Learners' Voice

WISE Learners’ Voice brings the views of students to the issue of rethinking education. The Program builds their communication, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills to ensure that decision-makers hear their all-important voice, and that they are prepared to take on leading roles in their field and the education world.

The current Learners’ Voice community consists of over 100 Learners who were recruited in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. They are from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, and from all around the world. They share a passion for education, and together they represent the unique perspective of the learning community in WISE.

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From 19th- 24th of August we visited Gulu in Northern Uganda. Five days of exploring the potential and relevance of our project Duende (developed within the Learners’ Voice year-long program) using the arts as a tool to build the resilience of children who’ve been born in captivity of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). Five days of meeting mothers, children, psychotherapists, social workers and peace builders. Five days of feeling the rhythm of life in Gulu, eating fresh beans and fresh fish. We are very grateful for this opportunity to take our project to the next level, and can’t wait to bring our project to life. 
Evanne Nowak

  High-res

From 19th- 24th of August we visited Gulu in Northern Uganda. Five days of exploring the potential and relevance of our project Duende (developed within the Learners’ Voice year-long program) using the arts as a tool to build the resilience of children who’ve been born in captivity of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). Five days of meeting mothers, children, psychotherapists, social workers and peace builders. Five days of feeling the rhythm of life in Gulu, eating fresh beans and fresh fish. We are very grateful for this opportunity to take our project to the next level, and can’t wait to bring our project to life. 

Evanne Nowak

From concepts to reality; bringing our project to life
I never knew a morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy – Ernest Hemmingway
After crossing the great river Nile and entering the wonderful landscape of Northern Uganda we cannot agree more with Hemmingway. On our very first site visit to Gulu, the community we believe will benefit greatly from Duende’s project, we have been so warmly welcomed and are overwhelmed by people’s generosity and friendliness. Around every corner we are greeted with broad smiles and enthusiastic waves and almost overpowering hugs of welcome await us at every new encounter.
Although we have only been here for two days, we have already been fortunate enough to meet with the Justice and Reconciliation Project, the Chairperson of the Woman Advocacy Network, a PHD research student, and several others. What we’ve been hearing in all these discussion is that there is a definite need for DUENDE’s proposed project of utilising the arts as a mechanism to support children born in captivity in exploring their personal identities, building resilience and integrating into their societies.
Today we were privileged to hear first hand from mothers who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army and brought home children from captivity. We had a wonderful afternoon of sharing and learning from these mothers’ experiences and realities and truly broadened our own understanding of the issues we seek to address. While her new born baby slept peacefully on her lap, Florence shared with us her deep love for her children and her determination to see a better future for them.
We have learnt that these children born in captivity face many challenges within their communities and we hope that in collaboration with the community and following a truly thoughtful, culturally sensitive approach we can contribute to the futures these mothers envision for their children.
Esther McFarlane and Evanne Nowak representing the Duende team in Gulu, Uganda   High-res

From concepts to reality; bringing our project to life

I never knew a morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy – Ernest Hemmingway

After crossing the great river Nile and entering the wonderful landscape of Northern Uganda we cannot agree more with Hemmingway. On our very first site visit to Gulu, the community we believe will benefit greatly from Duende’s project, we have been so warmly welcomed and are overwhelmed by people’s generosity and friendliness. Around every corner we are greeted with broad smiles and enthusiastic waves and almost overpowering hugs of welcome await us at every new encounter.

Although we have only been here for two days, we have already been fortunate enough to meet with the Justice and Reconciliation Project, the Chairperson of the Woman Advocacy Network, a PHD research student, and several others. What we’ve been hearing in all these discussion is that there is a definite need for DUENDE’s proposed project of utilising the arts as a mechanism to support children born in captivity in exploring their personal identities, building resilience and integrating into their societies.

Today we were privileged to hear first hand from mothers who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army and brought home children from captivity. We had a wonderful afternoon of sharing and learning from these mothers’ experiences and realities and truly broadened our own understanding of the issues we seek to address. While her new born baby slept peacefully on her lap, Florence shared with us her deep love for her children and her determination to see a better future for them.

We have learnt that these children born in captivity face many challenges within their communities and we hope that in collaboration with the community and following a truly thoughtful, culturally sensitive approach we can contribute to the futures these mothers envision for their children.

