Two choices to make when hosting virtual events

Now that I’ve hosted a couple of large online events, I thought I’d pen this note to share some thoughts on the choices we made so that you, too, can deliver exceptional events and experiences.


As we hadn’t done this before, we didn’t know how many people would want to register for our first event so we chose a provider that looked reputable and as a result of our desire to help the teaching profession, the provider bent over backwards to help us by waiving all fees and provided extra technical support to help us get going. All good… until the site fell over as a result of the volume we were generating. This kept on happening, and out of desperation we then set up a Google Form that served as our main registration module, and it worked well. However, by making this shift, we lost the ability to share information with our partners on the delegates that their efforts had generated as Google couldn’t provide us with personalised registration links that they could promote.

The second and, equally, important lesson we learnt was that in many regions, forms, too, need to be translated so that those who speak different languages can register successfully. This becomes really crucial if you’re aiming for your event to be global. So, we set up Google forms in Arabic and Spanish and our numbers shot up from Latin America and the Middle East.

Simply put, given the unprecedented circumstances we face, tech providers are continuously adding new features and services to their platforms and whilst we have come along in leaps and bounds since March, there are certain considerations that drove our decision making. 


In our first event, we wanted to build community and thought that setting up a group on Facebook would serve us well, which it has. For this reason, we used a streaming platform called StreamYard, which has been exceptional to use. We streamed into the Facebook group, which meant that those participating had to join there and we now have a 30,000 strong community. Having an ability to show comments made in the group on the main screen during proceedings also provides for a feeling of interactivity and engagement, which the other platforms don’t do. StreamYard also allows for branding to be applied, which is great. We had lots of positive feedback saying how professional our production looked.

The second consideration we had to make was on translations, as our audience was global. On StreamYard we had to improvise and our production team found a way which worked, but this, also, added extra cost which was unforeseen. So, when we organised World Education Week, with 100 schools each hosting their own virtual platform, we wanted to ensure that the events were accessible for a wide audience, which resulted in our choice of Microsoft Teams Live, which has the capability to have translated captions in six languages. Whilst, we’ve had much feedback on the choice and difficulties faced in hosting an event on Microsoft Teams Live, the benefit of having captioned translations made it worthwhile. 

I should add that the accuracy of captioned translations, as well as the choice of languages they offer is questionable, but there really is no alternative at this stage.

In my next post, I’ll share insights on how to host a mammoth event like World Education Week, with 100 virtual events by 100 hosts all over the world!

Hosting any event requires a level of expertise and we really couldn’t have done so without great team-mates, don’t think you can do this on your own!

From the hyper-local to the global, we can build ‘community’ when we try.

Six LESSONS on how to build COMMUNITY

Maybe it’s taken the shock of Covid-19 for us to realise the importance of human relationships, but what’s changed from such trying times in the past, is that we are able to connect with kith and kin, thanks to advances made with ubiquitous tech platforms that beam us into the homes and new workspaces of our colleagues, friends and family on a daily basis like no time before.

As someone who has always believed in the transformative power of bringing people together, increasingly, I’ve been asked as to how I build communities and networks, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on what’s worked and, importantly, what’s not worked as well as I imagined it would. But before I do, I thought I’d quote what Google suggested what a ‘community’ was, so that we anchor ourselves with the same meaning:

A community is a social unit (a group of living things) with commonality such as norms, religion, values, customs, or identity. Communities may share a sense of place situated in a given geographical area (e.g. a country, village, town, or neighbourhood) or in virtual space through communication platforms.

1. Your motives matter, make them known. Your values and reasons for creating a community need to shine through, be very transparent about these, as it’ll set the tone and the terms of engagement, both of which are critical for success.

Most people won’t have an issue with joining a community if they know what it’s core purpose is. They need to understand not only why they’re being thought of, but also how they stand to benefit, so the more upfront you are about such matters, the greater the chances of them joining and being active.

I created a community of leaders in philanthropy as a way of bringing together peers from across the world together, so we can learn from each other. As a decision maker, I often found myself in situations where I couldn’t share my thoughts with colleagues, so this group served as a forum not only to share various challenges I faced, but also one where I learnt a lot, which made me a better leader. This community continues to thrive thanks to a WhatsApp group that I set up, and is a great example of being transparent about your motives. Had I set it up with an ulterior motive, I’m pretty sure that the effort would have failed.

2. Find common ground. You need to start somewhere, so finding common ground is important to frame what folks can expect from your community. What I’ve seen happen, more so during the pandemic, is that they provide a support network for people who, often, are extremely isolated in one way or another. 

The support system such networks provide include ongoing positive reinforcement as well as constructive feedback. Where there’s common ground, it makes it easier to seek help and input and if the goal is to build strong communities, then this becomes critical to think through.

I’ve also seen people get busier and busier working from home, so the fact that such members of your community can’t attend meetings or formal sessions forces us to put in place some form of online support, where members can go at their own pace. This personalised professional development is key to great communities that are built around learning, especially.

