As a result of the pandemic, progress on some of the world's most pressing issues — such as education — has been derailed over the past few years. This has led to calls from world leaders and those in the field of education to correct the course and renew an emphasis on the power of youth to drive positive change.
Leaders at all levels of society are listening, but what needs to be done so that young people can get a seat at the table? How can we educate and equip them for the future where they are able to tackle growing inequality, foster sustainable growth and reverse climate change? And even beyond these issues, how can we ensure humanity is able to overcome future challenges?
Youth is always a part of the solution. The potential of young people is immense, but can only be realised with the right education opportunities, tools and environment. This includes exposure to experiences that would help them in the future and inspire students to become lifelong learners.
While it is true that ensuring access to education is still a global work in progress, here in the UAE we are fortunate that education is not only a right but a priority. There is a commitment to quality and a commitment to ensure that it only improves. And we know that quality education comes in many forms, which is why learning outside the classroom must play a significant role in shaping future leaders.
Globally, educators agree that learning outside the classroom improves personal, social and emotional development. A Unesco report states that “divisions between classroom learning and extra-curricular activities within or beyond schools are better blurred or erased … we need to think of teaching as work that occurs throughout a school and together with other educators.”
In short, if education is to be transformative, and consequently, if the youth is to be transformed, then where and how students learn must go hand in hand with what they learn.
For example, last year, the Expo School Programme at Expo 2020 Dubai — a dedicated programme for students to learn outside the classroom — illustrated the benefits of young people being exposed to diverse initiatives, such as conducting research on water scarcity, participating in debates and joining various volunteer groups.
This helped not only students but teachers too, who wanted to remain inspired, optimistic and energetic. In the process of the programme, teachers also became excited and interested learners. They reported feeling more motivated and passionate to share their knowledge with students and lauded the use of real-life examples. This was a departure from regular classroom teaching and went well beyond the scope of what teachers could achieve through traditional lessons. Overall, their experiences stimulated new ideas and ways of communicating — essential for teachers seeking to provide high quality education and imparting it to a new generation of learners.
Across all our initiatives, students reported experiencing increased self-confidence, and the programme’s diverse streams successfully supported varying strengths and learning abilities, reinforcing that one size does not fit all.
But the Expo School Programme at Expo 2020 Dubai is just one example of how it is possible to stimulate learning through engaging experiences. To bring about a change in the youth and equip them for the challenges they are likely to face in the world, educators will do well to ignite an enduring curiosity in students, encourage creativity, problem-solving and constructive debate. All these are skills that will be useful to them in the future and imparting these will be beneficial to the next generation in many ways. After all, educators must realise the need to prepare today's children for a future that will be very different from the one that the previous generation entered.
This International Day of Education (January 24) is a reminder of the urgent need to accelerate progress towards every child's right to learn, as specified in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. At Expo City Dubai, we want to be part of the solution by offering proven, diverse, outside-the-classroom learning experiences that evolve with school curriculums. The Expo School Programme continues with specialised workshops and science shows to complement journeys through exhibitions that address environmental, technological and cultural issues.
Platforms for youth engagement will become even more significant as we approach the climate conference Cop28, to be hosted at Expo City Dubai at the end of this year. This will be an opportunity to inspire visitors of all ages and engage them in programmes and climate-related events and activities.
By taking learning outside the classroom, we are not only supporting education in the UAE, but delivering learning experiences that keep both teachers and children engaged and inspired to contribute as global citizens to a fairer and more sustainable future for people and the planet.