Esther McFarlane and Evanne Nowak representing the Duende team in Gulu, Uganda

"Why would you use a shipping container?"
Orenda Project, Slum Visits, Day 3. Location: Afghan Basti, Islamabad.
On my second day with the locals in the Afghan Basti, things have considerably progressed. I meet with the heads of the village households in a room made of clay. Even despite the heat outside, the room is refreshingly cool- a building technique perfected by the locals living in the village. For Orenda Project, which started from the idea of using shipping containers as classrooms and then gradually transitioned to using locally sourced materials for building schools, such observations are exciting. Local is cheap, and local makes the job much easier. One of the men must have noticed my awe, because a conversation about the houses soon sparks up.
“Don’t these houses get washed away in the rain?”
“They have stood here for more than 10 years. It looks weaker, but we use concrete blocks in the walls. It’s impenetrable.” 
“How much do they cost?”
“About 18,000 Rupees per room. We’ll build it for you, don’t you worry!”
Two things in his message give me pause for thought for quite a long time.
The first is the cost - as soon as he tells me the price, my mind is at work converting it into Riyals. It is an astounding 665 QAR. In another currency, the price seems meagre - you can’t even rent a one-room apartment for a month for that sum in Qatar, where The Orenda Project originates from. Such comparisons are uplifting, and definitely a signal that we are on the right track.
The second is the concept of sweat equity, which I first learned about working for Habitat for Humanity in Manila, Philippines. The concept applies the logic that for someone who is poor, but will benefit from a project, contributing in terms of financial resources is impossible. However, if a financial contribution is replaced by sweat equity - the help given by the beneficiary in the construction of the project - there are countless benefits. For one, the the project becomes much less expensive to realize. Second, the locals, by their participation in building the project, begin to own it. This ensures the longevity of the project by reducing its administrative and upkeep costs.
As our conversation develops, and the local people begin to inquire more about the history of Orenda, I share our idea of using a shipping container for a classroom with them. Most of them seem puzzled.
“Why would you use a shipping container? It heats up in a matter of minutes in July. It costs 60,000 Rupees just to transport it, and an extra 1.5 million rupees to buy it.”
I am taken aback by the exchange of expertise casually being thrown my way. It took us months to discard our idea of shipping containers after we observed the flaws in it. Here, it is common knowledge. I ask them how they know so much about the containers, despite living in an isolated community. Most of them narrate stories of their extended families living in Afghanistan, and Turkham (the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan) who tried to use shipping containers left by the NATO forces during the war, and discovered their flaws.
This is the power of local knowledge and local expertise - something that The Orenda Project seeks to harness and, as I am increasingly learning, it is a force to be reckoned with.
Haroon Yasin   High-res

"Why would you use a shipping container?"

Orenda Project, Slum Visits, Day 3. Location: Afghan Basti, Islamabad.

On my second day with the locals in the Afghan Basti, things have considerably progressed. I meet with the heads of the village households in a room made of clay. Even despite the heat outside, the room is refreshingly cool- a building technique perfected by the locals living in the village. For Orenda Project, which started from the idea of using shipping containers as classrooms and then gradually transitioned to using locally sourced materials for building schools, such observations are exciting. Local is cheap, and local makes the job much easier. One of the men must have noticed my awe, because a conversation about the houses soon sparks up.

Don’t these houses get washed away in the rain?”

“They have stood here for more than 10 years. It looks weaker, but we use concrete blocks in the walls. It’s impenetrable.”

“How much do they cost?”

“About 18,000 Rupees per room. We’ll build it for you, don’t you worry!”

Two things in his message give me pause for thought for quite a long time.

The first is the cost - as soon as he tells me the price, my mind is at work converting it into Riyals. It is an astounding 665 QAR. In another currency, the price seems meagre - you can’t even rent a one-room apartment for a month for that sum in Qatar, where The Orenda Project originates from. Such comparisons are uplifting, and definitely a signal that we are on the right track.

The second is the concept of sweat equity, which I first learned about working for Habitat for Humanity in Manila, Philippines. The concept applies the logic that for someone who is poor, but will benefit from a project, contributing in terms of financial resources is impossible. However, if a financial contribution is replaced by sweat equity - the help given by the beneficiary in the construction of the project - there are countless benefits. For one, the the project becomes much less expensive to realize. Second, the locals, by their participation in building the project, begin to own it. This ensures the longevity of the project by reducing its administrative and upkeep costs.

As our conversation develops, and the local people begin to inquire more about the history of Orenda, I share our idea of using a shipping container for a classroom with them. Most of them seem puzzled.

Why would you use a shipping container? It heats up in a matter of minutes in July. It costs 60,000 Rupees just to transport it, and an extra 1.5 million rupees to buy it.”

I am taken aback by the exchange of expertise casually being thrown my way. It took us months to discard our idea of shipping containers after we observed the flaws in it. Here, it is common knowledge. I ask them how they know so much about the containers, despite living in an isolated community. Most of them narrate stories of their extended families living in Afghanistan, and Turkham (the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan) who tried to use shipping containers left by the NATO forces during the war, and discovered their flaws.

This is the power of local knowledge and local expertise - something that The Orenda Project seeks to harness and, as I am increasingly learning, it is a force to be reckoned with.

