Address by George A. Papandreou at the Annual International Conference “ICICTE 2012” (International Conference on Information Communication Technologies in Education)
“Dear friends, first of all thank you. It is an honor to be here, again, with you, and I wanted to be with you at this moment, because not only do I feel a part of this community having been here with you at different times; we cooperated together in 2009 working for a number of projects on how we could change education in Greece. A very hopeful moment, but that is what we need today also.
And your presence here is also a vote of confidence for Greece. And that is something we really need. In 2009, when we were together in Corfu, we had a dream and thank you for this beautiful present and award. And Greece for me has always been and always will be a dream; a dream of not only its past, but also its potential and its future. And I think we need, as we dreamed then, we need to dream today in this crisis, in the middle of this very-very difficult crisis for the Greek people.
It is absolutely necessary that we keep this dream alive, that there is potential. And of course this is not only for the Greek people; I think this is something that every human being and every society needs, and particularly at times of difficulties and crises.
So I am here because I feel you are committed much more beyond your narrow – or wide if you like – professional interests to a much wider goal of a humane society, in facilitating and in liberating, if you like, the human potential.
And you see technology and education through this empowering lens, if you like. And that is not self-evident; don’t think that this is something that is self-evident. Fascination and the delight of innovation concerning technology can be two-sided.
We know there is much discussion now about the Web, this beautiful tool that allows for communication throughout the world. But at the same time – and we had the discussion yesterday at the table – about the fact that with Facebook, which is such an amazing creation, at the same time, for me, having grown up during a dictatorship in Greece, revealing personal data was dangerous for your freedom or at least for your life; freedoms we didn’t have.
And the fact that there is such an ease of the younger generation to reveal themselves to the world very personal details, what happens at some point is this is used by some authoritarian authority, some corporation to manipulate. These are things, which I think we have to see. So technology is two-sided and we know that technology can save people’s lives, but it also can become a weapon of mass destruction.
So that is why what you are doing is so important. Because your work is a contribution to how we use and harness this power, this amazing power that we humans have as a privilege, of knowledge and technology, in a way which is liberating, in a way which is democratizing, in a way which is creating a better world for human beings and hopefully for the environment.
So, technology and education in a much wider sense, and not simply in schooling, is I think what you are committed to. And of course, hopefully, as we have been hearing this morning, you will also be changing schools; not only our society, but schools themselves. Because schooling as we know it is a very narrow approach to what education and παιδεία as we say in Greece mean.
When we met last time, we were talking about the digital school and in fact that was one of my first priorities. Even though we were going through a crisis, I said, “As we go through this crisis, let’s use this crisis also as an opportunity to change Greece.” Well, we did build the foundations. There is still much to be done and there will be much to be done. But we accomplished is – I will give you some things, which I think might be useful for your thinking – of course you need the infrastructure; the broadband, the Wi-Fi, the computers and so on, but that slowly but surely is in place.
The second thing we did immediately is we digitized every single book. One thing that is bad in Greece is that we have a really centralized system, but on the other hand that helped us, because all the books in primary and secondary school are owned by the Greek government and published by the Greek government. Actually, there is a huge, a major operation every year in the fall to send out all these books to the schools and on time; a lot of cost, a lot of trees being cut and a very cumbersome operation.
So we decided to digitize everything, which we did, and not only everything of the existing books, but going back many years and even as far back generation-wise, to what the textbooks were historically in the past. So now you can find every book online and of course we added to that certain model teaching presentations and so on.
But of course what we want to do using this now, this basis – and this is sort of going into now also to universities, there is a little bit more difficulty as far as the intellectual property is concerned – is to use this as a basis. For example, let’s say we want to change a chapter in a book. That is a huge operation which will take years with conventional books. Today, you can do it just online, like that, in a few seconds.
But not only that; what we want to do then is go into students and teachers taking notes, so they can add notes to the digital books, or, as we had this morning, podcasts, or videos, or feedback, user-generated content. We will then change the actual books, the texts, in a way which is much more amiable to the needs and understanding of the students.
