Em­pow­er­ing the next gen­er­a­tion

Qatar Today - - EDUCATION - By Abigail Mathias

“Iam a refugee from South Su­dan and for me this ex­pe­ri­ence has been life chang­ing.” This is Chol Yaak Akoi speak­ing at the WISE (World In­no­va­tion Sum­mit for Ed­u­ca­tion) learn­ers round ta­ble at the Qatar Na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre. Akoi's words come with con­vic­tion. He is one of many in­ter­na­tional stu­dents se­lected for the year-long pro­gramme. The 2014-15 learn­ers, aged 18-25, col­lec­tively rep­re­sent 25 coun­tries and will ben­e­fit from the ex­per­tise of the WISE team and global ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ists in­clud­ing fac­ulty from Yale Uni­ver­sity and Bab­son Col­lege.

Thirty four young learn­ers from around the world, in­clud­ing six Qataris, gath­ered for an in­ten­sive, ten-day res­i­den­tial ses­sion in Doha. The res­i­den­tial ses­sion seeks to pro­vide the learn­ers with a foun­da­tional un­der­stand­ing of key con­cepts and evolv­ing trends in ed­u­ca­tion as well as to de­liver ex­pert train­ing in lead­er­ship and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. The fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion, lead­er­ship and com­mu­ni­ca­tion is de­signed to sup­port the par­tic­i­pants as they re­search and de­velop a va­ri­ety of in­no­va­tive ed­u­ca­tion projects through­out the year-long pro­gramme.

Akoi is the only rep­re­sen­ta­tive from his coun­try. He ex­plains: “This pro­gramme has changed my per­spec­tive of the world. I learnt a lot from the di­verse par­tic­i­pants and pro­fes­sional men­tors that shared their suc­cess jour­ney. As a stu­dent, I learnt that ed­u­ca­tion or rather learn­ing is not only con­fined to a class­room but it's a life­long ex­pe­ri­ence. I also dis­cov­ered that my con­tri­bu­tion to­ward chang­ing the world for the bet­ter is not only my re­spon­si­bil­ity, but also my obli­ga­tion.”

Akoi looks at the jour­nal­ists gath­ered across the round ta­ble, and says that it is of­ten the me­dia that cre­ates stereo­types. “Ed­u­ca­tion is the only tool to fight all forms of so­cial in­jus­tices, hunger, con­flict, stereo­types, among oth­ers. In­vest­ing in youth ed­u­ca­tion pays off as youth are the next big­gest tribe of the world. I come from South Su­dan, where over 70% of the pop­u­la­tion is il­lit­er­ate and this could ex­plain the vi­cious cy­cle of tribal and civil con­flict. Ed­u­ca­tion

to­ward global cit­i­zen­ship will make the world a har­mo­nious and bet­ter place to be,” he says.

Akoi's per­cep­tions were al­tered af­ter his first visit to Doha. “I thought Qatar is a coun­try that does not care about ed­u­ca­tion, but that changed when I wit­nessed how the coun­try is in­vest­ing heav­ily in ed­u­ca­tion, in­fra­struc­ture and sport. I ad­mire their re­lent­less ef­fort in ed­u­ca­tion.”

“The idea be­hind the Learn­ers' Voice Pro­gramme is to pro­vide learn­ers with a voice in the field of ed­u­ca­tion and give them an op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­act with dif­fer­ent peo­ple, in­clud­ing the de­ci­sion-mak­ers in the field of ed­u­ca­tion and dif­fer­ent sec­tors,” said Ali Al Mah­moud, Head of Op­er­a­tions at WISE. He adds that this years' group of learn­ers are all over­achiev­ers. He ex­plains that they are so full of op­ti­mism and ea­ger to learn, which has val­i­dated the in­crease in the num­ber of ap­pli­cants ev­ery year.

Dana Ah­mad Al Marri is a math teacher from Qatar and ex­plains that she can ap­ply what she learns by pass­ing on the in­for­ma­tion to her stu­dents. Shar­ing the same ta­ble as Bon­nie Lei, a Chi­nese-Amer­i­can stu­dent from Har­vard, of­fers Al Mar­ris a chance to ex­change per­spec­tives from the other side of the globe. “I used to live in a vac­uum. Even though I am a teacher, my un­der­stand­ing of ed­u­ca­tion was limited be­fore. I be­lieve we come to this pro­gramme not just for ed­u­ca­tion, but also em­pow­er­ment,” says Al Mar­ris.

