Widely hailed as the most important education event in the country, its line-up of top international speakers – headed by 2006 Nobel Prize winner for physics Dr George Smoot – workshops and trade fair attracted staff and principals from 350 public and private schools as well as senior civil servants and other education sector specialists.
“Some people travelled 20 hours by bus just to take part,” said Edith Fiszman, Director of Institutional Development at ORT Mexico. “There’s a great need for this event in Mexico because education is not very good and there aren’t many places where people can access this quality of presentations and workshops. Teachers are so grateful that we have this conference every year.”
Mexico was placed last out of the 34 OECD member states in the PISA 2009 education rankings and 48th out of the 65 countries evaluated; both ORT Mexico and its partner in organising the Congress, the Ibero-American Association of Educational Innovation, stress the need for NGOs to contribute to an improvement.
The Congress is an opportunity to provide training for teachers and principals and to expose the education sector as a whole to the latest trends in learning and teaching methods from around the world to create better professionals with a global vision to achieving a better Mexico.
“Civil society must participate in education; we can’t rely only on the public initiatives and the trade unions,” said the Association’s President, Isaac Moscatel.
Nobel Prize winner Dr Smoot, whose observations of cosmic microwave background radiation and temperature differentials supporting the Big Bang theory were described as "the discovery of the century, if not of all time," by Stephen Hawking, spoke on The Big Bang Theory, education, science and other curiosities.
“He awoke a real curiosity in the audience to learn more about science,” said Ms Fiszman. “Focusing on science and education was a big hit. Mexico as a country is pushing the importance of studying science; having Dr Smoot as our keynote speaker gives a great impulse to the Government’s initiative to promote the sciences.”
During his stay in Mexico, Dr Smoot found time to visit the CIM-ORT school where he showed students videos illustrating the magnificent immensity of the universe, answered their questions, and inspired within them a passion for knowledge.
Other guest experts gave presentations and workshops on topics related to the use of technology in the classroom, inclusive education, the development of creativity in students, and importance of literacy as a foundation for learning.
Among them, Chile’s Paul Menichetti spoke on “Smart Learning” and Uruguay’s Gerardo Mendive spoke on “Gossip: Chronicles of the everyday” while Professor Eugenia Garduno led a workshop on “Digital technologies to support the development of higher thinking skills (focusing on virtual worlds)” and Gabriel Reyes and Cesar Nahum led another on “Mathematics and Robotics”. Meanwhile, a performance by the Kol Shalom Azteca Orchestra and choir preceded a discussion of the importance of music education by Mark Lifshitz.
“Over the past six years these Congresses have helped teachers to improve the way they teach. This year, they have been interested in the workshops which address ways of reaching a new generation of children who seem to have a different chip in their brains. I’m sure that when they return to their schools they apply the new concepts and methods they have learned with us,” Ms Fiszman said.