ON ANOTHER LEVEL

Kuwait 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Russell Byrne, Co-founder & CEO of Education Consortium, on its role in promoting progressive educational curriculum and teaching methods in Kuwait and throughout the GCC.

Russell Byrne
BIOGRAPHY
Russell Byrne has over 25 years of practical experience in the education, retail and financial services sectors. Having successfully founded and managed many businesses, his passions have led him to form the award-winning non-profit Education Consortium whose goal is profound academic integrity blended with real world applicability through experiential learning. Recognized as a Fellow with the worlds’ leading professional management bodies, he is passionate about working with and helping individuals and organizations achieve their goals. He is on an empirical journey of discovery focused on entrepreneurial leadership and management, innovation and creativity, while continuing to grow his businesses in the GCC and the MENA region. His core strengths are enterprise and entrepreneurship, and business leadership and management, through creativity and disruptive innovation, specific to high-level decision-making.

Education Consortium is an award-winning non-profit based in Kuwait, but with a reach across the GCC. What are your main aims in developing the education sector?

We market ourselves as an education management consultancy that provides advice on best practices in Kuwait and throughout the GCC. There is an inherent prescriptive nature in what people want here, but true education is about recognizing individual potential. However, the prescriptive system of education here is what caps that potential, and an individual can rarely grow in that environment. We aim to break the mold by providing individualized education platforms that will bring the state of play of education up to speed.

What are some of your local activities in Kuwait?

We regularly consult to companies all over the world that wish to establish themselves in the region. Furthermore, we have recently built and launched our very own Royal Britannia Kindergarten (RBK) along with Royal Britannia Academy (RBA), and are preparing to launch the Royal Britannia School (RBS) in Kuwait through our ties with British curriculum. In Kuwait, basic vocational skills, i.e. the “learning by doing” method is not incorporated into standard curriculum. We continuously work to flip the learning model. Although we have obvious and assessable pedagogical imperatives, our students lead the teaching and learning.

Is most effective method to advance your educational philosophy through the private sector or influencing national public policy?

It is impressive that the public sector has everything available to them; i.e. the resources, funds, and an unfortunate stranglehold on accessible space available for development. Kuwait has everything at its behest, but the prevailing issue is that with public sector education policy, the teachers rule. With the help of the National Center for Educational Development (NCED), we try to implement change at the policy level, but if the teachers do not want it, it just does not move forward. This is where we work hard to continue to flip the model leading the way in the private sector and influencing policy at the county level where students lead the learning journey.

What is the investment environment like in Kuwait's education sector?

In the private education sector, there are a handful of players, and it is an extremely tight-knit community. Businesses are being sold from one owner to another, and it depends solely on who has the biggest piece of the pie. This is both a fortunate and unfortunate event, because the culture dictates the level of influence we have. Education can sometimes become a transactional business here. The education sector is 90% government-owned, however they closely follow the 10% of the private sector players hoping to influence that 90%, because they want the results that we are getting in the private sector to flow into the public sector. Although investment in education makes sense, it is often viewed as a long-term strategy that does not yield a healthy profit quickly enough, therefore making it unattractive to most investors who commonly have short-term outlooks in this region.

What do you hope to see in terms of Education Consortium's future impact on the education sector?

No two educational institutions will be the same. There will be a shifting focus on creativity, innovation, technology, the arts and sports, and we will continue to challenge and change the pedagogies, epistemology, and paradigms that exist here. It is crucial we break the mold. The level of conformity is high, and we are seriously missing the respect for individualization. Young people have these incredible aspirations of doing things that do not exist in Kuwait and we are teaching these children skills for jobs that do not yet exist. We have to break the conformance cycle and begin to inculcate new attitudes into our culture through embodiment, engagement, and empowerment.