Shaping the Future 4 EdTech summit

When the opportunity to represent BESA at the Shaping the Future 4 EdTech summit in Israel presented itself, I seized it quickly, quietly and with pounding heart. There are few things in life that excite me more than venturing into the unknown, far out of my comfort zones – which is perhaps a little odd, given that I’m naturally an introvert.

I’d not yet been to Israel, a place said to have more start-ups per capita than anywhere else in the world – with the exception of Silicon Valley. My brief was simple enough: attend the four-day summit, to be held 27-30 March 2017, and explore the ways in which BESA and the UK EdTech companies it represents might both strengthen and gain from a global EdTech eco-system being cultivated in Israel by two visionary organisations: MindCet and the UK Israel EdTech Hub.

In short, the expedition would involve listening to, learning from and engaging with lots of people, most of whom I’d never met before, about education and educational tech. No problem; I could definitely do that. Goodbye introverted self, hello kindred spirits…

MindCet is an EdTech Innovation centre founded by the Centre for Educational Technology (CET), an independent non-profit organisation which exists to advance education in Israel and beyond. One of the main aims of the team at MindCet is to build a robust EdTech community around the world to help strengthen and enable innovation in education across frontiers. The base for the Centre’s activities is in Yeruham, located in the Negev Desert; they also have an office in Tel Aviv.

The UK Israel Tech HUB is a government-backed, not-for-profit initiative that exists to connect UK and Israel tech, driving new partnerships and economic growth. Celebrating its five year anniversary in 2017, the UK Israel Tech Hub has, to date, brought together hundreds of companies from both countries resulting in business collaborations that have to date generated deals to the values of £62m with a potential impact of £600m for the UK economy, as noted on the HUB’s website.

And so, on Mothering Sunday, I flew from Luton to Tel Aviv, excited to embark on this four day adventure alongside over a hundred EdTech eco-system representatives from twenty-four countries, all brought together by the CET and MindCet teams. All of us making the journey, I liked to think, in the hope that, together, we might come one step closer to figuring out a way to collectively implement the best educational technology, the world over, in order to strengthen and enhance teaching and learning experiences on a global scale.

As the plane landed, I was momentarily concerned that I didn’t yet know enough. I was after all, just six months into my new career, immersed heart and soul, in a sector that fascinates me and about which I learn something new each and every day: the EdTech space. As I made my way through Tel Aviv airport looking for the driver of my pre-booked cab, I comforted myself with the fact that I would no doubt remedy any lack of knowledge, in part at least, in the coming days. Hey, first and foremost, I’m a people person – and people are people the world over, are they not? Having arrived at the hotel shortly before 7pm, local time (GMT +2), I studied the event itinerary, given to me on arrival by the extremely welcoming check-in clerk. The folks at MindCet certainly had packed a lot into the four-day agenda, starting that very night – in half an hour to be precise. CET CEO Gila Ben Har, MindCet’s CEO Avi Warshavsky and Managing Director Dr Cecilia Waismann had arranged a welcome dinner at the Beit Karandagi restaurant for around sixty of their guests and a minibus was set to pick some of us up from the hotel at 7.30pm.

After a mad dash to my hotel room and a quick freshen up, I was back in the hotel lobby for 7.25pm. Now, who else was here? A quick scan of the gathering clusters and I identified two familiar faces: Lord Jim Knight and Professor Rose Luckin. Greetings done, I looked around us: new country; new faces – I didn’t recognise anyone else. Time, then, to network. Networking isn’t easy for an introvert, but it’s a skill you can learn: take a deep breath and jump straight in – a bit like navigating a cold swimming pool, it’s best not to drag it out. Besides, what can possibly go wrong?

I gravitated towards a tall, thoughtful looking man who seemed to me to exude an air of calm and wisdom: his name is Harold O Levy. Harold, I was to learn later, is the executive director of the Jack Cooke Foundation, the largest scholarship foundation in the US. He was New York City’s School Chancellor from 2000-2002. And that was that, my first new acquaintance made, we boarded a mini-bus and headed out into the Tel Aviv night life, its roads still pulsing with commuters making their way home from work.

The dinner was excellent – in fact all of the food we were given during our stay was fantastic. Healthy, simple, light; full of colour and flavour. The type of food that evokes memories and ensures you make more of an effort when you get back home, for a while at least, because it’s really not that hard to replicate when you know how to. I made sure I found the chef – like many people in Tel Aviv, he spoke English, so it wasn’t a problem to thank him.

CET’s CEO Gila Ben Har officially welcomed us to the Shaping the Future 4 EdTech summit, the theme of which was: Leading the way from schooling to learning. Bellies full, we headed back to the hotel, although I didn’t bother unpacking my case. Tomorrow night, we would sleep in the desert.

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