Haroon Yasin

An Evening in the Jirgah: Orenda Project (formerly Astana) - First site visit in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Having landed in Pakistan a day ago, I set out today to a part of Islamabad that is seldom frequented by anybody apart from the dwellers within it. The area is known as ‘Afghan Basti’, given its name due to Afghan settlers that came to Islamabad to look for work, and eventually settled here. Upon arrival, I found a jirgah, a community of elderly men sitting together having Kabuli Chai, the famous tea from Afghanistan’s capital. This is where the ‘co-creation’ process that Team Orenda talks about, had to start, and with the welcome that we were given by the group of men, it seemed to be on track.
I sat down after two of them vacated a charpai laid on the ground and offered me tea. While on of the men spoke Urdu, the rest could only talk in Pashtu, the regional language from the province that shares a border with Afghanistan.
“How long have you been living in this shanty-town?”
“Over thirty years”
“How many children do you have? Do they go to school?”
“The schools are too far away, so some of them go, but most of them end up leaving the school at one point or another”
“and why does that happen?”
“They have better things to do”
Among a host of other things, education is one of Pakistan’s darkest problems. As the conversation above highlighted, it is not only the fact that most areas do not have schools- it is also because many parents refuse to send their children to schools. Education is seen as a thing which shows very slow returns to investment. For the poor man, a penny invested today has to yield an immediate benefit. The stomach has to feel full; the children need to stay warm. In that context, it is rational to dispose education in the face of greater priorities.
Perhaps that is Project Orenda’s greatest challenge- to change this perception of education among the underprivileged. That is not a process that happens overnight, we have realized, but there is some place this shift in thought has to occur. For that to happen, we have designed our curriculum in such a way that every student gains immediate benefits. The hygiene component makes sure every student can avoid easily preventable, but deadly diseases such as diarrhea and cholera. The entrepreneurship module makes sure that those who only study, even for a short period of time, gain the skills necessary to go beyond the ordinary in their latter endeavors.
But in the searing heat, as I sit in the jirgah, and talk to the elderly, I wonder how on earth I should explain entrepreneurship to a group who does not even fully share a language with me.
For starters, I should learn to say it in Pashtu.
Haroon Yasin

An Evening in the Jirgah: Orenda Project (formerly Astana) - First site visit in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Having landed in Pakistan a day ago, I set out today to a part of Islamabad that is seldom frequented by anybody apart from the dwellers within it. The area is known as ‘Afghan Basti’, given its name due to Afghan settlers that came to Islamabad to look for work, and eventually settled here. Upon arrival, I found a jirgah, a community of elderly men sitting together having Kabuli Chai, the famous tea from Afghanistan’s capital. This is where the ‘co-creation’ process that Team Orenda talks about, had to start, and with the welcome that we were given by the group of men, it seemed to be on track.

I sat down after two of them vacated a charpai laid on the ground and offered me tea. While on of the men spoke Urdu, the rest could only talk in Pashtu, the regional language from the province that shares a border with Afghanistan.

How long have you been living in this shanty-town?”

“Over thirty years”

“How many children do you have? Do they go to school?”

“The schools are too far away, so some of them go, but most of them end up leaving the school at one point or another”

and why does that happen?”

“They have better things to do”

Among a host of other things, education is one of Pakistan’s darkest problems. As the conversation above highlighted, it is not only the fact that most areas do not have schools- it is also because many parents refuse to send their children to schools. Education is seen as a thing which shows very slow returns to investment. For the poor man, a penny invested today has to yield an immediate benefit. The stomach has to feel full; the children need to stay warm. In that context, it is rational to dispose education in the face of greater priorities.

Perhaps that is Project Orenda’s greatest challenge- to change this perception of education among the underprivileged. That is not a process that happens overnight, we have realized, but there is some place this shift in thought has to occur. For that to happen, we have designed our curriculum in such a way that every student gains immediate benefits. The hygiene component makes sure every student can avoid easily preventable, but deadly diseases such as diarrhea and cholera. The entrepreneurship module makes sure that those who only study, even for a short period of time, gain the skills necessary to go beyond the ordinary in their latter endeavors.

But in the searing heat, as I sit in the jirgah, and talk to the elderly, I wonder how on earth I should explain entrepreneurship to a group who does not even fully share a language with me.

For starters, I should learn to say it in Pashtu.

Haroon Yasin

Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common

The 14th International Conference on Diversity in Organizations, Communities, and Nations took place in Vienna from the 9-11 July. Some notable papers and presentations examined topics such as-

Anti-Diversity in the Age of Super- Integration.

Authentic Leadership through Understanding and Confronting Personal Biases.

Sharing Education across Religious Boundaries: A Case study from Northern Ireland.

