Doha, Qatar – Some of the world’s leading thinkers in the fields of education, technology and economic development convened here for the eighth World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE).
About 2,000 participants from more than 100 countries will attend the two-day summit that started on Wednesday which, since its establishment in 2009, has become a premier international gathering on the future of education.
“Education needs to give students the tools to become immune to media and cultural impositions,” Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education (QF), said at the start of the conference.
“Social media has become cluttered with activities that spread propaganda, rumours and lies to divert people’s attention from reality and truth. When these practices become common place in our world, the outcome would certainly be fake facts presented as alternative truths.”
“Iraq was besieged for 13 years using tools of deception, and excuses were fabricated to justify the 2003 invasion. Iraq’s education system, one of the best in the region in 1990, is in complete ruins. A country that was on the verge of eradicating illiteracy, is caught in the midst of wars and conflicts that have dragged progress back to the unfortunate conditions of the past.
“With those same tools, Yemen is being besieged today, so that it may not know prosperity or stability. So that it drowns in a dreaded triangle of ignorance, disease and illiteracy.
“A blockade has been imposed on Qatar since June 5. Some wanted to make matters difficult for us, yet it was only difficult for them. They wanted us to change, yet we remain unchanged,” she said.
Doha has repeatedly denied the allegation, with analysts accusing Riyadh of spreading “fake news”.
Speaking on education in a post-truth world, CNN host Fareed Zakaria said: “The world is facing a difficult and daunting challenge in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory.
“Trump’s part of a trend, you have Brexit in the UK, and the rise of the far-right… This phenomenon is concentrated to a few countries. It’s not happening in Asia, or Latin America, it’s in the western world – countries that are doing well economically.
“What these western countries like the US, Poland, Germany all have in common are immigrants – and what we’re witnessing is a reaction to that cultural change.
“In this new world, technology is playing a pernicious role… The only thing that can stop the decline of civilisation is facts and education.
“Facts are becoming a victim and a boring truth. We cannot live in a world where black is white and white is black,” said Zakaria.
This year’s conference saw Patrick Awuah, who created a state-of-the-art university in his native Ghana, receive the conference’s top prize – a gold medal and $500,000.
Awuah told Al Jazeera he quit his highly lucrative job as an engineer with tech giant Microsoft to help “advance Africa”.
“When I was working at Microsoft, I wasn’t doing it for the excitement of the engineering. Me and my colleagues, we were doing it because we wanted to change the world,” he said.
“That spirit of changing the world is consistent with how we change the world by helping Africa to advance.”
His university Ashesi, which celebrated its 15th anniversary this year, offers degrees in business, computer science and engineering.
“Our tuition fees are $11,000 – inclusive of room and board and textbooks,” Awuah said.
He said 30 percent of the students pay nothing with their studies fully subsidised. “These are students coming from the continent’s bottom socio-economic group.”
Twenty percent pay partial fees and the remaining 50 percent pay full tuition.
“We’re contributing greatly to Africa with 20 percent of the student population coming from across the continent,” said Awuah.
Looking ahead to the future, Awuah said he hopes Africa’s universities will produce a new generation of bold and innovative leaders who will help advance the region.