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WISE Summit-Howard

Steve Howard, director of Ohio University’s Center for International Studies and professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies, meets Ahmed Mohamed at WISE.

Photo courtesy of: Steve Howard

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OHIO director, professor attends summit dedicated to global education reform

Steve Howard, director of Ohio University’s Center for International Studies and professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies, was among the estimated 2,000 individuals who recently attended an international summit committed to global efforts to reform education at all levels. 

The 2015 World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) was held Nov. 3-5 in Doha, Qatar. Established in 2009, WISE is an international initiative designed to explore new approaches to education and to address challenges facing education.

This year’s summit brought together educators, researchers and experts from more than 100 countries for three days of interactive discussions, presentations, workshops and time to network and collaborate – all with a goal of elevating educational opportunities worldwide. 

While Howard had visited Qatar before, this trip marked the first time he had attended WISE – a personally and professionally rewarding experience that will benefit him in his dual roles at OHIO.

According to Howard, his interest in attending WISE was sparked by both a desire to catch up with old friends, and in some cases former students, and to connect more deeply with his professional interests.

“A lot of my own academic work is on Sudan,” Howard explained. “It’s an Arabic-speaking country, and a poor Arabic-speaking country, so a lot of Sudanese go to Qatar to work, so I have a many friends there and they keep me informed.”

One of those friends, a former Ohio University student, attended WISE with Howard.

“I speak Arabic, and I consider the Middle East one of the things I work on, so when I have a chance to immerse myself in that part of the world, I take it,” he added. “It’s good to get out and see what’s going on from time to time.”

At WISE, Howard said he had the opportunity to hear from and interact with some high-profile individuals.

He noted that First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the summit’s keynote address, during which she spoke about educational opportunities for both women and girls as part of her “Let Girls Learn” initiative.

“It was powerful because, here we were in the middle of the Middle East, and she spoke to women’s and girls’ education issues and also their inclusion in society and, in some cases, their exclusion both physically and culturally,” Howard said. “She talked about some cultural practices in a courageous way because these are not necessarily things that people talk about in public. She received a rousing ovation for that.”

Howard said he also had the chance to interact with Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Texas boy who was arrested in September after his teacher mistook a homemade clock he had assembled for a bomb. The incident thrust the teen into the national and international media spotlight and sparked a national dialogue about stereotyping and Islamaphobia in the United States. Ahmed and his family, immigrants from Sudan, have since relocated to Qatar, accepting an offer from the Qatar Foundation for Ahmed to study there.

During his conversation with Ahmed, Howard said he was surprised by how little Arabic the teenager spoke. 

“He grew up in Texas, so English is essentially his first language,” Howard explained. “I asked him if he was continuing his inventive life and if he found some support for that in Qatar. He said he had some ideas. I think he’s shell shocked from all the media attention.”

WISE also presented Howard an opportunity to engage with some of his personal heroes, including Graça Machel, the widow of the first president of Mozambique, Samora Machel, as well as former South African President Nelson Mandela. The only woman to have ever been first lady of two different countries, Machel is an international advocate for women’s and children’s rights who has spoken on the effects of armed conflict on children.

Howard explained that one of the Ohio University Institute for the African Child’s earlier conferences was focused on the issue of child soldiers. That conference, he said, included material Machel had authored, including reports for the United Nations. In addition, one of Machel’s aides presented the keynote address for that year’s conference.

“We had that connection, so we talked about that as well as her campaign against child soldiers,” he said. 

The summit also presented Howard opportunities in his role as a professor in the Scripps College of Communication’s School of Media Arts and Studies. 

While in Qatar, Howard said he had an opportunity to connect with individuals from the Al Jazeera Media Network, which is headquartered in Doha. The group discussed the possibility of creating internships for Ohio University students as well as exploring research and training partnerships. 

An educator at heart, Howard noted that the most enjoyable part of his trip to WISE was interacting with his students back in Athens.

“I’m teaching a course this semester called Media in the Muslim World,” he explained. “Before I left for Qatar, I told my students that I would tweet and post things on Facebook from Doha and about the conference. It was fun to see my students react to different things I was posting.”