Kenyan PM on visit to Dubai

Public-private education partnerships offer viable finance plan, says leader, announcing deal to build school run by Dubai network

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DUBAI // Kenya's prime minister says struggling developing countries can transform the lives of their children by focusing on education and encouraging students to attend school, from primary through to university level.

On his first official visit to Dubai, Raila Amolo Odinga said yesterday that the East African nation was striving to create an environment for public-private partnerships, and that meant having a well-schooled population as a baseline to work from.

"The future belongs to the nations that give the best education to their children," said Mr Odinga, who was announcing plans to build the first Gems Education school in Africa in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The Dubai-based Gems Education network provides education to more than 100,000 students from 151 countries. It is the first education group to partner with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to improve training methods.

"Kenya wants to join the league of those nations who will claim their position in the world because they believe in education," said Mr Odinga. "Our development agenda Vision 2030 aims to transform Kenya from a struggling third world economy to a middle-income economy."

The international school will open in Nairobi by September next year for students between age three and 18. Gems is investing about US$50 million (Dh183.6m) in the British curriculum school.

Kenya has several international schools offering the British, American and International Baccalaureate curriculum.

"We want to develop a knowledge-based economy that will give our citizens the opportunity to realise their potential," Mr Odinga said while outlining plans to increase literacy levels and provide quality education.

"To increase the transition from primary to secondary [schools] and from secondary to higher education is a gigantic task, and not possible for public programmes.

"That's why we are calling for participation with the private sector."

Mr Odinga said he had travelled through Dubai before, and had been continually impressed by how the Emirates had evolved.

"I believe this is a miracle in the last century in terms of transformation of a society using education and knowledge," he said. "That has been done here in the United Arab Emirates, where you have transformed a piece of desert, just sand, into a thriving economy."

Mr Odinga toured Dubai's Wellington International School and met students who had visited Kenya on school projects. "I would like to see similar institutes set up in Kenya and I want to be a partner to ensure that this investment succeeds in our country," he said. "I'm here to express our confidence and show the complete commitment of the government of Kenya."

The Gems group also signed a teacher training partnership agreement yesterday with Unesco to improve the standards of teaching in the developing world.

Hans d'Orville, Unesco's assistant director general, said training and support were crucial to addressing concerns of a shortage of quality teachers globally, gender parity and the need to reach out to female students.

"Education provides the key to our future," he said. "States cannot do it alone, nor are international organisations enough for tackling complex global challenges. What is required is innovative, far-reaching partnerships between the public and private fields."

The Gems network will work with Unesco to identify specific countries and design training programmes that promote the knowledge of female students in maths, science and technology.

"We have 10,000 colleagues who have the skills to go and make a difference," said Vikas Pota, the chief executive of the Varkey Gems Foundation, a charity set up last year to provide scholarships and mentoring to underprivileged children.