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Dubai education forum: Celebrities warn of 'lost generation'

Conflict, inequality continue to threaten children's access to education, global experts say

Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News
Sunny Varkey of Varkey Foundation (left), Julia Gillard, former prime minister of Australia (second left), Bollywood actress 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 Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF), organised by the Varkey Foundation, in Dubai on Saturday.

Educationists, government leaders, private sector professionals, NGOs, campaigners and celebrities took the stage to highlight the danger of losing a generation by 2030 because of millions of children being out of school or not learning well in class.

By the next 12 years, by 2030, children who start their school life this year will have graduated from high school. GESF speakers said conflict and disruptive technology pose known and unknown challenges in educating children, equipping them with skills for future jobs and becoming “global citizens”.

Priyanka Chopra  Photo: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Indian movie star Priyanka Chopra, who is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, said she meet Syrian refugee children in Jordan and said many of them feel “nobody cares about me”. Chopra added “it’s easy for them to take a rifle instead of a pen”, warning “there’s a generation we could lose” by 2030.


Julia Gillard, former prime minister of Australia, stressed on the “interconnected” nature of communities and nations today, saying developments in one country can impact another. She said people’s attitude towards this interconnectedness ultimately decides whether the world will be more “stable” or “fractured”.

Sunny Varkey, founder of Varkey Foundation, said: “I have always felt that schools are more than maths and science. As educators,  it's our duty to ensure they are well educated…  But the world is in chaos and children should be taught values… to be global citizens.”

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”.

It was also announced during the session that UAE has donated $100 million to Global Partnership for Education, which is chaired by Gillard.

The opening session also heard from three survivors – Lewis Mizen, Suzanna Barna and Kevin Trejos – of last month’s school shooting in Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 17 people dead. The schoolmates are campaigning for gun control, saying their goal is ensure “every child who goes to school comes back to their parents”.

The sixth annual GESF is taking place till Sunday at Atlantis The Palm.

Widely referred to as ‘the Davos of Education’, GESF is a Varkey Foundation initiative, held under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Among the key speakers spearheading sessions are Al Gore, former Vice-President of the United States; Nicholas Sarkozy, former President of France; Jennifer Hudson, Oscar-winning actress and Grammy award winning singer; Charlize Theron, another Oscar-winning actress; Priyanka Chopra, Hollywood-Bollywood star, Sir Mo Farah, four times Olympic Games Champion and six times World Champion in long distance running; English actor Nicholas Hoult, former Pakistani first-class cricketer Wasim Akram, Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia; Simon Schama, world-renowned historian; Ambarish Mitra, Blippar CEO and Augmented Reality pioneer.

Upon the closing of GESF on Sunday, doors to the $1 million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize will open, which will be given to one exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

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