The Yidan Prize: creating a better world through education

Lucinda Reid travels to Hong Kong to learn more about the Yidan Prize and meets its founder, this year’s winners and keynote speaker, Cherie Blair

In December 2017, I was invited to Hong Kong by the Yidan Prize to hear from world-class speakers and education experts about the future of education. The Yidan Prize was founded by Dr Charles Chen Yidan, an inspirational entrepreneur who has an unwavering belief in the power of education. The prize was founded in 2016 and aims to ‘recognise and support change-makers for their most forward-looking innovation that can create sustainable impact on education systems’. This event felt like perfect timing. At the end of the year we naturally reflect on the past 12 months, whilst simultaneously looking ahead to the future. The Yidan Prize boldly claimed that ‘the future is now’ and I was ready to be involved in this conversation. 

The winners of the prize also attracted my attention. The prize consists of two categories, one is the ‘Yidan Prize for Education Research’ and the other is the ‘Yidan Prize for Education Development’. Vicky Colbert, Founder and Director of Fundación Escuela Nueva and co-author of the Escuela Nueva educational model in Armenia, Colombia, was awarded the prize for education development and Prof. Carol S. Dweck, the Lewis and Virgina Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, was awarded the education research prize for her decades-long research on growth mindset. During 2017, I had seen more and more independent schools exploring this idea and I was keen to meet the woman behind the theory. 

Prof. Carol S. Dweck

But before my interview with Carol I wanted to speak to Dr Charles Chen Yidan. After all, he was the person putting a staggering amount of money behind her educational research. Each prize includes a cash award of HK$15m and a further HK$15m for a project fund. In total this is approximately £2.7m, making the prize significantly more than the Nobel Peace Prize. 

“Education for me is the single most important thing for society, so it is worth a big prize,” explained Charles. “The Yidan Prize isn’t about money though, it is about the scalability of education. We set up the prize as a platform for sharing concepts about education, as it is a very complicated system. We wanted to gather lots of stakeholders to figure out the best solutions to problems in education, as to question education itself is the answer.” 

Throughout his life, education has left its mark on Charles, and he described his grandma as his inspiration. She was someone who always taught him about the importance of education and although she was illiterate, raised a son (Charles’ father) who went to university and understood the power of education. Therefore Charles set up the Yidan Prize to ensure that education continues to make positive changes to not only the individual, but to the whole world. 

Cherie Blair

“Education is a basic human right,” said Charles. “In China, due to its large population, our achievements in the field of education have actually been a major contributor to humanity. We care about communication and we need to embrace technology in our department of education to do more for society. I think in the future we are going to develop more technologies to improve efficiencies and effectiveness in education.” 

As Charles highlighted China’s innovative approach to education I was interested to hear his thoughts about UK independent schools bringing their British brand to China, and how these partnerships could play their part in improving the education system. 

“That’s a good question as I can see huge potential in this kind of partnership,” said Charles. “In China, we have been promoting the synergies of collaboration between stakeholders in education, so when it comes to cross-border collaboration I see huge potential. It’s not just about learning from strong players, it’s more about communication between cultures. I am sure there will be a lot of chemistry in this type of partnership and it could broaden our horizons and enhance the capabilities of teachers and the skills of students.” 

After my conversation with Charles I was excited to hear from Carol and the Yidan Prize Summit’s keynote speaker, Cherie Blair. My expectations for the Yidan Prize were high, but still it did not disappoint.  

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