3. Be clear what the rules are, and repeat them often. You’ll avoid so much heart-ache if you’re explicit about what’s acceptable and in the case of bad behaviour what the consequences will be for those who cross the line. 

Despite what many think of Facebook, I recently set up a few community groups for specific purposes, and what I really liked what it did was force administrators to consider what the rules for their groups are. They even provide prompts and language that you can use to create your personalised set of rules. Whether one looks at these when they join such a community is one thing, but as an organiser, I know that I have these as a way of ejecting those who misbehave. 

Having clear admission criteria for your community, as well as exit rules, is critical. As the definition above says, there have to be some commonalities in a community, and should that change, there should be an understanding of what happens next for members. 

4. Build a community with a low ‘jerk’ factor. Whilst they are a huge strength, building diverse communities is really tough. 

Often the difference in cultural norms, language, sport and religious beliefs result in differences of opinion and can trigger bad behaviour. Where I’ve seen these matters resolved effectively, have been when there’s been prompt and decisive action. 

Where there’s been a ‘fudged’ compromise, you can see the issues that arise erode the value of the network and community building becomes much tougher.

The way to build really beneficial communities is to vet those you want to enrol and take your time to get to know them. Positive references from others in the community are also valuable.

Ultimately, most networks will have ‘jerks’, your role is to minimise the number in your community. Be clear what one looks like.

5. Community management is a job. The bind we often find ourselves in is that we inadvertently create communities which deliver exceptional results, experiences, learnings but we fail to recognise that their sustenance and growth require additional investment of time, money and thought. We often bolt on the role of ‘community manager’ to a junior person in marketing or another department, who along with their own workload has to also drive engagement for this new set of people.

I understand this challenge all too well and have seen it fail every time.

Ideally, if you believe in the power of community, make it someone’s job – their focus. 

Finding someone who can perform the role is no easy matter. I would say that those who can relate to others, have great social-emotional skills, demonstrate empathy, and are adept at the use of appropriate tech tools would excel in such a role.

Many years ago, I was fortunate to have been invited to join the Forum of Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum, and the thing they do well, in relation to other such networks, is to emphasise the importance of network building by having staff who are ‘community managers’ lead their engagement with members of their organisation. This one very simple change in job title, can make the essential difference to the experience of those in the community.

6. Size matters. On Facebook, I created a group that now has, almost, 30,000 members who are interested in education, and, similarly, on my YouTube channel there’s 10,000, and on LinkedIn, there’s another 3,000 of us. I see these, not as communities but as groups of individuals with a loose affiliation that bring everyone together.

Community building requires time, money and energy. The larger your community, the more you have to commit resources to it. Whilst, tech tools make convening large groups, as above, easier,  it’s another thing altogether to moderate conversation and build shared understanding, which are all critical to building community. I would suggest the ideal size for a network is much smaller than you’d think. 

For me the true magic of communities is that they’re personal. 

Whilst I can speak about the many up-sides of building professional communities of teachers and leaders in the education sector, I’ve kept my thinking broad for this piece given the relevance of what’s said above to so many different areas of work.

Covid-19 has turned our lives upside down. Chaos has rained down on us. Many of the cherished beliefs we held have been cast aside as a result of what we’re all going through. The one really great thing that’s happened to many of us is that we’ve also connected with those around us to a far greater extent than we had before. The stand-out success for me has been the creation of a WhatsApp group for my neighbourhood, which has been a joy to see become a community.

This much is clear to me, from the hyper-local to the global, we can build ‘community’ when we try.

So, why not start today?

‘World’s biggest education conference’ enables schools to share their learning to a huge online audience

I’m truly excited to reveal the showcase of 100 schools who will gather online to share expertise and best practices during the inaugural World Education Week, to be held from 5-9th October.

The hand-picked schools will join together in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on Quality Education (SDG 4) and share their expertise across a range of educational themes, such as enhancing employability and life-skills; deepening family and community engagement; the use of technology; a focus on well-being; and promoting the science of learning and teaching.  

Each will share their wisdom to an online audience expected to reach 100,000 worldwide. The ambition driving World Education Week is to accelerate progress to achieve UN SDG 4, a commitment designed to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.

The schools, chosen from every continent and from kindergartens to secondary level, have centred on the theme of ‘Learning Today’, and each school will host a virtual event to demonstrate how to bring change, based on their own innovations and successes

To say I am inspired by the schools that applied to take part in this year’s World Education Week is a massive understatement. Their commitment to improving the life chances of their learners by nurturing expertise and wanting to share their experience with others, especially in these challenging times, says a lot about the global education community. They are our heroes and World Education Week provides us all an opportunity not just to learn from them, but to celebrate their successes, too.”

By sharing the ways in which these schools have developed their expertise, we can encourage others to feel inspired to undertake the same journey to excellence. That is a real and tangible way in which World Education Week can accelerate progress on achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The conference has won the backing of Andreas Schleicher, the Director for Education & Skills at the OECD, who said:

“What’s exciting about World Education Week is the idea of schools around the world sharing their expertise with their peers. After a turbulent period in global education, this is a great way of building back better.”

