Dubai Cares addresses global challenges in education

12 December 2021
Dubai Cares is working with organisations around the globe, including Expo 2020 Dubai, to promote equal access to quality education
This week, Expo 2020 presents its Knowledge & Learning Week, discussing the future of skills, youth empowerment and bridging gaps in education. Learn more here.

In conversation with Tariq al-Gurg, commissioner general for the Dubai Cares pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai and chief executive officer of Dubai Cares

1. Why should we be talking about knowledge and learning at a global level?

Covid-19 has highlighted the fact that the many challenges education faces today are universal. The lack of access to connectivity emerged as a common obstacle for remote learning, causing an interruption in education for millions of children around the world.

While industries including healthcare and telecommunications have evolved tremendously over the years, the growth of our education system remains stagnant. The core principles that defined our education system 10 or 20 years ago are no longer relevant today and need to be replaced

There is a massive gap that can only be addressed when we recognise the value of knowledge and learning as a critical enabler for sustainable development.

As a co-curator of the Knowledge and Learning Week at Expo 2020 Dubai, Dubai Cares is proud to facilitate a global conversation on how we can rewire education for a prosperous and sustainable future.

During the RewirEd Summit, which is led by Dubai Cares in partnership with Expo 2020 Dubai, the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC), and global stakeholders, we look forward to driving a disruptive dialogue with action-oriented outcomes for future generations.

Key international organisations have joined forces with the RewirEd Summit as its strategic partners. These include Unicef, Unesco, UNHCR, the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the World Food Programme (WFP), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

Each day of the summit, taking place from 12-14 December 2021, will focus on one of the three main thematic areas including youth, skills and the future of work; innovation in education; and education financing.

2. How has Covid-19 impacted education over the past year?

Covid-19 will go down in history as one of the worst crises of our time that has had a drastic impact on the education sector.

At its peak, the pandemic forced 190 countries to close down schools and universities, pushing more than 1.6 billion school-aged children and youth out of school. In addition, over 60 million teachers were also no longer in the classroom.

The pandemic jeopardised years of progress that has been achieved in ensuring, for instance, the attendance of more and more children in schools and enabling girls to access equal learning opportunities.

It is also important to note that while the pandemic may not have affected every individual, it significantly impacted every household. On one hand, there were families who were able to make the switch to remote learning almost smoothly. But on the other, millions of children, especially in developing countries, suffered major interruptions due to lack of access to connectivity and other issues.

The pandemic has opened the world’s eyes to the true state of our education system, which is collapsing and is in dire need of a transformation following over 120 years of operating under the same principles. 120 years is a long time and we can no longer afford to ignore this conversation. It must now take precedence and priority as an urgent global agenda.

3. What is needed to continue to enable learning and education?

The pandemic has presented us with a completely new set of challenges that are preventing millions of children and youth globally from accessing learning and skilling opportunities.

Lack of access to digital connectivity emerged as a key barrier to education. Despite technological advancements, many countries continue to suffer from limited or no connectivity, preventing millions from continuing their education, resulting in a domino effect for future generations.

There also remains a significant gap of $59bn a year in the annual global education funds.

As a global community, we have focused heavily on directing funds for education, but we have done it in silos, with agendas that do not align.

We must realise that a collective commitment to education financing and setting a global agenda that supports education at the global and national levels is critical to the success of the fourth sustainable development goal. This is extremely critical because there is no high-level coordination among key players.

4. How can we bring equality in education?

Access to connectivity is essential to provide access to education. This becomes particularly relevant in remote and rural areas of developing countries with limited resources.

Meaningful connectivity can open doors to a world of opportunities for children through online learning.

To address the growing digital divide, Dubai Cares signed a global partnership with Unicef in 2020 to accelerate efforts that will help provide access to digital connectivity for every young person. As part of this, Dubai Cares has extended support to Giga, an initiative launched in 2019 and led by Unicef and the ITU, to connect every school in the world to the internet.

It is also important to note that Covid-19 had an even greater impact on girls education, especially in rural communities with inherent socio-cultural barriers. For every girl who stays out of school for a year, the learning losses are compounded over decades, threatening years of development work and progress achieved in this space.

With gender equality being a cross-cutting theme across all Dubai Cares programmes, we pledged $2.5m to the Global Partnership for Education earlier this year, a considerable proportion of which will go towards the Girls Education Accelerator that aims to address such barriers.

5. What role will Expo 2020 Dubai play in spotlighting the theme of knowledge and learning?

With the participation of 192 countries and several organisations, Expo 2020 Dubai provides us with a remarkable opportunity to draw the world’s attention to the collapsing state of education.

We believe that collaboration is key to reshape the future of education and Expo 2020 Dubai offers a platform like no other to leverage the power of connections for the betterment of our future generations. The Knowledge and Learning Week at this mega event aims to explore these themes in the presence of global voices who are critical to this dialogue.

As the flagship event of the Knowledge and Learning Week, the RewirEd Summit will offer a much-needed platform for a disruptive dialogue on the future of education that is characterised by new ideas, bold solutions, and a shared vision for the way forward. The gathering will bring together stakeholders, including new and unlikely allies, to explore questions and plan for the future.

6. What do the coming years look like for the education sector in the UAE?

The founding father of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, always regarded education as one of the most important pillars for nation building.

As we celebrate ‘The Year of 50’, we can take immense pride in our leaders’ far-sighted vision to promote education and learning as the basis of a prosperous and sustainable economy.

Dubai Cares is further testament to our founder Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. It is his belief that education is the most effective tool to end the cycle of poverty. Today, the UAE has established its position as a leading global voice advocating for education transformation.

The pandemic proved the resilience of the UAE’s education sector with uninterrupted access to education a top national priority even during the global crisis, with a smooth transition to online learning.

All of these achievements herald a bright future for the UAE’s education ecosystem, which has and will continue to serve as an example for the rest of the world.

7. What work is Dubai Cares currently undertaking in the space of knowledge and learning?

Our mission at Dubai Cares is to ensure that education and learning for children and youth are at the center of human development efforts through strategic partnerships for impactful programming and research/action-led advocacy.

To date, our educational programs have reached more than 20 million beneficiaries in 60 countries, enabling and empowering underprivileged children and youth in vulnerable settings through meaningful education and learning opportunities.

Expo 2020 Dubai has enabled us to further amplify our mission and advocate for an overall transformation in global education. Our approach to achieve our mission is no longer limited to programmatic interventions only, but extends to other global initiatives, including Dignified Storytelling, an ecosystem that instills dignity and respect in storytelling within development and humanitarian contexts, and the RewirEd Declaration on Connectivity for Education that will be launched during the RewirEd Summit.

In addition, our pavilion, which is located in the Opportunity District and is hosted under the theme, “The Future is Human”, encourages visitors to go on a highly immersive and inspiring journey into the future of education and recognise that while technological disruption is here to stay, it is ultimately human connection and potential that will define our tomorrow.

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