‘Generation Unmute’: WISE education summit convenes in Doha

Thousands participate in 3-day summit on education that sheds light on young people and refugees in a post-pandemic world.

UNRWA school
Speakers highlighted the plight of marginalised youth and refugees that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic [File: Nasser Nasser/AP Photo]

Doha, Qatar – Some of the world’s prominent experts in the fields of education, technology and economic development convened in the Qatari capital for the 10th World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE).

The global education conference, organised by Qatar Foundation, kicked off on Tuesday under the banner “Generation Unmute: Reclaiming our Future Through Education” and features more than 300 speakers from the region and around the world.

They were in Doha to share their views in more than 200 panel sessions that span across the three-day event.

Since its establishment in 2009, the summit has become one of the most significant international gatherings on the future of education. This year, it managed to attract more than 10,000 participants through a mix of in-person and online sessions.

One of the plenary sessions on Wednesday addressed a pressing issue in the Middle East and North Africa: the gap between education and employment among marginalised young people across the conflict-stricken region.

The region hosts the largest population of refugees globally. From proxy wars to civil unrest, long-running humanitarian crises have forced millions of people from their homes and many sought shelter in neighbouring countries that were already facing economic regression and political turmoil.

The Middle East and North Africa region already had one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world, at a staggering 25 percent, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and speakers at the plenary session highlighted that the situation for marginalised young people and refugees has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 has cost the global economy more than 100 million jobs, according to the ILO, and job recovery is expected to remain low.

Additionally, while many students around the world shifted smoothly to a virtual learning model during the pandemic, access to education for marginalised youths came to a halt, leaving some to seek low-income jobs instead of pursuing post-secondary studies.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees chief Filippo Grandi emphasised the need for higher education and the inclusion of refugees in national programmes, saying access is a key element in “self-reliance”.

It is critical that displaced young people have the same opportunities to “learn, grow, and develop”, he said.

‘Targeted support’

Yannick Du Pont, founder and CEO of Spark, agreed, saying the link between higher education and employment is “very important” and is a “means to an end”.

But a myriad of challenges has continued to stand in the way of marginalised youth in the region. For instance, some host countries do not offer refugee communities formal work or education.

Refugees also need “additional and targeted support” to overcome adversity and succeed in the economy, United Nations Development Programme’s Tehmina Akhtar said.

Sessions also included discussions on education in a post-pandemic world, as well as “personalised” education, which tailors instruction to meet the different needs of students, and digital learning.

This year’s summit also saw Wendy Kopp win the WISE Prize for Education. Koop is CEO of Teach For All, a global network of independent organisations in 61 countries that work with marginalised children.

The prize is the first global distinction of its kind to acknowledge an individual for an outstanding contribution to education.

“We see this prize as an endorsement and recognition of our theory of change. Collective leadership is necessary to solve the most entrenched inequities in education and reshape the system so that it prepares our young people to navigate uncertainty and shape a better future,” Kopp said, commenting on the win.

“Complex problems can only be solved through the collective efforts of many, working together across all levels of the system.”

Source: Al Jazeera