x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Experts at UAE education forum seek focus on self-help teaching projects

Achieving the United Nations' goal of universal primary education requires a shift from aid-based assistance to building sustainable projects in poorer countries, experts at an education forum have said.

Reem Ibrahim Al Hashemi, Minister of State, right, Norman La Rocque, education specialist of the Asian Development Bank, and Irene Pritzker, centre, of the IDP Foundation at a panel discussion on education reforms. Charles Crowell / The National
Reem Ibrahim Al Hashemi, Minister of State, right, Norman La Rocque, education specialist of the Asian Development Bank, and Irene Pritzker, centre, of the IDP Foundation at a panel discussion on education reforms. Charles Crowell / The National

DUBAI // Achieving the United Nations' goal of universal primary education requires a shift from aid-based assistance to building sustainable projects in poorer countries, experts at an education forum said yesterday.

Education experts and ministers from developing countries gathered in Dubai for the Global Education and Skills Forum at the Atlantis Hotel to discuss why aid alone would not eradicate poverty and provide access to schools.

Reem Ibrahim Al Hashemi, Minister of State and chairwoman for Dubai Cares, said financial support to underprivileged countries must be reassessed.

"Every year, whether it is the general assembly in New York or other global forums, we come to the table with the same predicament except it's worse than the year before," Ms Al Hashemi said during a panel discussion on public-private partnerships in education.

"At some point we will have to make a significant shift in our mindset. I think the model that we are approaching is very aid-centric as opposed to development-centric," she said.

Ms Al Hashemi said a transition from a detached approach through aid without accountability to understanding the needs of the community was necessary.

"Right now there is a global debate on are we being effective?" she said. "Children are going to school but they leave without the necessary skills of numeracy and literacy. So there is something in the equation that does not add up, be it building resilience, or talking about connecting the graduate to the job market. These are the kind of partnerships that are so important if we believe in the necessity of prosperity."

Irene Pritzker, president of the US-based IDP Foundation that works to develop existing low-cost private education schools, said education for all would continue to be a distant reality if governments did not move away from aid-based programmes.

"No country has ever become rich through aid," she said. "Billions of dollars have gone into education aid over the past 60 to 70 years yet we are so far away from receiving education for all."

She added that most poor families had given up on education as a universal right.

"In spite of the poverty, they see education as a commodity that they are going to have to pay for."

The not-for-profit IDP Foundation has been working with 105 schools in Ghana since 2009. The foundation helps networking among low-cost schools and provides them with financial literacy and training in school management.

"If you teach them, it helps develop a sustainable programme," Ms Pritzker said. "What we want to do is use this model to convince policymakers at the multilateral and bilateral levels to work with the government from the get-go, and see partnerships as a way to sustainably address inclusion for all."

Last year, taxpayers in the UK questioned aid policies to fund fast-developing countries. The European Union spends about half its aid budget on middle and higher-income countries. In November, Britain announced it would stop all financial aid to India by 2015.

But even in growing economies, such as India and China, a large section of the society is deprived of basic needs. Experts said reaching them required local collaborative efforts to mobilise the community to achieve those needs.

Ms Al Hashemi also said small-scale initiatives must be bolstered and spread.

"The challenge we face is scaling up projects," she said.

"The responsibility comes down to the larger multinational organisations who need to identify and support smaller, yet effective, projects.

"We also need to start approaching the support of successful institutions in these countries in a way that cannot only bring it up to scale in the respective community but inspire other communities to use those innovative models to create the sustainability you want."

The UAE extended Dh7.74 billion in foreign aid in 2011, most of which was spent by 34 donor organisations on programmes to meet the UN's goals.

"In terms of our programmes abroad, there are many different entities in the UAE that are focused on developing sustainable projects abroad," Ms Al Hashemi said.

"It is like the famous saying: 'you do not give a man fish, you teach him how to fish'. So in time, you do not need to be there and this is an important component of how we partner in those countries."

aahmed@thenational.ae