The project was also welcomed by Jaime Saavedra, the Global Director for Education at the World Bank:

“The sheer scale of educators around the globe combining to share expertise, excellence  and wisdom in accelerating learning is hugely impressive. If all educators learn from the best educators of their countries and of the world we would make immense progress in ensuring inclusive, equitable and quality education for all. I welcome all to participate in World Education Week.”

David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International – the global federation of teacher unions commented in support:

“Teachers have amazed the world by taking the lead in this time of crisis. World Education Week is showcasing schools adapting to unprecedented challenges and striving for excellence illustrates that continuing determination against the odds to serve our students. Next comes the hard part – making sure that governments and educators and communities take safe and innovative practices across the world as examples, to build back better a public sector guaranteeing a quality education for every student.” 

World Education Week is an effort by thirty civil society organisations coming together after the record breaking T4 conference on 30th May that was attended by over 100,000 teachers.

The event will be hosted from the World Education Week website, with registration opening from today.

I look forward to participating and learning from these incredible group of schools, and I hope you will join us in celebrating their achievements.

Please register to participate by visiting our registration page.

The ‘new normal’ for teachers

As the global pandemic was taking grip on our lives in February, a group of friends started wondering what this may mean for public services the world over. It wasn’t long after that entire public education systems started shutting down and this is when, we, as friends, decided to come together to consider the many aspects connected to school closures, which not only included how home-schooling and technology works, but, importantly, also about the widening of inequity.

These Zoom calls provided a safe space for discussion and exploration, and the honesty that system leaders brought to these meetings resulted in ideas being share devoid of politics or ideology, which itself felt like a watershed moment.

They spoke about issues such as school feeding programmes and what works, they talked about well-being and what’s being put in place for children, the discussed how to open schools up, again. They even explored whether this crisis presented opportunities for wider reforms.

I also convened a call with teachers, where I heard stories from the front-line that angered me. On that particular meeting, and in the few days after, I’d been reflecting on what I heard and decided that the concern wasn’t just about the immediate circumstances we face, but also about what the future holds for us. In common parlance, teachers were asking what the so called ‘new normal’ means for them.

Given I used to host the Global Education & Skills Forum, some of my teacher friends encouraged me to convene a virtual conference for teachers that attempted to answer that question. Our initial instinct was to bring just our friends together for this conversation, but given that technology now allows us to reach all corners of the world, I decided that we’d try to make this a global conversation. Why not?

Covid-19 has, at least in my opinion, for the first time, resulted in large swathes of the world – whether you are in the global south or in a western industrialised country, to a common experience. What that means, and I heard it for myself in several calls I had convened, is that a learning from one part of the world could be applied to another context.

In the absence of system leaders having any precedents to fall back on, I felt that providing teachers a platform and voice could be an incredibly powerful thing to do. Why shouldn’t teachers set the precedent, after all they’re at the front-line and dealing on a daily basis with such difficult issues! Let them set the pace.

That’s how T4 was born. We decided to focus on these four areas (hence the name): teacher well-being, teacher collaboration, teacher leadership and teacher technology as these were the areas that teachers were most often mentioning to me. Since launching the conference just two weeks ago, I am astounded with the level of interest this event has generated.

I’m really looking forward to hosting the event next week. I hope you’ve registered. I’d also be very grateful if you could take this poll as it’ll inform my remarks at the event.

The Zoom Policy Institute

Imagine if all the video Zoom conferences concerning education policy in the world were pulled together on one platform, no policy maker could ever say that they hadn’t heard of a development or an innovation that could improve their own ideas and efforts. We’d solve a major problem.

I offer that insight because this week I spoke and participated on a number of panels around the world sat in my dining room at home in London. Here are some takeaways:

In partnership with the World Bank, Brookings, and Senator Bullrich I’ve been bringing system leaders together to learn from former Heads of Government how to frame political narrative. This week, we had the honour of hosting former President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri. One takeaway from our conversation what the need to embrace technology and use social media platforms to help frame narratives. Earlier in the series, the former Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi talked about constructing coalitions of interest as a way of influencing heads of government about education funding.

The dynamic and thoughtful, Daniel Dotse who founded Lead for Ghana invited me to speak to the Fellows of his programme about leadership lessons I had learnt. I spoke about some of the lessons I wrote about here, but was interested in the leadership lessons these young and dynamic leaders who were in classrooms in Ghana were learning. I’d love to revisit that conversation. I mentioned these three books as ones I had recently re-read which I thought were good primers for different aspects of this huge subject: (a) the Bhagvad Geeta (b) Dale Carnegie’s famous ‘How to Win Friends & Influence People‘ and (c) Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know by Ranulph Fiennes.

Mosharraf Zaidi of Tabadlab in Pakistan hosted an edtech panel, which involved a spirited discussion on the lessons learnt from the pandemic viz learning and education. I always find listening to those in contexts like Pakistan to be insightful and the key takeaway from the discussion that kept on coming through was the centrality of teachers to this discussion.