Bon­nie ex­plains: “Though I have worked in ed­u­ca­tion in the past, the pro­gramme gives you the re­sources and stretches ed­u­ca­tion be­yond text books.” She re­minds us that we are only meet­ing six of the 34 learn­ers to­day. “There are so many in­di­vid­u­als with di­verse back­grounds whom I am learn­ing from.”

Sherif El­gindi, an Egyptian-Amer­i­can stu­dent who is dif­fer­ently-abled speaks pas­sion­ately about his cause to pro­mote ed­u­ca­tion, es­pe­cially to those who are dis­ad­van­taged. “I may be wrong but I haven't seen enough ini­tia­tives in Qatar or in this re­gion for peo­ple like me and I hope that through my find­ings we can high­light this,” says Sherif. The for­mer stu­dent of Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity ex­plains: “Even in­ter­na­tional schools don't have enough in­te­gra­tion. I be­lieve that ed­u­ca­tion is a door to op­por­tu­nity and I want to open that door for oth­ers.”

Shree Raj Shrestha, a stu­dent from Nepal, says: “I am proud to rep­re­sent my

“I am proud to rep­re­sent my coun­try which is the sec­ond largest mi­grant pop­u­la­tion in Qatar.”

Shree Raj Shrestha

coun­try which is the sec­ond largest mi­grant pop­u­la­tion in Qatar.” Hav­ing spent most of his life ei­ther in the US or Nepal, he says his first visit to Qatar has changed the im­pres­sion he had of the Mid­dle East. “My world view of Is­lam has changed af­ter the ex­pe­ri­ence. Living to­gether with my friends from all over the MENA re­gion and many oth­ers from di­verse re­li­gions around the world, I have learnt we do not have the right to judge any­one for the ac­tions of ex­trem­ists. ”

He says, “In Nepal peo­ple are not ed­u­cated and it is just a mat­ter of read­ing through a con­tract that some­times causes them to put their lives in jeop­ardy. It is my hum­ble ef­fort to em­power those voices.”

Shree Raj hopes to ap­ply the lessons learnt back in his home coun­try. “As cir- cum­stances al­low, I will def­i­nitely ap­ply the ex­pe­ri­ence learnt dur­ing the pro­gramme back in my home coun­try. We learnt soft skills in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and lead­er­ship in the first res­i­den­tial ses­sion that will def­i­nitely be with us on ev­ery lead­er­ship role we as­sume in the fu­ture.”

He doesn't have any mis­con­cep­tions about the fu­ture. “My fu­ture plans are un­cer­tain and set­ting ex­pec­ta­tions, both high or low, right now would be un­fair to me in the fu­ture. Nev­er­the­less, I will keep up my at­tempts to make this world a bet­ter place.”

The learn­ers will soon par­tic­i­pate in a sec­ond res­i­den­tial ses­sion tak­ing place in Madrid in June this year. Se­lected projects will be pre­sented at the 2015 WISE Sum­mit in Doha on Novem­ber 3-5, 2015.

Akoi knows the road ahead is not an easy one. “I will be em­bark­ing on ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion in emer­gency ar­eas, es­pe­cially in the con­text of South Su­dan and other con­flict ar­eas, where ed­u­ca­tion is in­ac­ces­si­ble. Ed­u­ca­tion is a fun­da­men­tal right and all chil­dren, in­deed all peo­ple, must be given eq­ui­table and qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion de­spite the cir­cum­stances. I am work­ing on this project to ex­plore in­no­va­tive ways to reach chil­dren through multi-chan­nels. This in­cludes of­fer­ing emer­gency ed­u­ca­tion packages along­side other re­lief items like food and med­i­cal aid. I be­lieve a child does not only need food to sus­tain him­self, but also ed­u­ca­tion to make him a bet­ter per­son in the fu­ture.”

Chol Yaak Akoi speaks to jour­nal­ists about the WISE Learn­ers pro­gramme.

Thirty four young learn­ers from around the world, in­clud­ing six Qataris, gath­ered for an in­ten­sive, ten-day res­i­den­tial ses­sion in Doha.

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