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Hope vs harsh reality: challenges to global education goals in the 21st century

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Hope vs harsh reality: challenges to global education goals in the 21st century

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The newly-adopted UN Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs and the role education plays in achieving them have been at the heart of this year’s World Innovation Summit For Education (WISE) in Doha. World leaders expressed concerns about these issues at a global and regional level.

For Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation, wars in the Middle East and north Africa have enormously set back education goals in the region: “One thing we know for certain, the SDGs seem like a dream in MENA where we experience the nightmarish sensation of falling backwards, where our schools have been turned into cemeteries and teachers into refugees.”

With 62 million girls worldwide missing out on school, US First Lady Michelle Obama called for an end to outdated laws and traditions, stressing that girls’ education is not only about resources, but attitudes and beliefs as well: “Today, to all of the men here, I want to be very clear: We need you. Yes, as fathers, as husbands and simply as human beings, this is your struggle too.”

Quality and equality

More than 1,500 education experts, teachers and students from different countries were exploring ideas around investment in education. While everyone agrees on the need to address quality and equality, how to do that is less clear.

“The definition of quality is still not very clearly accepted by all. If you go to a school in the US, for them quality maybe means having one computer (per child),” said Marcio Barbosa, CEO of Education Above All.

“If you go to a remote population where they have never been in school, for them quality means to have a pencil. It takes time to offer to all the same type of best tools.”

Others, such as former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, who is Board Chair of the Global Partnership for Education believe teaching the basics is still paramount: “If we want our children to be creative, to be innovative, to have life skills to conceptualise themselves as global citizens and I do think we want all of those things, we still have to focus on literacy and numeracy because we are not going to get to those higher achievements unless children have the basics.”

Innovate to educate

As part of the WISE Learner’s Voice Programme, 33 young education advocates from different countries also shared their views.

Yvens Rumbold of the education NGO FOKAL explained what his organisation focused on: “In my team we were focusing on teacher training. Teacher training because we believe that to have a better-quality education, wherever in the world, it starts by the teacher.”

Fostering innovation in education was also a top theme at the summit, according to our correspondent Maha Barada: “It is all about innovation here at this learning lab. These activities are influenced by creative pedagogies in a set-up inspired by the best classrooms. It aims to boost creativity, learning and collaboration.

For her part the US First Lady joined children and teachers from various schools in Qatar in different activities including cracking codes, crunching data, learning with Lego and exploring robotics.

The current migrant crisis in the Middle East and Europe and its overwhelming impact on education was also high on the agenda

“We need to give a higher priority to funding education within the humanitarian activities,” said Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at the UN’s DESA agency, “but that is not enough, we have to deal with the root causes, we have to help solve this crisis.”

A highlight of the event was recongition for Dr. Sakena Yaacobi who won the WISE Prize, worth half a million dollars, or 460,000 euros, for her outstanding work in providing education and health care for millions of people in Afghanistan.

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