Empowering the next generation
“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.