Whose Nation? Educating for Diversity and Civic Citizenship in a Globalized Higher Education Market.

Diversity in Contemporary Classrooms: Are our Teachers Ready to Face the Challenge?

Is education ready to face the challenge? Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Education has the potential to play a key role in developing an understanding of this commonality. Understanding the complexity of human beings requires a new type of education and curriculum that teaches us to confront difference and develop a sense of mutual understanding. A curriculum that teaches us to uphold the “other” as similar yet distinct. A curriculum that teaches us to how to be human in our complex, integrated world and challenges us from retreating to the comfort of the known. Transforming education as a tool in which we learn to live with difference, ambiguity and complexity can provide a space for this knowledge transfer to take place. Much can be gained from the reflections of Henry Louis Gates when he stated,

‘Ours is a late- twentieth- century world profoundly fissured by nationality, ethnicity, race, class and gender. And the only way to transcend those divisions- to forge for once, a civic culture that respects both differences and commonalities- is through education that seeks to comprehend the diversity of human culture. Beyond the hype and the high-flown rhetoric is a pretty homely truth- ‘there is no tolerance without respect- and no respect without knowledge’.’


Henry Louis Gates. Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars.

Maeve Dunne

WISE Learners have participated in the Common Ground Conference - the 14th conference on Diversity in Organizations, Communities & Nations that took place in Vienna, Austria from 9 – 11 July. On the first day of the conference all the participants were invited to join a reception event that was hosted at the Vienna City Hall under the hospitality of the Vienna mayor. During the opening of the reception the mayor started his speech about a short history of the city of Vienna, and he talked about the great impact that the diversity can make when in a city as well.
Mutaz Hamed   High-res

WISE Learners have participated in the Common Ground Conference - the 14th conference on Diversity in Organizations, Communities & Nations that took place in Vienna, Austria from 9 – 11 July. On the first day of the conference all the participants were invited to join a reception event that was hosted at the Vienna City Hall under the hospitality of the Vienna mayor. During the opening of the reception the mayor started his speech about a short history of the city of Vienna, and he talked about the great impact that the diversity can make when in a city as well.

Mutaz Hamed

Myanmar Mobile Education Project (myME) : Bringing education to children in Myanmar’s teashops

As 13 year old Maung Myo speaks to Al Jazeera, he is calm, composed and confident.  Maung Myo is but one of many children in Yangon who work in the city’s Teashops. A year ago he dropped out of school with little hope for an education in Myanmar’s broken public education system, but today as part of myME’s mobile schooling program he is excited about the future, and the many possibilities that education offers him.

myME is a unique project led by a small collective of human rights activists, educators, business people, academics, writers and artists in NYC and in Myanmar who believe that true reform for Myanmar starts with education.

Karen and Tim Aye-Hardy, co-founders of myME tell us a little about the story of how it all began, but before that a little introduction to this super innovative start-up that is already making vibes in Myanmar and has the world of education excited!(Photograph credits: myME)

What was the trigger that inspired you to start MyME ?

Tim: It all began when I returned to Myanmar for the first time after two decades of exile in the US. The main idea of myME is quite simple, it brings a classroom to those who cannot to go to school. Child labor is widespread and culturally tolerated and accepted throughout Myanmar where ordinary people make less than $2.00 a day. Teashops are located all over Myanmar—they are small road- or alley-side restaurants where the local people come regularly for daily sweet tea and snacks. Many of them are “manned” by children who have been forced into servitude. Once in this situation, the children must work for over 16 hours daily, 7 days per week.  At night they sleep on the tables or on the floors of the shops.  Their meager earnings are sent back to their families and villages in the countryside. In this system the children are sometimes abused by their employers/owners and customers, they are deprived of their childhoods, and they lack any basic educational skills, decent healthcare and adequate, nutritious food.

Our mission is to provide schooling to children working in Yangon’s Tea-shops through used buses that have been converted to mobile classrooms. The buses bring teachers, teaching assistants and school supplies to participating teashops in Yangon. Each child spends a minimum of two hours per day every other day learning English, Math and basic life-skills in a safe learning environment.

How does myME’s approach to education apart from traditional schooling ?

Some of our students at myME in their late 20’s and were forced to drop out of school early on to work at Tea shops and help feed their families, but Teashops which prefer to employ young children stop employing them after they cross 20, leaving these young men and women stranded with no job prospects and very little education.

Through innovative instruction methods we help our students develop critical thinking skills and competence in English and Math. We also aim to empower these learners with vocational skills to prepare them for life and the job market.

In a world where more than 168 million children between the age of 5 and 17 continue to be engaged in work, myME’s project goes to the heart of this issue by integrating the local community into its efforts in Myanmar. Could you tell us more about your approach towards child labor?

