Corporate-Led Innovations to Bring Kids to School and School to Kids

Photo by Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize.

There are 250 million children around the world who cannot read or write, despite being enrolled in school. This year’s Global Education & Skills Forum, organized by GBC-Education member GEMS Education’s charity Varkey Foundation, with support from partner A World at School, sought to unite leaders from the public, private, and social sectors to achieve “education, equity, and employment for all.”

Due to the Coalition’s prior work supporting learning solutions for refugee children, GBC-Education was asked to contribute to the discussion through a panel on addressing this issue, led by Director of Global Strategy, Tom Fletcher. The timing of the event could not be better to motivate stakeholders to support education for refugee children given that it was just days before the fifth anniversary of the Syria conflict.  

At the forum, the former Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou, acknowledged the human catastrophe of the refugee crisis stemming from Syria, suggesting that global leaders should not just view it as a problem that needed to be fixed, but should view it through a more visionary lens.

“This [refugee crisis] is also an opportunity for us to see how we use this problem as an opportunity for looking for the future of the children of our societies and of course the future of Syria and the region. And that would be my view from my own experience,” he said. Papandreou also spoke of his experience as Minister of Education of Greece when he saw for himself the “thirst for knowledge” children in refugee camps have and their motivation to secure an education.

When discussing the world’s population of children forced out of school due to conflict, Tom Fletcher said, “they risk becoming a lost generation, vulnerable to radicalisation and manipulation. We want to make it a fairer fight by arming them with knowledge and hope. People talk about countering extremism with boots on the ground, but it also takes books in the hand.” The best antidote to preventing future conflict and the cycle of inequality it perpetuates, he suggested, is to close the opportunity gap.

With 5.7 million children inside Syria alone in need of education assistance, the world is already at risk of losing the country’s entire generation to the conflict. While GBC-Education is already working with leaders from government, business, and the public sector to educate 1 million Syrian refugee children across the Middle East by the end of this school year, all refugee children deserve a right to an education. Without scaled up efforts and more innovative solutions, many of these children will be barred from classrooms, the workforce, and will face higher rates of discrimination and violence.

“We need to form more inclusive partnerships that tap into every stakeholder, including leaders in business, government, civil society, the education sector, and everyday citizens,” said Tom Fletcher. “The private sector role, where I’m personally focused,” he continued, “is faced with opportunity where they were previously excluded from the global education dialogue. Now, leaders are not just requesting money, but also ingenuity, networks, and new ideas to tackle the oldest of challenges.”

Major government leaders such as Pakistani Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees Aqeela Asifi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education of Jordan Prof. Mohammed Thneibat, and the former Prime Minister of Greece George Papandreou, advocated for the cause alongside him. Also announced at the event was the winner of the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, Hanan Al Hroub. Pope Francis, who delivered the announcement, explained that Hroub grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp before overcoming this adversity to become a teacher specializing in the care of refugee students exposed to violence.

“Fifty-one percent of the total displaced refugee population are youngsters. This is human capital; we need to invest in them,” said Aqeela Asifi during the panel. “Without prospect, without skills they could end up in the hands of people we don’t want, so they could be the agent of disaster. The very same 51 percent could be the agent of stability, peace, harmony — only if we invest in them now.”  

Watch the full panel: