Dubai Cares chief says global community must act to defend children’s education

Tariq Al Gurg tells Davos 2021 that funds for education were falling even before the pandemic

If the global community does not act now to safeguard education there is a great risk that children’s learning will fall behind further than it already has because of the Covid-19 pandemic, said Tariq Al Gurg, the chief executive of Dubai Cares.

Addressing the annual World Economic Forum 2021, he said that on an international level the UN agencies needed to ensure there was more collaboration on efforts to support education.

“As we look towards the transition from pandemic response to recovery, education will be the key to unlocking opportunity and hope,” he said.

“However, the sad fact is that the finance available for education was decreasing even before the pandemic, with severe consequences on children’s learning and well-being, which now is even worse as a result of Covid.

“If we don’t act now to safeguard and preferably increase financing for education of course there will be a very real risk we will fall further behind,” he said.

Mr Al Gurg drew attention to platforms and initiatives desighed to improve children’s learning and reposition it at the centre of the humanitarian agenda, including the Education Cannot Wait fund and the Global Partnership for Education.

He said the G7 and G20 needed to be brought on board with the private sector, and that the digital divide had been widened by Covid.

Henrietta Fore, the executive director of Unicef, underlined the importance of improving digital skills.

“We have found that now in Covid, while half the world’s children are unable to read a simple paragraph and understand it by the age of 10, that we now know we need to have digital education for everyone.”

At a Unesco-hosted webinar on access to education on Monday, educationalists heard that access to education also depended on non-teacher support, such as the recruitment of mentors who could ensure pupils could access teaching and troubleshoot problems.

The discussion was organised to mark the third International Education Day. Delegates heard that global learning has been disrupted as never before.

Maria Yolibet Vasquez, a teacher in Honduras, said the order in March to stay away from school was difficult to handle both in communications with children and tackling technology challenges.

“We took content from exercise books and got it to children as homework,” she said. “While complying with the restrictions we got homework in and gave it out. We were also helped by the World Food Programme – for some children this was their only source of food.

“Next time we will get it done better. We've had to do it and teachers have been able to do it.”

Dhurata Myrtollari, an Albanian teacher, said an earthquake in November 2019 damaged thousands of schools that were further disrupted by the pandemic. The country turned to television broadcasts of school classes. Its teaching schedule was broadcast both on air and on a dedicated YouTube channel.

“My recipe for success is to select teachers with good digital skills and use the access of television,” she said. “Governments need to support these teachers.”

Jamie Frost, a British entrepreneur, spoke of his work to develop an online learning platform, Dr Frost Math. The website receives about three million hits a day and is used by 7,500 schools.

“The most important thing is to ensure that pupils have access to a digital device. Even in the UK there has been significant disparity,” he said. “The effective use of technology is something that should form part of standard teaching practice.”

Refugee education provision was also thrown into doubt by the pandemic shutdown. For the 1.3 million refugee children in Turkey, the challenge was met by a combination of local and international co-operation.

A Turkish official, Ece Akcay, said her government had devised an emergency response that kept learning provision available throughout the country.

“To prevent students from learning loss during the pandemic we distributed learning kits to students in our provinces,” she said.

Then and now: Davos in 2020 and 2021