The panel included:

  • Salma Alam who is the founder of Durbeen–which has quickly come to assume a leading role as an organisation that is helping prepare teachers for the classroom of today.
  • Bilal Musharraf from Edmodo, an online learning platform with over 87 million users.  
  • Zainab Qureshi-Siddiqui who leads the Harvard Evidence for Policy Design’s work on learning outcomes through the LEAPS programme.
  • Dr Farrah Asif, who is a LUMS professor, and the founder of Edtech Worx, which was inspired by a passion to alter the learning experience of students.

Vongai Nyahunzvi, Africa Director of Teach for All hosted a panel discussion on the promise of education in Africa, and I really enjoyed, as I always do, of the incredible strides being made on the continent by leaders such as those on my panel, which included:

  • Doreen Kessy, Chief Business Officer of Ubongo – who is an innovator and edtech pioneer in Africa.
  • Chris Bradford, Founder of the Africa Leadership Academy who is always so thoughtful in his remarks.
  • Dzingai Mutumbuka who always bring much needed wisdom based on his decade long experience as Education Minister of Zimbabwe.

My next post will speak in detail about a conference called T4 that I am hosting on Saturday, 30th May.

What is the ‘new-normal’ in education?

We’ve gone from the initial panic around school closures to solving for many of the problems and challenges that have been thrown up as a result, whether they be the very serious issues connected to inequity or about pedagogy for online learning. I sense we are now headed towards having a conversation about what the ‘new normal’ looks like for the education sector.

Before we get there, we have to focus on how best to reopening schools and this is not just a matter of opening the school gates and continuing from where we left off. The closures have had huge issues, namely the learning loss that has taken place in the time that our kids have been off school. To pretend otherwise is a folly.


I was challenged this week to think about how in the context of budgetary cuts and a looming recession, how we could still play catch up effectively, and also consider the longer term reforms that need to take place to ensure education systems are fit for the future. No easy task, let me confess. Where do we even start?

I’d like your thoughts on what you would spend a hypothetical budget of £100 on three key priorities… please leave a comment below.

I also read that the Gates Foundation are concentrating their funding and efforts on Covid-19 and in the context of education, are looking to fund interventions that explore how we do online learning. Is that where we should focus?


Aashti Zaidi of the Global Schools Forum invited me to a Zoom call for their membership organisations, which I attended as an independent observer to hear their experiences of Covid-19. Interestingly, their membership spans those in the NGO sector as well as the for-profit education sector and I was interested to hear if government’s were taking into consideration the vital role that many of these providers have in these contexts. You can read their post here on their recommendations on how best to support them.

Education is, generally, highly ideological and in these times, we need to come together to ensure that we do the best for everyone.

COMMUNITY BUILDING ON LINKEDIN – you can join the group here.

The LinkedIn group that I set up a few weeks back had the following contributions, which may be of interest:

> Strategy consulting firm, McKinsey published this piece on school system priorities in the age of Covid-19. I like the priority they placed on supporting teachers.

> The Edtech Hub which is a a $25 million 8-year EdTech research initiative of the World Bank, DFID and the Gates Foundation is seeking tech-enabled solutions and edtech experts for:

  • out-of-school formal & non-formal distance learning/assessment
  • teacher/principal/parent support solutions
  • the psychosocial & socio-emotional side-effects of COVID-19
  • rapid education data collection systems … for low- & middle-income countries (Africa, Asia & the Middle East).

View the call for proposals here:

They will be reviewing & selecting applications on a weekly rolling basis starting from 1st May until end of May, with successful applicants notified throughout. They will also be looking for inclusive solutions for marginalized groups (the disabled, displaced, refugees, girls, etc).

> Pivot conducted a survey of 3,500 teachers in Australia and New Zealand, and these were some of their results:

  • 80% of teachers and school leaders believe that students will need extra instructional support when they return to in-classroom learning
  • 70% of teachers say they have increased their planning time
  • 90% of teachers say they want student feedback on their teaching


They say that boredom leads to creativity, so I’m delighted to share a photo of the hat my daughter made from an IKEA bag, apparently, it’s quite a fashion statement! Pleased that she channeled her creativity.


I’ve become increasingly worried about what happens to the education sector once lockdown is lifted. I don’t just mean returning to school, but that the so-called silver lining that this crisis has shown us will pass us by like so many opportunities in the past. This is mainly for two reasons:

  • With the looming recession, education budgets, like almost everything else, are going to be cut, which is the exact opposite to what is required to build the knowledge economy. The key question for me is how we make the case to protect funding, which is essentially a political decision in most countries. There is no question that the extra economic stimulus that has been injected into our economies will have to be paid for in some way, whether that’s through cut, raising taxes, or finding new sources of revenue. What I am absolutely certain about is that our Heads of Government and Finance Ministers will make the decision on what happens in education, and we really need to pray that they understand that the investments they make today are for the longer term.
  • Many have commented that changes that we are experiencing are irreversible. I’m not too certain about that. The structure of society and how we live and work have a huge impact on how education is also organised. The home-schooling / remote-learning experience of today is not sustainable and the boom we have seen in ed-tech could easily also reverse when we resume normal service and working hours. The big caveat is, of course, unless Ministries of Education the world over decide they want to embrace new learning technologies and make them a core part of how they see the provision of education, and there are great examples now from around the world where progress is being made at pace. What’s required is leadership from the private and public spheres to create a space and investment where subjects that are normally taboo can be explored in depth.