Photograph credits: myME

Karen: In Myanmar’s Tea Shops, hundreds of children are bound to indentured servitude driven by poverty. The biggest challenge is often is that people look at child labor in isolation, as a rights violation disconnected from underlying social realities. To successfully fight child labor, the poverty that drives families to send their children to work instead of school must be addressed, most parents would rather see their children in school, but the message is clear - if the kids don’t work the family doesn’t eat.

At myME we try to look beyond the child labor issue by recognizing the economic realities and interests that drive the children to work in Tea Shops in Yangon. Having an ear on the ground, has taught us that policy interventions can take years in Myanmar and may not necessarily meet the immediate educational needs of the children. But education for these children can be a win-win for all, even for the Tea shop owners.

The owner of a popular Tea shop chain in Yangon, supports the children he employs in their education at myME. For him, the children learning better English, Math and hospitality skills or computer skills is better for business too. But for the children a few hours every day spent in myME’s mobile education center, the learning will either help them continue their education full time in the long term, or will set them apart in the job market and offer a road out of poverty.   

Today myME is expanding to reach more learners than ever before. What can we expect in the near future?

Tim: We now teach over 120 students enrolled in the program and negotiations are in progress for adding more teashops. A second myME bus is almost ready for the upcoming school term in June, 2014 with solar panels to ensure the lights are always on for the 100 new students.

myME plans to enroll around 450 students in full operation and graduates from myME Level IV will be provided with opportunities to either return to full-time formal education system or life-skills trainings to advance their lives. Once in the established state, myME will start providing Computer/Internet and life-skills trainings to the students, teachers and volunteers from partnered organizations and impoverished schools. myME will also start collaborating and assisting with local and rural educational organizations to implement similar mobile education initiatives and share our experiences and resources with them.

Photo credits: myME

Do you foresee any significant challenges in the new future?

Karen: The journey has very been challenging, most of all for our students. While their enthusiasm and desire to learn is inspiring, they often come to class after a long days work at the Tea shop are often tired, it is here that innovation to improve student engagement and creative learning experiences becomes most important.

Given its history of political instability, we have surprisingly met with hardly any government interference in Myanmar. The local government is aware of the project and while it has been smooth sailing for myME so far, our team is conscious about the need to be sensitive to the political realities of the country.  The bigger challenge comes with the success of the initiative, as more students join the program we need to pay for salaried teachers, bigger classrooms with more resources to cater to diverse educational different needs. myME is now 3 months into the pilot run, but we need grant money to move ahead.   

Finally, I’m sure many young people around the world would like to know more about myME and get involved, are there any opportunities for our readers to engage with your work?

We are looking for teaching and non-teaching volunteers and interns with a passion for education, who are willing to spend three months as part of the team in Yangon. Send us an email at ‘info@mymeproject.org’ to know more

You can also support us by telling the world about myME, or just getting in touch with support and ideas. And of course you can visit our website http://www.mymeproject.org/ or like our Facebook page and stay engaged as we move forward on this journey.

Nikhil D’Souza

The Transformation Challenge

Today was the last day of the GESForum. The day started off with The Transformation Challenge game. This game has been one of the ongoing activities throughout the forum. The focus of the game today was to improve the education system’s efficiency of the imaginary country of Westlandia. Westlandia was presented as a developed country that ranked good by OECD standards and wanted to move up to excellent. Moreover Westlandia faced the challenge of lack of respect and interest towards the teaching profession, an aging population and rising immigration. Participants of the game are asked to impersonate policy makers in the education sector of Westlandia and take decisions that pertain to the following factors of education: Teachers’ CPD and ICT, pupil-teacher ratio, teachers’ salary and hours of teaching time.

During today’s Transformation Challenge I sat at a table with delegates from a very varied range of backgrounds. The conversation was fueled by our different perspectives and experiences. Nonetheless, we found a common imperative, which is the importance of teacher training in ensuring quality education. As the decision makers of Westlandia’s funds for education we decided to invest in teachers’ CPD and ICT in order to strengthen current teachers’ skills, promote trust in the teaching profession and to encourage the youth to pursue education as a career.

Westlandia is an imaginary country, however our discussion was based on real life experience and realistic expectations. Moreover, Westlandia’s challenges are relevant across most education systems in the world. The participants in my group come from very different places and backgrounds yet we shared very similar opinions on how to invest the funds we had at hand. The notable alignment in our thought path was very significant to me. This alignment further enhanced my awareness of education as a global crisis, a crisis that calls for cooperation of best practices for the betterment of all. It is important for all to realize that in the 21st century more than ever, investing in education is necessary at a global level. While contextualizing education practices is always necessary, there is a lot of space for cooperation in the education sector. One very important lesson that I have taken from this forum is that education should not be a field of competition as much as it should be a field of collaboration.

Fatima Ramadan Sanz


If you want to something done, it has to start with you - Aminata Palmer, UNGEFI Youth Advocate - Sierra Leone

Today, I had the pleasure to hear from 5 incredible young women and their stories of struggle and empowerment. As I listened to how these women spoke about their road to discovering themselves, their purpose to strive and fight for the rights of women within their community and the rest of the world - I felt convicted to be a part of this movement. One of the advocates, Cheryl Perera, particularly stood out to me as she spoke about her work with children that are victims of sex trades. She challenged the audience with an extremely powerful question ‘How many children have to fall through the cracks before we use education as a preventive tool against exploitation?’ She then went on to reflect upon the urgency for us to ensure that girls are educated so that they understand their rights and to firstly, make schools a safe zone for girls to question, learn and grow. 
So how can we empower girls in our ways?
Being an educator I see myself as an advocate for the rights of young children - regardless of the background they are from. This session was particularly powerful and it resonated to me. It has helped me reflect on the importance of creating a space in my own classroom in the future that empowers both boys and girls. It is crucial for teachers to establish a cultural norm within their classroom that every gender is equal. It is time to focus on building an education system that encourages independence, creative thinking, innovation and critical thinking for both genders as we strive to move towards a more inclusive community. 
I am inspired to inspire young girls to not be afraid to speak up and shine. 

When you educate a man, you educate a man. When you educate a woman, you educate a generation - Brigham Young

A’qilah Saiere   High-res

If you want to something done, it has to start with you - Aminata Palmer, UNGEFI Youth Advocate - Sierra Leone

Today, I had the pleasure to hear from 5 incredible young women and their stories of struggle and empowerment. As I listened to how these women spoke about their road to discovering themselves, their purpose to strive and fight for the rights of women within their community and the rest of the world - I felt convicted to be a part of this movement. One of the advocates, Cheryl Perera, particularly stood out to me as she spoke about her work with children that are victims of sex trades. She challenged the audience with an extremely powerful question ‘How many children have to fall through the cracks before we use education as a preventive tool against exploitation?’ She then went on to reflect upon the urgency for us to ensure that girls are educated so that they understand their rights and to firstly, make schools a safe zone for girls to question, learn and grow. 

So how can we empower girls in our ways?

Being an educator I see myself as an advocate for the rights of young children - regardless of the background they are from. This session was particularly powerful and it resonated to me. It has helped me reflect on the importance of creating a space in my own classroom in the future that empowers both boys and girls. It is crucial for teachers to establish a cultural norm within their classroom that every gender is equal. It is time to focus on building an education system that encourages independence, creative thinking, innovation and critical thinking for both genders as we strive to move towards a more inclusive community. 

I am inspired to inspire young girls to not be afraid to speak up and shine. 

When you educate a man, you educate a man. When you educate a woman, you educate a generation - Brigham Young

A’qilah Saiere

WISE is a platform that goes beyond attending prestigious conferences with remarkable speakers. It provides us with a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn through travel. In my travels with WISE to Doha and now, Dubai, I have learnt and grown tremendously as an individual. The exposure that I receive in contexts of cultures unlike my own, broadens my perspective and understanding of the world. This in return has truly contributed to moulding me into a global citizen.
I look forward to joining the team again in Madrid. As for now, I am filled with excitement for and hungry to learn even more on the last day of the Global Education & Skills Forum tomorrow.
Thank you Dubai, it’s been an absolute pleasure. 
A’qilah Saiere   High-res

WISE is a platform that goes beyond attending prestigious conferences with remarkable speakers. It provides us with a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn through travel. In my travels with WISE to Doha and now, Dubai, I have learnt and grown tremendously as an individual. The exposure that I receive in contexts of cultures unlike my own, broadens my perspective and understanding of the world. This in return has truly contributed to moulding me into a global citizen.

I look forward to joining the team again in Madrid. As for now, I am filled with excitement for and hungry to learn even more on the last day of the Global Education & Skills Forum tomorrow.

Thank you Dubai, it’s been an absolute pleasure. 

A’qilah Saiere

Global Education and Skills Forum - Day 1

If I were two summarize the first day of the forum, I would say that the hot topic was the role of the public and private sector in solving the global problem of education. The plenary session put forward a good base for the summit to progress on. It started with a speech from the former president of United States, Bill Clinton, and followed by an interview with multiple personalities who are directly involved with educational sector. It was exciting to see differing opinions on the involvement of private sector and how it is changing not only education but also professional job market. Bill Clinton pointed out that 15% of employees at Google have no degrees, showing that private sector is starting to value skills more than degree, thus shifting emphasis towards vocational education.  

After the plenary session I made way to a discussion where the panelist discussed the need of mobilizing the demographic dividend strategies for youth skills development and engagement. It was interesting to hear the great need for the private sector to get involved in the educational sector if we wish to overcome hurdles in the way of education. But even after the discussion I can’t help but be a bit cynical as to the involvement of private sector.  Firstly I believe that the self-interest mentality and profit maximizing aims of private firms lead a huge are to question the commitment of these firms and sustainability of the projects they wish to sponsor. Secondly I believe that allowing private sector to play an important role in education will result in education becoming a means to satisfy the market demand for jobs. This sort of structure could result in further hierarchy of subjects and professions, and it defies the primary purpose of education, which is to allow individuals to satisfy their thirst of curiosity and pursue their passions. If these basic aims of education are not fulfilled, the society will fail to progress intellectually.

That day attended another sub session where the panelist addressed an issue close to me, that of higher education and student loans. Since I am a student who is faces the same worries it was discouraging not to see any solution brought forward by the banks or the university board. I can only hope more emphasis is placed on this growing problem. I want to end this with wise words of V. Shankar when he said “We all know education is priceless, we only need to find a way to make it less expensive”. 

Abdullah Ahmad

Today was the first day of the GESForum in Dubai. Some of the topics that played a central role in today’s sessions were quality education for all children, the use of technology in the classroom and the post-2015 education development agenda and the role of the private sector.
As an individual with  a passion of education in emergency and conflict zones as well as international security, the session that I found most interesting was the panel discussion on Providing Education in Emergency Settings: What Works?
The discussion was held by amazing panelists who provided varied perspectives and experiences to form an enriching conversation. My personal favorite was Prof. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. In spite of his personal tragedy of losing his three daughters and his niece to the Israeli occupants in Palestinian Territories, he continued to profess in favor of a dialogue of understanding and inclusive education to enhance children’s understanding of others and foster their development as global citizens. I think his focus on the positive aspect of his experience is remarkable and respectable. Moreover, it is a great example on how to channel energy positively and setting sincere aims towards setting global education goals in which all students are given the same rights disregarding color, race, religion, socio-economic status, etc. an inclusive education, I believe, is the foundation for an understanding society and a community that embraces all. These values could potentially significantly decrease tension and eventually conflict. 
Fatima Ramadan Sanz   High-res

Today was the first day of the GESForum in Dubai. Some of the topics that played a central role in today’s sessions were quality education for all children, the use of technology in the classroom and the post-2015 education development agenda and the role of the private sector.

As an individual with  a passion of education in emergency and conflict zones as well as international security, the session that I found most interesting was the panel discussion on Providing Education in Emergency Settings: What Works?

The discussion was held by amazing panelists who provided varied perspectives and experiences to form an enriching conversation. My personal favorite was Prof. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. In spite of his personal tragedy of losing his three daughters and his niece to the Israeli occupants in Palestinian Territories, he continued to profess in favor of a dialogue of understanding and inclusive education to enhance children’s understanding of others and foster their development as global citizens. I think his focus on the positive aspect of his experience is remarkable and respectable. Moreover, it is a great example on how to channel energy positively and setting sincere aims towards setting global education goals in which all students are given the same rights disregarding color, race, religion, socio-economic status, etc. an inclusive education, I believe, is the foundation for an understanding society and a community that embraces all. These values could potentially significantly decrease tension and eventually conflict.

Fatima Ramadan Sanz

Global Education & Skills Forum - Dubai, March 2014

A nation’s best investment is to build an educated generation - Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan

The opening ceremony for the Global Education and Skills Forum was a spectacle of vibrant performances. It marked the beginning of a four-day event that will be emphasizing on the importance of education for domestic and global prosperity. The ceremony touched on some important issues that ranged from domestic educational policy of different countries to life experiences of individuals who faced adversities but did not give up on efforts to gain knowledge. The ceremony put forward a strong base for the upcoming days of the conference.     

The highlights of the opening ceremony consisted of a one-on-one interview with former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair, experience shared by the UNGEF (United Nations Global Education First) Youth Advocacy Group. Most of the ceremony was dominated by vibrant display of dance and music. Though the performance might have been viewed as pure entertainment, it had a subtle message of early education that was hard to miss. The performance brought forward the aspect of early education and its existential and global importance.

