Oman Investment Forum

Al-Bustan Palace, The Ritz Carlton

Muscat – Oman

October 8, 2012

Democratization of Education

Talal Abu-Ghazaleh

Chair and founder of Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organization

Excellencies, Distinguished Friends, and Colleagues,

It is with great pleasure that I join you here today at this meeting of the Oman Investment Forum. It is fitting that such a remarkably talented group of people should come together to discuss Oman’s future. For my part, I would like to discuss the development in the knowledge society and the future of education.

We are fortuitous to live in this era of unprecedented human progress. The evidence of that is all around us. Consider this: The phone in your pocket has more computing power than the computer systems that guided Apollo 11 to the Moon over 40 years ago. Information technology has improved our lives in both measurable and immeasurable ways and has revolutionized nearly every system and industry around the world.

But there is a system that lags behind this technological revolution: higher education. Our approach to higher education has not changed in generations. It remains an exclusive anachronism – and in many cases, inflexible to the progress of our day. Why have other industries boomed while higher education has been stifled? Let’s think about the way educational institutions interact with students.

It was the educator and philosopher Paulo Freire who coined the term, “banking,” to describe the contemporary approach to education, stating: “It transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power."

An eloquent way of stating the case of a broken system, I believe. This model prescribes a one size fits all approach in a world where solutions to problems are not so easily defined. If you subscribe to this notion, then you will agree with me that the relationship between education institutions and students can be changed for the better. Through the rapid growth of the Internet’s capabilities, it is possible to develop this relationship, to level the field, and spur students’ creative interaction – to democratize education.

I have nine grandchildren – all of whom grew up with the Internet and were exposed to its intricacies with almost inherent understanding. Their experience is increasingly like that of every other student born in the information age. In the near future, the virtual world and the real world will become synonymous – it will be impossible to unlink the two because of how closely they will be interconnected. Thus, we should look at the increasingly symbiotic relationship between technology and education. Democratization of education is an inevitability that’s time has come.

What does democratizing education mean?

Imagine if you will, you are a financially disadvantaged student in a country where the costs to travel abroad for education is unthinkable. Imagine that the only way to improve your situation is to have access to world-class education. Imagine a one-stop virtual portal that allowed you to earn a degree from America, vocational training from Australia, and lessons in Mandarin from China – in order to be hired for a job here in Oman.

Imagine if there was a system in place that would take a ground up approach with students, so they could achieve their goals. A system that wasn’t interested in high student turnover rates, but one where success of educational outcomes was paramount; and the teaching of applicable skills was its primary focus. A system that attributed its success to its alumni and held responsible, institutions that inadequately in prepared students for the workforce. Imagine it was accessible without leaving your home, without ever having to travel or needing a visa. This is a great need for people not only in developing countries, but citizens around the globe.

In 2013, I am launching Talal Abu-Ghazaleh University to meet this need.

Talal Abu-Ghazaleh University is my endeavor to democratize education, promote global citizenship, and empower citizens who have been disenfranchised by the technological revolution. My mission is to make accredited educational programs accessible to everyone, everywhere.

Talal Abu-Ghazaleh University is a global educational alliance. We are partnering with institutions around the globe to achieve that mission. I want to change peoples’ attitude toward virtual education, to show that it is the way of the future. Virtual education stemming from international institutions compels individuals to understand the interdependence and interconnected nature of the modern world. It allows for world-class higher education to reach across cultures, to learners who are unable to afford the costs of travel.

I see world-class education as a human right. Therefore, I seek to democratize it; putting the power of choice and contribution into the hands of the University’s students. Talal Abu-Ghazaleh University makes it possible for transformational societies to embrace new concepts from the ground up. Given the adaptive nature of these societies, accessibility to education must be paramount to maximize their potential. Students will be able to rate programs, engage in critical analysis of their experience, and offer recommendations to improve their experience and that of others. Not only will the popularity of programs be reflected on our portal, but also the utility and relativity to the market of them as well.

Furthermore, in 2001, my group led an initiative in Arabic for internet and computer literacy learning and testing programs, to ensure that language is not a barrier for many Arab speakers to enter the knowledge society. The program was developed in association with world-class examination leaders, the Cambridge International Examinations- University of Cambridge who validates the Abu-Ghazaleh International Diploma in IT Skills. This program is now implemented in more than 450 centers in many Arab countries. Local governments in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait are emphasizing projects to improve information technology. The Sultanate of Oman has endorsed the program and is currently working closely with ITA to build the capacity of Omani Government employees on the usage of computer and internet, to utilize it at the work place with the aim of achieving the Digital Oman initiative. Initiatives like the one I just described are exactly what we aim to achieve with this University.

It is not solely the Internet, or information technology, or social media that makes this University possible – it is the aggregate of human ingenuity.

In my different capacities, I have aimed to address educational issues throughout my career. Now I sit on the World Trade Organization Future of Global Trade Policy panel and I chair the Global Challenges Forum in Geneva. Education reform is always a subject of discussion when looking at the future of business and trade.

We, business pioneers, are the people in a position to do something about it, to make positive contributions to the world.

My friends – share this vision with me.

This forum is an opportunity to consolidate our efforts together towards developing a more inclusive knowledge society for a prosperous future of our young people. We look forward to developing our role to facilitate comprehensive access to education and power the engine of innovation for society as a whole.

I thank you for your attention and wish you every success in your undertakings.