Conflict, inequality continue to threaten children’s access to education, experts say
Sunny Varkey (left), Julia Gillard (second left), Priyanka Chopra (second right) and other dignitaries at the forum.
Dubai: The impact of war, school shootings and inequality on children’s education weighed heavily on the opening plenary session of the sixth Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF), organised by the Varkey Foundation, in Dubai on Saturday.
Indian movie star Priyanka Chopra, who has worked as a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador for Child Rights, recalled her recent visit to camps for Syrian refugees in Jordan. She said: “These children were so vulnerable to influences from around the world, and it is very easy for them to hold a rifle than a pen … We might lose not just these children but a whole generation if they do not have access to education.”
Julia Gillard, former prime minister of Australia who chairs the board of Global Partnership for Education (GPE), thanked the UAE for its pledge of Dh367 million to GPE. “The UAE is stepping forward in such a major way in promoting the understanding that we must educate the children of the world,” she said.
Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares, said 50 million children live in countries experiencing conflict, warning that “the cost of doing nothing is extreme”. He said education has the “power to turn the course of human development, from poverty to improved living standards”.
Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation, said that while it is “our duty to make sure that every child is educated, goes to his or her university of choice and finds a job he or she is passionate about”, students “must also be taught about values of respect, caring and sharing to become global citizens,” especially as the “world is in chaos”.
Mohammad Sidibay, who was forced to become a child solider in Sierra Leone when he was five, said his life turned around because of education. Sidibay, now an adult, is soon going to start law school. He said “we’re going to live in an unstable world” in 2030 “if we deny access to education”.
Among the key speakers on Sunday are Al Gore, former US vice-president; Nicholas Sarkozy, former president of France; Tony Blair, former prime minister of the UK; Brian Lara, legendary West Indies cricketer; and US actress and singer Jennifer Hudson.
In the closing ceremony of GESF on Sunday, Varkey Foundation’s $1-million Global Teacher Prize will be given to one exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession. Organisers have said there will be “special guest appearances”.