Solving education challenges on a global scale

(File pix) Zainab Arkani (left) and Ahmed Ullah (second from right) sharing their experience on how education has helped them as refugees during the Global Education and Skills Forum opening plenary. Pix by Global Education & Skills Forum

CHANGE was the theme of the seventh annual Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) this year as inspirational speakers, featuring leading personalities and change-makers from across the globe, gathered in Dubai to share, discuss and debate on how to make a positive impact on the world.

An initiative of Varkey Foundation, its founder Sunny Varkey said: “By sharing the stories of grassroots activists, campaigners, philanthropists, tech developers and many more, we can have a much smarter debate about how to solve challenges on a global scale.”

Among the key speakers who spearheaded the sessions were Sierra Leonean president Julius Maada Bio, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Colombia president Juan Manuel Santos and former British prime minister Tony Blair.

At the opening plenary, two young Rohingya, now living in Canada, shared their experience on how education has helped them as refugees.

Zainab Arkani and Ahmed Ullah, who had fled persecution in Myanmar, called upon the international community to ensure that Rohingya children did not become a “lost generation” without an education or future.

“I was lucky I was among the one per cent who went to school, because 99 per cent did not have the chance to go to school,” said Zainab, who moved to Canada and started the only Rohingya school in her basement.

Rare for a Rohingya woman, Zainab completed her undergraduate studies in Myanmar, despite systemic barriers and discrimination in the schooling systems.

“We have enough sympathy, empathy and donations. What we need is education and vocational training for Rohingya children.”

Ullah said he was proof that refugees could do anything as long as they were given a chance.

Born in a refugee camp, Ullah is now a youth coordinator of the Canadian Rohingya Development initiative.

“There are millions of children suffering the same way I was. All they want is education. Why can’t we give Rohingya children hope that they can go to university and build something for their people?”

Malaysian teacher and Top 50 global Teacher Prize 2015 finalist Yasmin Noorul Amin was also one of the three speakers who spoke on “getting girls into STEM (Science, Technology, engineering and Mathematics)”, one of the topics discussed under “Change in the Classroom” theme. Yasmin, who teaches chemistry at SMK la Salle in Petaling Jaya, shared her forensic science activities that she organised for her allboys students with the participation of students from an all-girls school.

“it does not matter if they are boys or girls, but we have to give students chances and motivate them to pursue STEM. I have been teaching boys for the past 15 years and it is important for me to continue with them as I believe we need to empower the boys to empower girls.

“There are around 15,000 to 16,000 female students in Malaysia in the Science stream last year. So that shows the interest is there.”

She said while there was no restriction for girls to take up STEM in Malaysia, the numbers did not necessarily translate to them pursuing STEM at the tertiary level.

“I graduated in aeronautical engineering, but my father told me to teach instead. So, I decided to be a science teacher, though I told myself that I cannot be just a teacher, but I have to be an extraordinary teacher.

“Although I had to forgo an engineering career, I still have the engineering mindset. So I engineer the minds of my boys to empower girls,” she said.

Also discussing the same topic were Emma Russo, a physics teacher from the United Kingdom, Metropolitan South West Science Teachers association president Kenneth Silburn and global Teacher Prize 2019 finalist Chifuniro M’Manga-Kamwendo.

The highlight of the two-day forum was the global Teacher Prize, presented for the fifth year, to an exceptional teacher for their outstanding contribution to the profession. This year, Peter Tabichi, a mathematics and physics teacher at Keriko Secondary School in Kenya was named the winner.

On winning the prize, Tabichi said: “I believe science and technology can play a leading role in unlocking Africa’s potential. We all know that scientific discovery and innovation fuel progress, facilitate development and can tackle issues such as food insecurity, water shortages and climate change.”

Tabichi mentored his students through the school’s Science Club, helping them design research projects that qualify for competitions. At the Kenya Science and engineering Fair 2018, his students showcased a device they had invented to allow blind and deaf people to measure objects. They came first nationally in the public schools category.

His students have also won an award from the Royal Society of Chemistry after harnessing local plant life to generate electricity.

“As a teacher working on the frontline, I have seen the promise of its young people — their curiosity, talent, intelligence and belief. Africa’s young people will no longer be held back by low expectations. africa will produce scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs whose names will be one day famous in every corner of the world.

And girls will be a huge part of this story,” Tabichi added.

GESF 2019 also hosted the next Billion Prize, which recognises leading education technology startups making an impact on education in low and emerging economies.

By Hazlina Aziz.

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