130m girls missing out on school, education forum warns

Global Education and Skills Forum calls for end to discrimination and violence against girls

18:58 March 18, 2017

Dubai: More than 130 million girls are still out of secondary school because of poverty, discrimination and violence, the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) heard on Saturday in Dubai.

Their plight was highlighted by GESF delegates, including by survivors of violence by the Boko Haram militant group in Nigeria, during the opening session of the two-day conference. The event, being held at Atlantis, The Palm, is an annual initiative of the Varkey Foundation.

Sunny Varkey, founder and chairman of GEMS Education and Varkey Foundation, said gender parity in education was among the issues “close to my heart”, while several GESF sessions also underlined the problem of inequality.

GESF is held under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minster of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Survivors speak

Varkey said today’s youth “are the first true global citizens, who are special, born at a special time when technology has put amazing powers in their hands. They live in a global playground. We need the collective intelligence and moral leadership of young people from every country, culture and faith to address the world’s problems”.

On Saturday, two survivors of violence by Boko Haram, which is against ‘Western education’, took the stage — using pseudo names and wearing sunglasses to protect their real identities.

‘Rachel’ said her father and three younger brothers were shot dead in the violence. She said the killings have forced people to place survival over schooling, adding that she has abandoned her dreams of becoming a doctor. Rachel aspires to join the military instead to counter militancy.

‘Sa’a’, who had jumped out of a truck carrying schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in 2015, said she wants to be a doctor and return to Nigeria one day. “I want to go back and help the girls who can’t go to school. Maybe if they see, after all that has happened to me — I still went to school — it will inspire them to go to school also,” she added.

Huge deficit

Julia Gillard, Australia’s former prime minister and now chair of the board of directors of the Global Partnership for Education, said the “scale of the problem [of access to education] is a major one”. She said 260 million children won’t be able to get into a primary or secondary school, adding there was an annual gap in global education spending of $1.8 trillion (Dh6.6 trillion).

Gillard said the world is spending $1.2 trillion a year but $3 trillion is needed.

“Education is a process… It takes patient investment in an impatient world,” she added.

Teach Together campaign

Dr Abdullah Al Karam, director-general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai, announced at the event a new initiative called ‘Teach Together’. He said he would personally work as an assistant teacher as and when a teacher needs his expertise.

“We want to help the teachers; we all have different ways to do that. I’m launching this initiative today. I will be offering my time to be an assistant teacher in Dubai to utilise whatever a teacher feels I am good at,” he said.

Dr Al Karam added: “we should set an example; it’s easy to make an announcement,” adding that “putting yourself in others’ shoes” creates “empathy” and also offers an opportunity to learn from teachers.

When asked if the initiative would be open to other professionals and allow them to step in as assistant teachers, Dr Al Karam replied: “Why not… we should all surround the children for their wellbeing and happiness… They are children first; students second.”

As the initiative was launched only on Saturday, he said the details of its implementation would be worked out soon.

Global Teacher Prize

Saturday’s line-up of speakers also included, among others, Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares; Sadhguru J. Vasudev, founder of Isha Foundation; and Thomas L. Friedman, foreign affairs journalist at The New York Times.

On Sunday night, the $1-million Global Teacher Prize by the Varkey Foundation will be awarded to one of 10 international finalists during a ceremony concluding the GESF.