GEMS is the largest school in the world in terms of revenues with interests in twelve countries, a large ambition and a strong growing presence in Africa.
Dr. Pablo Fetter is CEO at GEMS Africa and Commercial Director & Head of Investments at GEMS Global. In his dual role, he is responsible to run the company’s African operations and to expand its international footprint both through joint ventures for new green-field projects and through acquisitions of existing operations.
Previously, he had a successful business-development career with Telecom Denmark, Daimler, EADS/Airbus and Mercedes Benz. He earned a Ph.D. from the Berlin Technical University in Germany, an Electrical Engineering Degree from Cordoba National University in Argentina, and has completed various training courses in economics.
In this interview, he elaborates on the current technology penetration, financial and business models, and skills developed in education across Africa.
Future Technologies. Which one device, technology or app do you think will have the greatest impact on how children learn in the future?
Technological devices have been, to a certain extent, revolutionary to the way education is being delivered. IT enables the availability of curricular in an online form and hence will allow the improvement of education. This gives the instructors the opportunity to test the lessons that have been delivered. Based on the results and outcomes of this testing, teachers can change the methods used in the delivery of future lessons. Such testing can only be done if you have a very dynamic environment which is supported by a strong technological infrastructure, the availability of curricula in an online format and the availability of tablets and other devices in order to support both teachers and students with a device that is dynamic and can be updated in real time.
Future Financing. Among the different models ranging from Public-led to Private-led and PPP, which one will be driving education by 2030?
In the emerging markets, clearly it will be a combination of private education and PPP. This model will be gaining more market share than the traditional state owned education. Lately, the latter has proven to be quite ineffective especially in emerging markets.
Future Businesses. There is a perceived lack of emerging scalable education businesses or programmes available to invest in. What’s the solution to growing a more sustainable pipeline of homegrown businesses?
I think at the moment there is a very healthy pipeline of investment from the private sector into the education space. I think this will probably continue and will accelerate going forward as the private education model and PPP establish themselves across the emerging markets. In terms of new business models, there has been in the last five years more innovation in education than over the last couple of decades, which was facilitated and catalysed through the technologies. It is probably difficult to forecast what is going to happen in the future, but I am confident that we are at the very beginning of a long way of influence of technology on education, which could even perhaps become disruptive. For example, if you compare schools today or even five years ago to educational institutes fifty years back, the system hasn’t changed much whereas life and work in general have dramatically changed as a result of the influence of technology. However, looking forward in the next twenty years, schools will be very different to what they are today. How are they going to be? I don’t know but judging from the influence of technology in other sectors – and education is probably one of the last sectors to get the benefits of technology -, the education system is going to change significantly in the future.
Future Skills. What changes are necessary to ensure that skills are taught, rather than knowledge acquisition, across all ages?
Within GEMS, we are making efforts to raise citizens who are ready for future challenges and who are prepared to be active contributors to society by being skilled individuals as opposed to being a kind of walking encyclopedias so to speak. For instance, we are pushing a lot of programmes that emphasise the development skills over the mere acquisition of facts and knowledge. If you take for instance the International Baccalaureate curriculum, for which we have been pioneers and leaders across different regions, it was clearly designed to help individuals to think independently and critically for them to be active contributors to society. This is also the case with British Curriculum, which we are currently pushing within our schools, as well is the P-Tech as alternatives to develop skills with a more practical focus than the traditional A-levels. We also have a company called GEMS Skills that is developing programmes to scale up either students or a workforce that is ready for the challenges of the future. So this is an area in which we are doing a lot of thinking and a lot of research.