it, “they’ve seen more in a week than some of us will in a lifetime”.

Whether it’s a construction student at South West College in Northern Ireland who went to Canada to deepen his knowledge of architectural techniques that he’s built, or a budding entrepreneur at Nottingham Trent University who worked and studied in Latin America and perhaps even tried out some dance moves.

At home, the Turing Scheme offers international opportunities for students, pupils, and learners across the UK. In fact, Turing, who taught and researched internationally, was known by many to be the theoretical computer, widely considered to be the father of science and artificial intelligence.

This brings me to the controversial topic of the use of artificial intelligence, especially in educational settings. I know some countries have a canned reaction to AI. Some cry that it will be the end of humanity as we know it. Winston Churchill once said, “An optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”

We have had difficulties. Make the most of your opportunity now. That is why AI is already making a difference in schools and universities here in the UK, but there is much more room for real transformative change. AI has the potential to transform teachers’ daily work.

For example, cumbersome tasks such as creating lesson plans and grading can be greatly reduced. This will enable teachers to teach up close and personal in front of the classroom in ways that AI cannot. Like other innovations of the past, such as calculators or Google these days, we need to respond to it.

We learn about it and apply it to get better results for our students. We are excited to learn what it can do. How it can be used as assistive technology to improve. My department has already started this effort by issuing a statement examining the opportunities and risks that generative AI poses to Education.

We need to think and learn a lot more to understand the possibilities here. I look forward to working with experts, educators, and everyone in this room to put that idea into practice. I would like to thank Dominique and your team for organizing the EWF…

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