Incheon, the third-largest city in Korea with around three million people, was the venue for the first International Children’s Education Forum, which ran from December 17 to 18. Co-hosted by the Incheon Metropolitan City and Frankfurt Book Fair, and co-organized by LitCam and APPA (Asia Pacific Publishers Association), the event ran under the slogan East Meets West.

The forum was the first in a series of events to celebrate Incheon’s status as the 2015 World Book Capital. Chosen by UNESCO and an international committee of book industry experts (namely the International Publishers Association, the International Booksellers Federation and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions), the designation of World Book Capital -- valid for one year -- is largely based on the impact it will have on improving the promotion of books and reading in the selected city and within the country.

For Myeong-U Jo, vice mayor for administrative affairs at Incheon Metropolitan City, the honor comes with major responsibilities. “Incheon is the fifteenth city to be designated World Book Capital, and only the third from Asia after New Delhi in 2003, and Bangkok in 2013. It presents immense opportunities for Incheon and the Korean Peninsula to leverage on our society's enthusiasm for excellence and innovation in education.”

Nearly 300 attendees, including politicians, education experts and education content providers, were at the Songdo Convensia Convention Center to listen to Ian Denison (chief of public information division at UNESCO), Karin Plotz (director of LitCam) and Enrico Turrin (deputy director at the Federation of European Publishers) talk about the state of reading promotion and literacy in their regions, and the future of education alongside speakers from the U.S., U.K., Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Representatives from the education content and technology companies such as LEGO Education, LG Electronics, Microsoft and TEDx were also on hand to present case studies and experiences in digital innovation in the classroom.

The topics were diverse. Charles Merullo of Endeavour (U.K.), for instance, talked about visual literacy through photography books that leverage Getty Images’ extensive image collection, while Richard Flower of Kurzweil Education (U.S.) focused on special publishing software to help children, parents and educators deal with challenges such as dyslexia. Peter Schoppert of Singapore’s NUS Press (the publishing division of the National University of Singapore), on the other hand, presented the city-state’s framework for 21st century competencies and student outcomes whereby the holistic goals are about producing self-directed learners, confident persons, active contributors and concerned citizens.

Some shocking statistics were also unveiled during the forum. Denison of UNESCO, for instance, presented findings from a Reading in the Mobile Era study, showing that 774 million people in the world cannot read and write; 75% of these illiterates come from the sub-Saharan and Southwest Asia; and two-thirds of the total illiterates are women. The basic mobile phone, according to the study, has proven to be an effective tool in reaching these far-flung areas where schools and libraries are scarce.

Attendees were buoyed by success stories from Indonesia such as its SEAMOLEC (Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Regional Open Learning Centre) initiative to apply ICT-based open and distance learning to solve education challenges, and Mizan Publishing’s highly successful author program for those between 7- and 13-year olds. Inevitably, there were also frequent (and heartfelt) references to the recent events of Malala Yousafzai's Nobel Peace Prize and the Peshawar school attack in Pakistan to exemplify the tumultuous highs and lows in children education, especially in the South Asia region.

For Juergen Boos, president of the Frankfurt Book Fair, more intensive, inclusive and frequent exchanges on literacy is much needed especially in the vast Asia region. "Currently, there are a lot of guesswork and judging going on since little is known about the state of literacy -- and mobile reading -- in some parts of the region. I think the workshop format used in this forum is good as they encourage exchanges of ideas and information, and I am sure this forum will grow both in coverage and depth in the next edition."

Eric Yang, president of APPA, shared Boos’s sentiment. “This is the first event to focus on children's education in Korea, and over time, it will definitely expand with more pertinent topics such as ICT in education and a much more diverse group of speakers to talk about their literacy and education programmes in their parts of the world. It was intended to be both a learning and sharing experience for the attendees and speakers alike, and we have achieved that.”

The forum also served as a pre-event for the planned children’s education book fair next year. Vice mayor Jo said, “Since Incheon has no prior experience in hosting a major cultural event such as a book fair, I have been talking to industry experts such as Yang to help us with its planning. We want to formulate a rich and useful fair for industry professionals, local and overseas, and parents out there.” Discussion with publishing experts, added Yang, “have pointed to the need for a unique and retrofitted fair format combining IoT [Internet of Things], symposium and exhibition, and I hope this idea will be adopted by Incheon. A traditional book event, given the fast-changing education and fair needs, will not stand a chance to make its mark at all.”

So, the city of Incheon will be seeing a flurry of activity in 2015: the opening ceremony as the World Book Capital on April 23; the four-day UNESCO World Education Forum starting on May 19, and the Children’s Education Book Fair tentatively scheduled for November.