Frank F. Islam
Global Conclave 2023
Shaping Studies, Students and Society through 21st Century Education
Distinguished Guests; Friends; Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be with all of you virtually at this groundbreaking Global Conclave to share my thoughts on creating schools for the future.
When my dear friends Tarun Basu and KPR Nair extended the invitation explaining the focus and purpose of this event and who the primary participants would be I accepted without hesitation. Thank you, Tarun, and KPR for your leadership and friendship.
I also thank all of you who will be addressing this conference for allowing me to share the stage with you. It is truly humbling.
As the title of my talk suggests, to maximize the potential for 21st century education those schools for the future must be multifaceted. They must shape studies, shape students, and shape society.
Those of you at this Conclave will be central in developing those schools. You are what I call “edupreneurs”.
As someone who considers himself an edupreneur, it is an honor to be with my fellow edupreneurs. I will make my remarks in five parts:
- The Entrepreneur and the Edupreneur
- The Need for Edupreneurship
- The Roles and Responsibilities of the Edupreneur
- My Edupreneurial Journey
- Edupreneurship and Schools for the Future
Let me begin though with a thought starter.
That thought start is: What is a school?
Most people probably think that a school is building with a bunch of classrooms. But, thinking about it a little more analytically, a school generally has classrooms, a lunchroom, a gym, a playground, and a campus.
In thinking about schools for the future, the opportunity is to take this thought process one step further: to think outside of the box and to think inside of the circles. Those circles include but are not limited to: the student, the classmates, the teacher, the family, the community.
I am certain that those of you who are already working in and revolutionizing colleges and schools and bringing new ideas to the educational arena get the picture provided by that thought starter. It is that we the need to reach the totality of the educational landscape in order to realize the full potential for 21st century education.
That said, let me turn to the first part of my presentation: The Entrepreneur and the Edupreneur.
Part1: The Entrepreneur and the Edupreneur
What and who are entrepreneurs? From my perspective, entrepreneurs are dreamers who dare. They are seekers who seize the moment and take calculated risks to create the enterprises and jobs of the future.
Edupreneurs are entrepreneurs of a special type. If you search the internet, there are a range of definitions for edupreneur. The majority of them focus on developing educational programs or educational businesses to make money and doing things such as creating learning programs, educational technology, and educational software.
In my opinion, those definitions are far too narrow in scope. Here is a broader view and definition: The edupreneur is an entrepreneur who uses and applies her or his education and learning to develop innovative initiatives that are empowering and difference-making in anyone’s life field, discipline or industry.
The edupreneur can be an educator, a person working at home, or a person starting an enterprise in science, technology, the arts, humanities, – the list could go on and on. I will draw upon my own experience later in my comments to provide an example of that. Let me move now to the second part of my speech.
Part 2: The Need for Edupreneurship
The covid-19 pandemic highlighted the need for innovative educational approaches and taking the learning outside of the classroom setting. Thankfully, there was a rapid response by the technological community and many elementary schools and students were able to engage in hybrid forms of education.
Research in the United States found, however, that many students in elementary school fell anywhere from 6 months to one year behind in their performance on standardized tests in subjects such as math, science and English. More importantly that research showed that students in many rural, minority and economically disadvantaged did not have access to digital education and got no assistance.
This puts a spotlight on the need for edupreneurship. It is essential for technological approaches be developed that replicates and/or enhances the learning of students in traditional school settings. And, there are tens of millions of disadvantaged students in countries around the world who need the commitment of you edupreneurs to develop products and approaches that will promote their educational development and opportunities for socio-economic advancement.
This Conclave understands this need because of the emphasis it has placed on equality and justice. This brings me to the roles and responsibilities of the edupreneur. Let me shift gears here and talk about higher education.
Part 3: The Roles and Responsibilities of the Edupreneur
Too often higher education institutions:
- Shape their studies by developing curriculum which are instructor driven rather than driven by what the market place needs or requires. Those studies have been shaped from inside the classroom out rather than from outside the classroom in.
- Shape students using an internally-centered model emphasizing administrative concerns and institutional growth rather than employing a student-centered model
- And, they neglect or fall far short in assuming their responsibilities for shaping society.
Those of you edupreneurs in this audience today already have and will continue to develop higher education approaches that stand in stark contrast to what I call the exclusionary approaches of the past. You understand and will work to develop courses and material that:
- Shape studies in response to current job needs and the competencies required for career success.
