Time for Education to Steal the World Cup’s and Olympics’ Blueprint

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Brazil and Croatia match at the FIFA World Cup 2014-06-12

Photo by Agência Brasil [CC-BY-3.0-br], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s an idea:  to spur high levels of investment in countries and cities for education, borrow from the blueprint used by both the World Cup and the Olympics.  Hold a competition among nations and cities to host a World Education Cup every four years, in which countries compete to demonstrate the best education ideas, outcomes and levels of student growth from early childhood through post-secondary education.  And then, as a requirement for hosting, have the selected country or city invest heavily in its education infrastructure.

This week, soccer’s World Cup begins, with teams from 32 countries descending on Brazil for the international month long tournament held every 4 years.  Raising just as much attention as the competition on the field is the amount of investment—$15 Billion—it has required of Brazil to offer adequate facilities, infrastructure, accommodations, staff and security for this event.  This price tag is similar to the final bill for the 2012 London Olympics, which cost England approximately $15 billion as well. That’s correct – billion.  Now news broke this week that Boston has made the next round of cities under consideration for hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics.

In Brazil, protests have been steady and mounting – with calls for “FIFA-quality schools” or “FIFA quality hospitals’ – in reference to FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the international governing body for soccer that oversees the Cup and requires host countries to build, ‘FIFA-quality soccer stadiums.’ With the threat of unrest, Brazil will deploy 170,000 police and soldiers across the country to keep the peace.

Besides the salient message to the Brazilian government regarding misguided priorities, the protesters could be on to something.  Could we create a rotating international event that every four years elevates the importance of education, shares key strategies and resources across nations, and infuses huge levels of investment into a host country’s/city’s education system – especially a developing country’s system?

Instead of venues around a country hosting different soccer matches or sporting events, one site might focus on the most effective literacy development approaches, while another might identify best teacher education models. Here the heroes wouldn’t be millionaire soccer players, but teachers and school leaders, child development and education researchers, and social education entrepreneurs. And the T-Shirts flying off the kiosk shelves wouldn’t be that of famous soccer players like Argentina’s Messi or Portugal’s Ronaldo, but that of exceptional educators.  I’d buy that T-Shirt!

Jake Murray

Jake Murray is the director of the Aspire Institute at Wheelock College, a center dedicated to advancing knowledge and solutions in response to social and educational challenges, and to developing effective policy and practice in the fields of education, child and human development, and health and wellness.

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  1. Fine idea, but it won’t be as popular unless you could pull lots of celebrities into the program. There are many other World Cup events in this world, but still, none as globally celebrated as soccer’s World Cup – there is an ‘X-Factor’ here.

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