Dubai pupil joins global list of change-makers

Education reform champion Adam El Rafey, 11, has been selected to be among the world's top 25 young pioneers and innovators

A Dubai schoolboy, 11, has been listed among the world’s top young change-makers.

Adam El Rafey, a Year Seven pupil at Jumeirah English Speaking School, is an advanced learner and one of the youngest TEDx speakers in the world.

He was chosen by the Future Minds Network, an Australian organisation, to be among its future top 25 change-makers aged under 25 from across the world. The network helps young people learn 21st-century skills to enter the workforce.

The Egyptian pupil, who was the only youngster on the list from the Middle East, is passionate about reforming the traditional education system, and has spoken in front of audiences of thousands.

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I'm super humbled to have been included on a list of such incredible global change-makers, especially as most of them are in their 20s and I'm just 11
Adam El Rafey

The list included global innovators, activists, entrepreneurs and change-makers.

“I found out when I was tagged on my LinkedIn and it was a huge surprise ... I had no words,” Adam said.

“I'm super humbled to have been included on a list of such incredible global change-makers, especially as most of them are in their 20s and I'm just 11.

“I'm also the only one in the Middle East and I'm really honoured to be on this list.”

Adam said he was selected because the organisers believed he was a role model for younger children and inspired others to be curious.

He is the youngest alumnus of a 10-month human accelerator programme organised by the Knowledge Society in Canada and a second one at Awecademy, also in Canada.

He is currently the youngest learner at Ascend @ Expo2020, a six-month human accelerator programme. These programmes help pupils realise their potential and learn new skills.

Adam has been attending both primary and secondary school ever since he was in Year 4, consistently enrolled in classes with pupils four to six years older than him. He is studying advanced physics, chemistry and biology, and will be taking GCSEs for these subjects next year, although he is in Year Seven.

"Aside from just being a public speaker, I'm now a full-on change advocate for education. I'm working on a project to actually change education. It’s called ClassReal and uses virtual reality,” he said.

Pupils will be immersed in what they're learning. If they are learning about the Amazon rainforest, they will be placed in a virtual model of the forest, and be able to look around. Adam said the plan was to take it to market eventually.

He believes three changes need to be made to education soon.

The pupil called for a move away from exams and towards studies based more in the real world.

“We should focus more on real-world relevance, rather than just memorisation and passing the exams, because this exam culture that's been rigidly instilled in schools, just having success graded by a letter, or number ... I feel like we should do away with that, and learn for the sake of curiosity," he said.

“We should find out the real-world relevance of what we're learning so we can apply it when we when we are adults.

“My mantra focuses on ability, not age. We need to stop judging people based on their age and look at their abilities.

“My school has actually been awesome for this, because they're letting me do Year Seven, 10 and 11. But I feel like it should become a lot more widespread."

Soha El Halfawi with her son Adam Al Rafey and Laila Al Rafey. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Another change he spoke of was introducing personalised education.

He said it should be based on each child’s learning style. While some pupils may learn through working on projects, others may enjoy working with people and learn through interactions.

Asked about whether he preferred online learning to in-person classes, he said that though remote was effective and efficient, he missed social interaction.

“They took the exact same thing that we were doing from school and just plopped it online,” he said.

“Since we're online, there's so many more opportunities. For example, Coursera offers really good courses. But then you could just also move over the curriculum a little bit all together.”

Updated: December 20th 2021, 6:19 PM