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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Dubai's Palm Jumeirah gears up for education's 'Davos summit'

It has been billed as the education equivalent of the Davos economic summit – and the sixth annual Global Education and Skills Forum promises to be the biggest and most explosive yet.

Less than 48 hours before the first speakers take to the podium, and many zones of the conference centre at the Atlantis Hotel on The Palm Jumeirah are still taking shape.

This event was very much still a work in progress on Thursday as an army of event staff work around the clock to ensure all is ready for the big kick off on Saturday.

A team of more than 150 people have been working for three weeks to construct the GESF site, that sprawls across 15,000 square metres and will be the biggest in the event’s six-year history.

“What we’ve learned from the past is that a big theme works well for the conference and this year we’ve chosen the future and how education may look in 2030,” said Vikas Pota, chief executive of the Varkey Foundation.

“It is a very real time, and parents are preparing for them, now.

“Our speakers will be talking about the future, celebrities, sports people, politicians and inspirational teachers.”

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Key speakers at the 130 sessions include Al Gore, former Vice-President of the United States; Nicholas Sarkozy, former President of France; Jennifer Hudson, Oscar-winning actress and Grammy award winning singer and Sir Mo Farah, four times Olympic Games Champion and six times World Champion in long distance running.

“Our challenge has been to find the best story tellers amongst our speakers,” Mr Pota said.

“We have a huge youth voice at the event this year, who will speak on subjects that are relevant to them.

“There needs to be an exchange of ideas to build relationships and that’s something this conference does really well.

“Quite often it is the low profile people you don’t expect who knock it out of the park with what they have to say.”

The highlight of the two-day event promises again to be the $1 million Global Teacher Prize, but it will have to go some way to outdo the award’s spectacular entrance in 2017.

Last year, adventurer Bear Grylls parachuted into the ceremony with the trophy, before Canadian teacher Maggie MacDonnell was announced as the winner by astronaut Thomas Pesquet from the International Space Station.

This year’s announcement is a tightly guarded secret, as are some further guests due to appear on Sunday who promise to liven up debates covering a broad area of topics.

A replica of the House of Commons where debates will be held. Antonie Robertson / The National
A replica of the House of Commons where debates will be held. Antonie Robertson / The National

A replica of the House of Commons has been erected to form a debating chamber in which discussion can unfold, whilst a mock UN assembly hall will host discussions by young people.

Held in a UN debate format, they will be covering subjects like how to achieve an education for all, the mounting refugee crisis and the threat of cyber-attacks.

Modelled on the popular late-night television chat show, GESF Live will feature British comedian and impressionist Rory Bremner who will be interviewing prominent guests from the worlds of politics, sport and entertainment.