And that of course brings us to another stage, where you can even get testing. I saw here from Saudi Arabia a presentation on how one uses this technology for testing, because that can become much more flexible and personalized. So we would like to then move to as kids go to get along in school, they can do their self-testing, or even at a national level, much more easily, much more quickly an assessment. But also personalizing the courses and the modules from this very strict, centralized, top-down procedure, to a much more bottom-up learning.
This can also then be used, which we hope in the future not so far away, for the entrance exams, which again are very cumbersome to the universities, and make them more simple, less threatening and less costly. I would add to that that hopefully the stop later on is to then make our courses much more interactive and game-like. I think that in the future we will see the need that courses and teaching will become much more – not everything – much more fun, through linking them with a game type of philosophy.
But I would like to conclude by saying something a little bit more on policy, technology and education from a wider scope. Humanity today – because we are so interlinked, partially because of technology – is dealing with crises which are very different from some of the crises we had in the past. First of all, they are much quicker, immediate. We had to take decisions in the European Union, for example, two o’clock in the morning, because we were saying, “Well, you know, in ten minutes, the stock market in Japan is opening up and if we don’t make a decision now, this will affect the whole Eurozone area.”
The severity of the crises is much deeper. The complexity of the crises is very different. And, if you like, the originality of the crises; they are not crises we have dealt with in the past. And, of course, there are many, but one of them was the financial crisis in 2008 and most of the financial crisis which Greece became the center of and I myself became the center of in the past two, two and a half years.
I am convinced, going through this experience, more than ever that the need for wider education, a continual educational process in dealing with types of problems we have as humanity, and particularly the crises, by using technology, but also linking it with an educative and participative process is absolutely necessary.
Politics I see and I am more convinced today than even yesterday has to become an educative process. The traditional role of the politician is to come up to the podium like this and say, “I have the answer. Trust me. I will give you the answer.” That has to be reversed, or at least changed, if not reversed. We have to come up as politicians and say, “The answers aren’t easy. Let’s work together to find them, because I don’t have them alone.”
And I can tell you that from my experience, because I had to deal with the problems in Greece. The problems in Greece were problems of governance. We are not a poor country, but we are a badly managed country and we had lots and lots of changes to make. And then we had a European-wide problem, not a Greek problem. This is not just a Greek problem. I said that from the beginning, but I had to convince all my partners in the European Union. They are now convinced, after of course Portugal and Ireland and Spain and Italy and maybe France who they are facing similar problems, so I said there are some systemic problems here.
Then, we have global problems. Tax heavens, CDSs, rating agencies, lack of transparency in the financial systems. And of course we have our citizens, who are looking at all these things happening to them and happening around the world and are wondering how they are going to deal with this.
So keeping Greece afloat was a major project. But put yourselves in my position in your dealing with this crisis. Who would you go to, to ask for an answer? There was no advisor that could tell me, “I have the solution.” There was no experience, previous experience. There was no expert. There were many experts, but there was no one expert that could say, “This is the solution.”
So, we had to create a more collective knowledge. Now, of course, I did some of the conventional things. I talked to all the experts, almost all the experts you may have heard of around the world on the economy. From the Stiglitz, to the Larry Summers, to the Nouriel Roubinis, to the Soroses, to the Jeffrey Sachs and the Velasquez from Latin America, and so on, and of course many in Europe, to find out what might be done.
But then, I used technology. I am not saying that this was crucial, but it was very important for me and just to see how one can expand on this for leaders in the future. We have amazing capability, and I found it with the podcasts, and not just to get media out, to listen to CNN or to Bloomberg and so on, but I can go and listen to analysis – and lots of people were dealing with Greece: Harvard, Stanford and LSC, Germany and France and India, wherever, to people talking about it and analyzing the crisis and giving their opinions. So, when I was jogging or when I was traveling in the plane or something, having downloaded this, I was able to really get a different view, a world view of as much as possible through technology. So there is a great resource there, which is very important.
But technology was also important in, as I said, making some of the changes that were necessary in Greece. I will give you one or two examples, other than the digital school: Transparency and accountability; very important. A mismanaged country, lack of transparency, grafts, bureaucracy. One thing we decided to do was put every expenditure online. Today, in Greece, every public expenditure is online, actually in the ancient Greek tradition.