The show started off with middle school students taking on the stage together with their teachers in a contemporary classroom with the old school method of individual-based learning. It then progressed with a shift in teaching methods in which collaborative study was encouraged and technology was used to revolutionize studying habits. The change of dance routine and music showed an enthusiastic mood and revitalized spirit and the students showed how progressive teaching methods could make the students more eager to learn and satisfy their appetite for curiosity. The dance performance also consisted of acrobats flying across the stage, this symbolized a bird’s eye perspective of the problem faced in the education sector. It showed that countries some time look at educational difficulties only specific to their country, but in reality the problem could only be solved if we took a step back and look at this situation from above and view ourselves as global citizens and together solve the problem once and for all

The Youth Advocates of the UN Global Education First Initiative gave very passionate speeches relating the central importance of education to their personal experience. Their speeches were inspiring examples of how education can empower people to find their voice and make it heard. Moreover, their appreciation of education as an empowering tool is demonstrated in their vocational, as well as, professional paths. Seeing people our age, my age, be so passionate and contributing to education at an early age is not only motivating its also reassuring. It is reassuring because it demonstrates the international community’s recognition of the youth’s contribution in the conversation of the development of education. Education is developing at a fast pace and we need the voices of the youth to be heard. The youth are not only receiving today’s education they are also applying their learning to today’s worlds. The Youth Advocates speeches were a great example of how to invest the youth in education and to improve education quality and align education goals to market demands.

One of the main aspects of the opening ceremony was a keynote address with Former Prime Minister of the UK, Tony Blair that was moderated by Rebecca Winthrop, Director of Brookings Institution – USA. The session addressed three key areas of focus in education. Firstly, he mentioned that technology is extremely transformative of education, secondly, the need to radically change the way we teach and lastly the importance of engaging parents and the community to form multiple means of partnerships. These bold statements that Mr. Blair made reflected the urgency in rethinking children’s learning in schools and the build up of the settings that they are in. The session triggered us to think about these issues in multiple aspects for example, in the discussion on how transformative technology has been in education, it is just as important for us to think about how technology may be disruptive to learning.

The ceremony, without a doubt, was an astounding head start to the escalation of incredible topics of discussions that we could expect from the rest of the conference.

Abdullah Ahmad, A’qilah Saiere & Fatima Ramadan Sanz

 

The interplay of Japanese culture and learning the English language

“I do not talk much to make myself understood. So when I started studying English, I was wondering why I must say reasons and conclusions all the time in English.”

“I was once scolded by an English teacher and I didn’t understand why. Now I understand that the words and acts which don’t mean much to me can make people from other cultures resentful.”

These are the words of two students in Ms Reiko Okada’s English class in Japan.  On the last day of the Education and Development Conference she presented a very interesting paper on the difficulties Japanese students experience when learning English. Her explanation took us back to the respective histories of Japanese and Western culture. Japan consists of several islands which are fairly far removed from other countries. This has allowed them to remain a very homogeneous society. It has also resulted in Japanese being an entirely independent language. Japanese together with Korean are the only two languages which are not influenced by any other language groups. Ms Okada explains that the Japanese community lives together like a big family and there is a lot of emphasis on the group as a whole. In Western countries we find continents where invasions of foreigners have allowed the countries to diversify. This has led to an emphasis on the uniqueness and importance of every individual within the community rather than a collective identity.

The different histories of these cultures have affected their respective communication styles. In the homogeneous Japanese society, people often understand each other by considering the context, feelings and implications involved in what is said. Therefore people don’t speak very directly and refrain from using unnecessary words. In the diverse culture ofWestern countries, people understand better by listening to what is said and therefore the message must be clear. People speak more directly and logically.

Ms Okada gave an example of where she asked Japanese students and students from the United Kingdom to describe their response if someone in their building was making a noise which was bothering them. Where the majority of students from the United Kingdom said they would ask the person to be quiet, the Japanese students would either just ignore the noise or speak to the landlord rather than directly to the individual making the noise. This gives us a typical idea of how messages are conveyed differently in these two cultures. Ms Okada also found that the Japanese students struggle to write reasons when learning English since such details often do not appear when they are communicating in Japanese.

When Ms Okada started teaching students these cultural differences in communicating, her students’ feedback made her realize that Japanese collectivism was always portrayed as inferior to Western individualism in the teaching of the English language. In recent years she has conducted more research on the topic and nowadays she has adjusted her program to teach Engish as an International Language, where there is space for indigenous cultures to influence a student’s English. Ms Okada emphasises the importance of Japanese culture and accentuates the fact that students shouldn’t feel they must compromise their culture when speaking English. She teaches students that your messages in English should convey your values and shouldn’t be adjusted to follow Western patterns with which you are not comfortable. The Japanese sense of modesty, for instance, is not something negative and their language practices should reflect their moral codes and logic. She also accentuates that students don’t have to feel that they have to speak like native speakers.

It is, however, still important that the English spoken by students is intelligible and that it meets a core standard. One comment from the floor was that more research needs to be done on the complexities of EIL when students start engaging with English at an academic level. There is definitely room for further research on the topic, but these are interesting concepts to ponder upon. Even if Japanese students are simply made aware of these differences and complexities that are at play when learning English, it will already increase their confidence to engage with the English language.

Esther McFarlane