DUBAI // The former British prime minister Tony Blair joined Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak last night to open the country’s first Global Education and Skills Forum.
At the forum, the Minister for Youth, Culture and Community Affairs and Mr Blair described the changing face of education.
“As educators and leaders, we must be visionary, constantly looking far into the future assessing the needs and priorities not only of our own countries but increasingly around the world as well,” Sheikh Nahyan said, adding national identity must remain a part of that education.
Mr Blair said education was about teaching open minds.
“The education system that succeeds today is the one that doesn’t just teach basic skills but the one that teaches an open mind … if you’re not open to people who are different, then you are not going to succeed in this world,” he said.
The Libyan ambassador and the prime minister of Mozambique were among those present.
The forum was organised by Unesco, the Commonwealth Business Council, the UAE Government and GEMS Education.
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation has set up Face to Faith, an initiative to link students across the world, now with about 1,000 schools participating.
Mr Blair recalled recently witnessing a dialogue between schools in New York and Abu Dhabi.
“Education isn’t complete today if you don’t connect cultures,” he said. “It’s important you reach children at an early stage. If you don’t get to them early, you can find lots of negative influences.”
Sheikh Nahyan agreed. “We must help students prepare for being productive citizens in an international, connected globalised world.”
This requires international partnerships, boosted by such conferences, he said, which in turn “help dispel stereotypes”.
After two decades as the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, he speaks from experience.
Sheikh Nahyan faced opposition more than a decade ago when he pressed for English to be the language of instruction in the country’s federal universities, so Emirati graduates would be able to compete on the global stagebilingual in both Arabic and English, concurred.
He reinforced the role women have to play in the UAE society and economy.
“In the UAE we are strongly committed to empowering our female students,” Sheikh Nahyan said. “In all levels of our education system, there are more female students than male.
“For our country to be successful, all our students male and female, must have the education that will help them contribute to the society in line with their talents and goals.”
Mr Blair reiterated Sheikh Nahyan’s sentiments on educating women, stressing the region’s need to give women equal access to education. “If you take this region, educational reform is critical,” he said. “You’ve got young populations and they have got to be educated for the world they’re going into. Just as important is girls matter as much as boys. They’re entitled to an equal chance and they’re part of a human capital of a nation.”
The three day forum, which will today (FRI) include a video conference with former US president, Bill Clinton, covers topics across the education sectors including public private partnerships, technology in education and vocational training.
Mr Blair said technology was a key to the future of education. “It’s a transformer, a game changer,” he told the audience.
Himself an advocate of public private partnerships, he said giving parents choices was a fundamental obligation of the education system. “You’ve got to allow schools to develop the leadership and ethos that gives them their own identity and doesn’t make them part of an anonymous system.” He said running education as a “big bureaucratic monolith” no longer works.
Margaret Atack, group senior director of GEMS schools in the UAE said she hopes the forum will one day become the educational equivalent to the world economic forum, based on the principle of “the provision of universal access to quality education”.