Professor Rose Luckin of the UCL Institute of Education asks for your help in completing this survey which should help us make sure we learn from this experience so that we can better support teachers, learners and the EdTech community post-lockdown.

Last week, we hosted a meeting on Teaching in the pandemic which over 200 teachers and system leaders took part in. A lot of discourse in education happens without teachers being involved and for this reason, Senator Esteban Bullrich and I wanted to bring them to the table and hear not only about their experiences but learn from the solutions they are putting in place.

An infographic shared by Tabadlab

Here are some takeaways:

Empathy and wellbeing have to be at the heart of all that we do for our students, families and communities. To do that, we must empower and support our schools and teachers with the resources they need now more than ever, as Yasodai Selvakumaran from Australia said.

Hard hitting but… Nadia Lopez from New York explained that she’s realised that equity is a choice. Not by those who have been disenfranchised by poverty, but those in positions of power to create policies and allocate funding that would give schools the budgets they require to meet the needs of their students.

We need a greater investment in services that education psychologists provide, Marj Brown from South Africa spoke about the importance and need she has realised in these times on the need to provide psycho-social support to students.

On assessments, Jim Tuscano from the Philippines posed an interesting question asking whether they are fit for purpose in an online learning environment. He also asked a great question on how primary learners can be taught online… still looking for answers, so please contact me if you have thoughts. Jim wrote this blog post after our session which captures what was said.

David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International spoke about collaboration, not competition, across organizations being key when it comes to what tools are available to students and teachers and cited Cameroon, Uruguay, Norway as examples around the world of systems making efforts to align resources, plan effectively at different levels.

Watch the session by clicking the image – David Edwards from EI opened our session

From India, we heard from Akshay Saxena who commented how quickly people have come together through rapid innovation. His organisation managed to pull together open source content from Grade 1-12 in just a few weeks, reaching about 40% of students. Cheap data availability has aided this process. The one thing he would ask the government to do is to provide free data bundles to students.

Jiang Xuequin from China told us because of China’s success in edtech, there are two issues they are now facing – one being how do you build intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. When you’re not in a class being driven by your peers, what happens?

In Belgium, Koen Timmers told us resources are being pulled together to get laptops and data free for every child. But, how do you use technology well if you do have access to it? He went on to say we need synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities through tech for guided and independent learning. Different ages and subjects require different approaches as well. Edtech is not just about delivering content.

Special education needs leader from the UK, Vijita Patel, reminded us that the process of learning in virtual schools is anchored in relationships. Especially for students with unique needs, these relationships are critical. Vijita also fleshed out these three priorities: (a) formative assessment: families as co-constructors; (b) agility of curriculum: do students understand this new normal? This is the most significant learning opportunity; (c) teacher well-being – the pressure to give students what they need.

Armand Doucet from Canada concluded our call and built on his advocacy for the profession given the challenges being faced today.

Also, very thankful to music teacher Jimmy Rotherham for ending our call with a song. Watch this to the very end. We shall overcome with a little help from our friends.

Interesting articles & reports of the week:

Education hit hardest by Covid19 in the UK – says it how it is!

How Covid19 will change the Conservative Party– we need to understand how to present the case for education taking this into consideration

Why India has such few deaths: written by a friend but sharing because it’s a question my family asked just last week.

Alex Beard has been commissioned by the BBC to produce a three part radio series called The Learning Revolution which looks at the future of education, featuring the leading thinkers and most radical practices in teaching, technology, and more. Part I is on Knowing. Alex wrote a great book a couple of years ago called ‘Natural Born Learners’.

Mosharraf Zaidi from leading Pakistani think tank: Tabadlab drafted this report on the impact of Covid-19 on education there, which I am grateful for.

Music shares of the week:

How amazing was the Andrea Bocelli performance in support of Covid19 victims last week? I was so honoured to have hosted him a couple of years ago for the Global Teacher Prize ceremony. Watch my interview with him below.

I really enjoyed watching parts of the One World Together At Home concert on Saturday eve. It was great seeing the diverse acts from all over the world come together. I really enjoyed the Rolling Stones set (the one with the air drumming:)

Three weeks into lockdown…

Three weeks into lockdown and contrary to what you’re expecting me to say, isn’t it whizzing by?! I thought I’d have more free time! This is what’s occupied much of my time this week:

Senator Esteban Bullrich and I continue to bring friends together from across the world to delve into different aspects of the closure of schools. Next week on Tuesday, 14th April at 12pm UK time, we’re bringing together a larger group to learn, share and interact with some prolific teachers to listen to them and help solve for the issues they identify as impediments to do their jobs. 

