US school shooting victims recall horror in Dubai

By Sheena Amos

DUBAI 18 March 2018: A searing call to put an end to school shootings – especially following one of the world’s deadliest incidents in which 17  were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – was issued at the opening of the sixth Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) in Dubai.

Three students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida, USA, rallied support for the #NeverAgain campaign, calling for gun control regulation, currently gaining momentum across the US, at the event attended by 2,000 delegates from 156 countries, comprising heads of states, ministers, achievers, thought leaders and educationists. The meet also underpinned the need to ‘ensure every child has access to education’.

With this momentum for the nationwide ‘March for Our Lives’ protest on March 24 to protest gun violence, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students Suzanna Barna, Lewis Mizen and Kevin Trejos, said they are on a “lifetime mission” to ensure that every kid is safe to get education.

They said that while “it is difficult to pass gun legislation in the US”, they are hopeful that President Donald Trump would “hopefully see the light” {of their cause] and this is not “a Democrat or a Republican issue but an American issue.”

The two-day forum, held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, opened with a compelling look at the state of the world of education.

Value Education

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.” Underpinning the role of teachers, he said, “I do not feel robots are going to replace teachers because teachers explain, encourage and inspire students.”

Julia Gillard, board chair of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and former Australian Prime Minister, thanked the UAE for its pledge of AED367 million (US$100 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, calling for bolstering community understanding on the importance of education.

Mathew Pempe, Ghana’s Minister of Education, highlighted the importance of girls’ education to “build a sustainable society”, and announced that the ministry is leveraging the support of Varkey Foundation to drive school leadership and management programmes in the country.

Actress Priyanka Chopra, who has worked with Unicef for the last ten years and was appointed as the national and global Unicef Goodwill Ambassador for Child Rights in 2010 and 2016, said education is a big cause that she is hugely attached to “because of the simple basic logic that education empowers people”.

Describing her recent visit to the 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. What stood out to me so much was that they wanted school books, and to return to Syria. We might lose not just these children but a whole generation if they do not have access to education.”

In his message from the host nation, Tariq Al Gurg, Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Cares, said that education has the “power to turn the course of human development, from poverty to improved living standards”. He said it is important “to bridge the technology divide and democratise innovation to accelerate and avoid the pitfalls of the lack of action, so that we can make education a part of everyone’s future”. He said promoting education is a fundamental priority, especially as the UAE marks the Year of Zayed, to honour the founding father of the nation.

Presenting a historical perspective, award-winning author and presenter Simon Schama CBE, Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University and Contributor Editor of the Financial Times, said that understanding history is a requirement if success of education of children for the future must be measured functionally, technologically and quantitatively in the age of Artificial Intelligence. History, he said, “makes space to understand cultures that are not like us”, adding that a clear understanding of the past will be the vital enabler of a humane future.

Mohamed Sidibay, who was pushed to being a child solider in Sierra Leone, set the tone for the forum with his hope for the world, reiterating that if everyone worked together, “we can ensure that every child on this planet can have access to quality education; we can do this; it is only a matter of will. We are not here to ask to change the world; what we ask you is to do what must be done, do your part, and make possible the attainable” – education for every child.

Describing the theme of the forum, Vikas Pota, Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation, said that “2030 is not an abstract concept anymore. What we need to do – in the global South and global North – is to drive equitable growth and development” through the power of education.”