- Shape students using a customer-centered model recognizing that students are the customers and depending on what they want to achieve and be they have a learning purpose, an earning purpose, or a turning purpose.
- Shape society by promoting positive civic engagement to make the workplace, the community, the nation and the world a better place.
You will do all of this by facilitating the development of the knowledge, skills, values and dispositions of students, teachers, administrators, faculty and staff. And, you will also contribute to the development of future edupreneurs.
Part 4: An Edupreneurial Journey
As I stated at the outset of my talk. I consider myself an edupreneur. Let me explain why I feel that way.
There has been a considerable amount of research that shows that those who do well or excel have developed not only the minimum technical knowledge or skills required in an area. They have also developed the character that is required to apply and use those skills to continue to learn in order to become the best that they can be and to work hard and persist in the face of difficult obstacles in order to achieve their goals.
I went to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in India. What is best in me, I owe it to AMU. Aligarh not only gave me a great education. Aligarh also helped shape those values, attitudes and beliefs that were fundamental to who I was to become and what I was to achieve.
Aligarh enabled and empowered me for my journey to become both an entrepreneur and an edupreneur. I won’t go into the details of that journey but I will highlight a few things that are most relevant to its edupreneurial aspect.
I went to the United States from India at the age of 15 to pursue the American Dream. I was able to achieve it in large part due to the solid foundation and values instilled and infused in me by AMU.
I got my bachelor and master degrees in computer science at the University of Colorado in Boulder. But, in my heart of hearts, I always knew that I wanted to take my education and to become an entrepreneur. There was no such term as “edupreneurr” back in those days but that is what I became.
I left the academic world and worked in some information technology firms to get the experience that I needed to launch my own venture. Then in 1994, I purchased the QSS Group in Washington, DC for $45,000. Within thirteen years, along with my key management team, we took that firm from a workforce of 1 employee – me – to more than 3,000 employees and approximately $300 million in revenue.
That was an excellent trajectory. I had a role to play in that success. My team of talented managers was central to everything. Success in business is a team sport.
In 2007 I sold my company to Perot Systems. The sale allowed me to establish a private foundation that supports educational, cultural and artistic causes in the United States, in India, and around the world.
That was my journey and now I am working diligently in the second phase of my edupreneurship which is the philanthropic engagement. A central principle of that philanthropy is to give people a “hand up” so they can start and plot their own journey.
Part 5: Edupreneurship and Schools for the Future
That is my edupreneurial journey in a nutshell. In this last part of my presentation, I want to talk briefly about your role in helping develop the edupreneurs of tomorrow and schools for the future.
The key to doing that, in my opinion, as I said in the thought starter at the beginning of my comments is to think outside of the box and to think inside of the circles. Find new and more effective ways of doing things and reaching others who have not been served in the past.
A similar message to mine is communicated in the flyer announcing this Global Conclave. The flyer states: The conclave will serve as a mutual learning experience to know what is happening in different parts of the world, of contemporary thinking on alternate pathways of learning, the transformative role of the existing institutions and people involved therein
In my opinion, the transformative role for schools and colleges will be to shape studies, shape students, and shape society. And, you edupreneurs here today are and will help determine the nature of those schools and colleges.
In closing, let me give you an example which demonstrates that as an edupreneur, I practice what I preach. My wife Debbie and I have supported the development and building of a new Management Complex at Aligarh Muslim University. That Complex has an innovation and entrepreneurship center. At the dedication ceremony of the Frank and Debbie Islam Management Complex, I said:
While the bricks and mortars are important, far more significant is who will be in and what will go on this setting. It will be a place for sharing of information and the imparting and development of knowledge and skills. It will be a space where faculty and students can collaborate on innovative projects. It will be an educational empowerment zone.
In this Global Conclave in Dubai we have come together in an educational empowerment zone, we will hear what other edupreneurs are doing both in traditional institutions and in new ventures to transform the learning experience and to promote equality and justice for all through education.
I appreciate the time I have had to share my thoughts with you my fellow edupreneurs and I look forward to listening and learning from the other edupreneurs at this most important conclave.
Thanks very much for listening to me. Please keep up the good work. Good luck as you continue your noble and transformative work.
God bless you!