We’ve had one prep session and I’m stunned with what I heard! Hear from yourself next Tuesday.

If you wish to join us, please join this dedicated LinkedIn group: Education & Our World, where details of the call are posted. 

I’m really delighted that these calls are proving to be useful. In the past two weeks, we’ve had presentations / launches of these reports:

  • Andreas Schleicher contributed insights from PISA 2018 on how well students and schools were prepared for school closures.
  • Fernando Reimers & Andreas Scheicher created a framework to guide an education response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 
  • Armand Doucet co-authored a guidance note for UNESCO and EI on how teachers need to think about pedagogy as schools move online as a result of this pandemic.

On our next call, David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International –  the global federation of teacher unions will preview the findings of their global survey for the first time.

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-07 at 16.45.27


  • Richard King of the Education Development Trust wrote about the implications for policymakers. Read here.
  • Lucia Dellagnelo shared the results of a huge survey in Brazil of 3,000 school districts where they summarise different models of remote learning that are being implemented by school districts and includes live and recorded classes to be broadcasted from local TV, from YouTube or other online platforms. 
  • Alex Crossman who is a UK School Principal wrote about what they learnt from going into lockdown. Read here.
  • Marwa Soudi, a STEM expert from Egypt shared this post on why before new ideas to implement in schools are shared, we consider the wellbeing of teachers.
  • Professor Reimers published a new book , which is available for free online. In it he explains how to reform education systems so they educate all students as global citizens, with the necessary competencies to achieve the UN SDGs. Today, more necessary than ever!.

You can join the LinkedIn group, which in one week has gone from 0 to 500 members! 


In so many ways, the world will miss achieving SDG4 on quality education if Nigeria fails to do more. To understand the local context, I visited Lagos in February as part of my responsibilities on the Africa Advisory Board for Teach for All and I was blown away with the work that Teach for Nigeria is doing. 

For this reason, I was really bowled over when they asked me to be their first guest for a speaker series that includes all their Fellows, Alumni and supporters. My main points were informed by the information that’s been shared on how education systems are reacting to Covid-19, how others are solving for the inequities we see, and the role of teachers in these uncertain times.

These issues stood out from the call and my subsequent interactions with some of the Fellows:

Teachers as first responders should have been integrated into interventions early. 

In some cases, given the dysfunctionality of state run school systems, everyone was left high and dry. The question we kept on returning to was how these teachers convince decision makers to understand and act on the reality school closures could be in place for an extensive period and alternate provision needs to be made.

One of the Fellows (Gideon Ogunfeyemi) shared on Twitter his idea to use religious venues like churches and mosques for dissemination of learning as these buildings often have loudspeakers attached to their external walls so that prayers can be heard by all in a village. Why not also use the same for mathematics? 

At the risk of being overly self promotional, it was also great to receive feedback from those on the call:


I also serve on the Global Education Council of BETT, the education conference. The Council convened on Microsoft Teams this time, and in our discussions spoke about several issues and perspectives and I expressed my concern that with the looming post Covid-19 global recession, how do we protect education budgets? 

Such challenging times always reinforce, at least for me, the need to deepen investments in education. I saw some social media announcements from institutions like the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which funds sector plans in the most fragile countries, and whilst I’m thankful for the $250 million facility which spans 67 countries, we need much much more to be committed and the question is how we impress upon donor countries to increase their funding for facilities like GPE or Education Cannot Wait, which itself announced the immediate release of $23 million for conflict ridden countries for education provision.

The pivot we need to make after schools return, with the longer term in mind, will require political leaders who commit further to education and building the knowledge society that has so often been spoken about. 

How do we make the case? What do we need to do?


I am addicted to Radiooooo which allows you to listen to radio stations from around the world, and even select the decade which you want to hear music from. Great cultural asset, I think. Try it out.


At a risk of making you think I’m obsessed with Magnolia trees, I promise this is the last pic (until next year)…

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-10 at 21.01.54

Be a giver, not a taker – ten leadership lessons from the past ten years

I have been enormously fortunate over the past decade to have had a series of leadership roles that speak to the transformative power of a good education. As a result of exceptional teamwork, I have built and led an education foundation that focused on teachers as the principal agents of change, I have made the case at UN platforms, the World Bank, G20 and to several Governments about the Sustainable Development Goals, I co-founded a business that provides vocational skills programs to tackle the youth unemployment crisis, and came to realise the need to embrace innovation and technology and have invested in start-ups that have huge potential in transforming our schools. I’ve not only set a vision and created strategies but I’ve built organisations that have delivered outsized results from ground up.

As I chart out the next phase of my career, given the range of experiences and various successes and failures, I thought it would be useful to reflect on the lessons I learnt in the past ten years, some of which are shared below: 

1. THERE’S NO SUBSTITUTE FOR FOCUS AND EFFORT. Simplifying my personal commitments to prioritise family and work was a game-changer. As tempting as it was to get involved with other initiatives, I decided that doubling down on teacher status was what we would do and we spent a considerable amount of time and our resources in pursuing our goal. Hard choices had to be made and at the risk of offending others, I had to learn to say ‘no’ a lot more than I wanted to.

2. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR WEAKNESSES AND BUILD STRONG TEAMS. Building teams is the toughest thing I have done. I am incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to hire smart and talented people who put their best feet forward each and every day. Realising what my weaknesses were (and there were many), the team was able to plug my gaps. A good example is what we achieved with the Global Education & Skills Forum, which became one of the most pre-eminent annual convenings in the global education calendar. The team really stepped up to deliver an exceptional event every year.

I can never thank my former and current colleagues enough for their contributions. Ten years ago, I was new to education, international development and also to philanthropy. The strides that were made were as a result of teamwork.

3. TREAT PEOPLE AS ADULTS. Treat others how you’d like to be treated. As far as is possible, be as transparent as you’d expect them to be with you. Management speak would encourage you to be ‘authentic’ and lead with your ‘values’, for once these gurus are correct! It takes work to be able to do so but by trying, you’ll find the harder conversations become easier to have. I’m not suggesting you don’t use other approaches, but…

4. LISTENING, A LEADERS SUPERPOWER. It is true that as you get older, you tend to listen more. That combined with the benefit of experience and hindsight can be the difference in achieving your potential. I’d encourage you to talk less, listen more. At the outset of my tenure at the Varkey Foundation, I remember consulting key organisations as to what they thought our priorities should be given we were just starting up, and by listing all areas they were interested in, I realised no one really spoke about the importance of teachers, which, as a direct result, became the focus of our existence and resulted in starting a movement that gave front-line teachers a voice in the most important debates concerning the future of education.

5. LEARN FROM EVERYONE. Talk to everyone. It really is as simple as that. You don’t have to agree with everyone (and they may even treat you as an adversary), but I found exposing myself to new ideas, new environments, new people contributed significantly to how I thought about my work and life. Many of these conversations and lightbulb moments have resulted in actual growth opportunities. There are so many such friends and acquaintances who I owe a huge thanks to and for fear of missing people out I won’t start a list, but please know that without diverse views and perspectives to consider, the decisions we make are poorer.

6. WITHOUT COMMUNICATION, NO SUCCESS. Contributing towards and shaping a vision is important, but I can’t over-emphasise the need to put greater effort in communicating and translating that same ideal to all your stakeholder groups. I learnt that we have to use every tool at our disposal to bridge and explain what is often perceived as unimportant or too complicated for others. By doing so, we are more likely to have alignment with others and their support for our activities when we need it most. I explain the success of the Global Teacher Prize in these terms. In the past five years, we exerted much effort in using this initiative to drive home the importance of teachers. We used every tool at our disposal to capture the imaginations of as many people as we could and today, we see not just the billion dollars of media coverage we received but an irreversible movement to place teachers at the heart of sustainable development.

7. NOTHING IS DONE ALONE. You can’t achieve much on your own. Building coalitions of interest, partnerships with purpose and demonstrating a commitment to a bigger goal is critical but often fraught with organisational politics, is challenging and very time-consuming. Bringing people together and building community are superpowers that leaders need to develop. Our commitment to exert pressure on the G20 in Argentina with a diverse range of civil society organisations last year, is an example, which resulted in a formal declaration issued by the Presidency that reflected many of the concerns raised, including on teachers and the future of skills. We couldn’t have achieved this by ourselves.

Throughout my career, I have held the belief that multi stakeholder approaches strengthen decision making and result in better outcomes.

8. DON’T FEAR ASKING FOR HELP. You’ll be surprised as to the willingness of people in your network and beyond to help you. For me, there’s been quite a few times that I’ve become clearer in my thinking by picking up the phone and asking for specific advice. Leadership can be very lonely if you let it be so. Many of those I called became mentors to me and continue in that capacity even today.

9. CONNECT THE DOTS. I just finished a book called ‘Rebel Ideas’ by Matthew Syed who speaks about the criticality of networking to the development of an innovation culture. I know people roll their eyes at the very thought of networking but it’s the force multiplier that allows you to connect the dots for others. That’s what leaders have to do (much more of).

10. BE MORE AMBITIOUS. If you shoot for the stars you may fall short, but this shouldn’t deter you from trying. It’s one of the things I most admire about entrepreneurial cultures – unless you put yourself in the frame, how will you know what you can achieve? I love this quote: “You miss a 100% of the shots you don’t take”. This can apply in most domains and is a really important leadership lesson. Be more ambitious for yourself, your colleagues, your stakeholders, and your organisation.

I’m incredibly proud of my time at the Varkey Foundation and associated organisations but after ten years, it’s time for a new set of challenges, which I relish to take. I’m in the process of evaluating some great opportunities and will share more once I’ve decided what to pursue.