In the ancient Greece, they would put it on slabs and you could go and as a citizen see where the money went and you could even protest to the Court and say, “I didn’t like this expenditure.” That is what we have now and it gets very different, when every little expenditure and the citizens then start saying, “Why is this money going there? Why is money going there?” So that was very important.
Secondly, laws. We passed a law, which said that every law must also, before it is voted on, be put on to the Web and in a sort of Wiki fashion have a deliberation and listen to what citizens say. Not just the usual social partners, who are very important, but also our citizens.
Putting online prescriptions. It doesn’t sound like a very important issue. Well, there was so much back and forth with the big multinationals and doctors, they were prescribing expensive medicines and too many medicines to our citizens. Just in one pension fund we got the doctors to go online, we cut the cost by 30%. So there is much more sense of justice.
And a lot of this was bringing in participation through crowd searching. And we wanted to use the idea of crowd searching, because what you may see now with social media, taking let’s say the Arab Spring, which is a huge tool for protest and actually bringing down regimes, but up to now, we really haven’t been able to find – or maybe there are some exceptions, but we haven’t been able to find how we crowd search for creative solutions; not just against, but also in favor of creating institutions, democracy, solutions, and so on.
So we actually started to do this with one little project and wanted to move on to others. I didn’t have the time. One was a very small but simple project. We had lots of illegal billboards in Athens, people putting up advertising and so on. And we couldn’t find a way to get them down, because there was also a give and take with the local governments, too many people involved, too many agencies involved. We said, “Let’s take this to the citizens.” We set up a website, an application on iPhones and other androids and so on, and people could then take a picture of a billboard which they thought was illegal and if it was illegal, it would be posted and then, within a month, if this wasn’t down, there would be a big fine at the local government or somebody who owned this. And actually we cleaned up a large part of Athens.
But this was just an example of what we wanted to do. We wanted to, working with people like the ex-prize of Mr. Diamantis, taking an island for example, and say, “What will the future of this island be? How should we develop it in an environmentally friendly way? And how can we crowd search around the world for ideas of how this could be developed?” Or to other areas which we worked.
It was actually a Greek company, I don’t remember the actual name, but the point is it creates games, video games, DVDs and so on. And I called them in and said, “Can we find a game to fight bureaucracy and also to deal with the issue of tax-collection?” Because it is not that we have high or low taxes, our biggest problem is collecting the taxes. Can we create a game, using technology, for this? Well, we never reached that point, but games for change I think are going to be very important for politics in the future or today even, but mostly in the future.
So, in conclusion I just want to say now in my new capacity or my after-capacity of being a former Prime Minister, I still want to be very active in many areas. But I feel that from this experience I would like to be able to not only share, but to also work with people like you and organizations like yours, in an open university for leaders around the world. I am in touch with leaders around the world in many capacities. They have similar questions and similar challenges.
By leaders I don’t mean prime ministers only, it could be leaders in the local community or leaders in a sector, like leaders in education. I will provide the types of information, tools, to help to capacitate, help them in order to create, if you like, a more democratic type of participative society. Using political innovation for a more direct democracy, going back, if you like, to the ancient times, when you would go up to the Pnix, just across from the Acropolis, and someone stood on the rock there and would speak and basically speak to all citizens, a very direct democracy.
And how do we create a direct democracy in this new, very interlinked and internet society, and doing it in a way to use technology in a positive way, to bring justice, to bring transparency, to bring sustainable growth.
Because I think the dilemma we are facing in politics around the world with the globalizing interconnected world is that either we empower, strengthen the democratic participation, bring a sense of ownership – particularly to the youth, but not only, to all our citizens – of the political processes, of the decision making, of finding solutions, of the understanding of the types and depths of the crises and challenges we have, either we do that, or we will see populism, we will see the growth of neo-fascism – we are seeing that in Europe – we will see the politics of fear rather than the politics of hope.
So I would like to work with you, so that we can together offer the world, why not, your experience in creating the politics of hope.
Thank you very much.”