Every day of the last ten years, I’ve been astonished and humbled by the commitment and imagination of teachers in every corner of the world. Because of them, we all rise. They, my friends, epitomise the most important lesson (and one that is self explanatory, I hope) which I have purposely left to the end:

11. BE A GIVER, NOT A TAKER. You are in-service of others as a leader.

I’d love to hear what the most profound management and life lessons you’ve learnt in the past decade are. Please do leave a comment below.

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Can UK EdTech catch up with its older siblings in FinTech and HealthTech ?

Vikas Pota, Group Chief Executive of Tmrw Digital

In the wake of London Tech Week and London EdTech Week last month, there is a sense of renewed optimism about the state of the UK EdTech industry at the moment, coupled with a distinct feeling that it maybe be gaining prominence compared to its flashier, more established counterparts in Health Care and Finance – which itself has recently been under the spotlight for London Fintech Week.

A tangible UK EdTech growth spurt is in evidence.

From 2014 to 2017, investment in European EdTech start-ups more than tripled in size, from €140mn to €490mn, with 35% of this €490mn figure attracted by UK start-ups and roughly a quarter of Europe’s EdTech companies based here.

While €490m represents just a third of the venture funding invested in US EdTech in 2017, just five years ago it was a tenth.

Britain’s growing status as an EdTech enabler

Britain’s growing status as an EdTech enabler has also just been enhanced with the announcement that The World Bank, University of Cambridge and UK tech companies are partnering with the government’s Department for International Development (DFID) to create the largest ever education technology research and innovation project.

This EdTech hub will conduct research into how innovations can be evaluated, scaled-up and used across developing countries in particular.

That’s £20mn of aid and a lot of expertise focused on helping teachers and governments around the world, particularly in African nations, choose the right technology for their classrooms.

Innovating education in Africa

At Tmrw Digital we have long been advocates of the pressing need to innovate education in Africa as a global imperative, so the creation of this new hub, with real investment from government and a meaningful partnership with the right blend of players from academia and the private sector too, is hugely welcome.

London Tech Week, although only six years old, really came of age this year as Prime Minister Theresa May opened it for the first time.

The PM used the occasion to announce a £150mn investment in quantum computing and 2,500 AI course places at universities, with 1,000 scholarships across the country. At the same time, she noted tech companies around the world are investing £1.2bn in Britain.

This kind of priority given to the sector, backed with meaningful investment and a further bringing together of relevant partners and players, is just the kind of activity needed to boost, underpin and give real meaning and weight to the government’s recent EdTech Strategy.

EdTech has a severe funding challenge

We must remember, however, that while UK EdTech companies raised £300mn in funding between 2010 and 2018, this is still dwarfed by funding in UK Fintech which received £2.6bn in 2018 alone.

By revenues, the global EdTech, Fintech, and Digital Healthcare sectors are all roughly the same size, so it’s no exaggeration to say EdTech has a severe funding challenge – fragmented and drawn-out buying cycles often mean that investor returns in EdTech simply aren’t that attractive.

Specialist EdTech investment funds and accelerators are a large part of the answer, yet they are still few and far between, especially in Europe, although there are notable funds such as Emerge Education in the UK, and Brighteye Ventures and Educapital in Paris, a growing EdTech hub itself.

Assuming the funding is there, there are many areas of EdTech growth and opportunity. There is the growth of:

  • Kids coding
  • Language learning
  • The shift of online content towards lifelong learning
  • Corporate learning
  • And no shortage of companies providing software to improve educational outcomes at schools.

EdTech has huge potential to improve the efficiency and outcomes of learning and I expect to see some big winners in the space over the next few years.

Lifelong learning leading to vibrant EdTech hybrids

The lifelong learning trend is particularly advantageous for EdTech firms to move into, as its market space is so broad and covers so many sectors.

It is also an area of key interest in the government’s EdTech Strategy, which says it sees an increasing role for digital technology supporting adults in up-skilling and re-skilling throughout their career, particularly in response to changes in the labour market.

Interestingly, with the EdTech market covering such a wide range of technologies and applications:

  • Learning / educational platforms
  • School administration
  • Learning management systems
  • Communication platforms
  • Study tools, and
  • Learning analytics

Some notable intersections with HealthTech and FinTech are becoming apparent, as they begin to produce some vibrant EdTech hybrids.

The financial education for university students app BlackBullion and Lexplore, which helps children with reading difficulties such as dyslexia, are good examples in this regard.

One of the UK’s fastest-growing industries

As one of the UK’s fastest-growing industries, with a 22% revenue growth year-over-year, and accounting for 4% of all UK technology companies, EdTech’s steady rise is good news for a country currently facing ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

London’s preeminent position as a launch pad for EdTech startups and its growing reputation as a leading hub – with many foreign nationals choosing to establish their EdTech companies in the capital – is also unlikely to change soon.

If the UK can continue to nurture companies and connect the wide variety of stakeholders in the industry, we are in the right place to continue to contribute to – and benefit from – the sectors upward trend.

Vikas Pota, Group Chief Executive of Tmrw Digital

This article appeared on FE News on 25th July 2019