Interview with Forbes Online for the Launch of Educate A Child

FORBES online, 14 November 2012

Editor’s note: Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, wife of His Highness the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, plays a key role in supporting her husband’s far-reaching agenda to transform Qatar into a thriving, knowledge-based society. She serves as Chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF), a private non-profit organisation founded in 1995. Sheikha Moza has been playing an active role with the United Nations (UN) for many years. In 2003, she was appointed as UNESCO’s Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education; in 2008 she was appointed by the Secretary General of the UN as Alliance of Civilizations (AOC) Ambassador; and in 2010 she became a member of the UN Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group with a special emphasis on Goal 2 – universal primary education.

This interview was originally conducted for the Skoll World Forum.

Today, November 14th, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser launched a global initiative that aims to trigger significant breakthroughs in bringing quality primary education to all the world’s children.

Rahim Kanani: What drove you to launch this global initiative, and what are some of the challenges you foresee moving forward?

HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser: In Qatar, we have been making significant investments in education, innovation, science and research for over 15 years, as part of our drive towards becoming a knowledge-based economy. As UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education and the UN advocate for the second Millennium Development Goal on primary education, I am passionate about bringing the benefits of education to children and communities across the world. The fact that we have more than 60 million children globally receiving no education at all is a formidable challenge. The children who still have no access to schooling are the hardest to reach, in the most persistently difficult situations of poverty, conflict, natural disaster or marginalisation.

Getting children into quality education is a vital building block in helping communities and societies develop and recover. Quality primary education is not only a fundamental human right, but also an essential driver of human development, bringing benefits for health and poverty reduction. For every $10 we invest in education, we get $15 back in productivity gains.

I recently visited education projects in Bangladesh, Gaza and Kenya. In the marshlands of Bangladesh, the combination of flooding and poverty make normal schooling almost impossible. Here, ‘floating schools’ serve a dual purpose – they act as a bus, collecting the children, and as a classroom, providing education. This solution is innovative and inspiring and the children I met were so happy to learn – an opportunity often denied to their parents.

In Gaza, I saw the difficulty of living behind a blockade, where all school materials are in short supply, where people have lived under the threat of shelling, where parents fear for their children as they leave for school. Daily life can be very tough for these children, but they are resolute, determined, and do what they can with the materials they have.

In Kenya I saw a refugee camp where up to 168 children, aged between 6 and 20, share the same classroom – a room with barely a floor or walls. The most incredible thing is that their head teacher, Suad, became head of the school aged 25 and was in fact a product of that very school. She teaches children from different countries, languages and faiths, often traumatised by the journeys they took to find refuge with their families. Yet, once again it is a picture of hope – a hope provided by education and an excitement about their prospects now that they can learn.

The opportunities are limitless – education is invaluable. When you see the value the children themselves place on it, you can see with absolute clarity, the benefits and the potential.

Rahim Kanani: How will this initiative work in practice?

HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser: I believe there is now real momentum among the international community to tackle this challenge.

Educate A Child, the global initiative I am launching today in Doha, aims to trigger significant breakthroughs in reducing the numbers of out-of-school children. Our focus is on nurturing innovative new approaches, and on enabling successful efforts to be adapted and replicated to reach millions more children. We are working with the world’s most expert partners and at launch had already helped some 500,000 children into quality education through over 25 founding projects. Our ambition goes much further, our vision is to give the chance of an education to millions.

Rahim Kanani: Could you describe how this initiative contributes to the goals of the UN Secretary General’s ‘Education First’ initiative, launched in New York this past September?

HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser: Education First is a wonderful example of leadership and determination. I am very pleased that the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon invited me to be a member of the Education First steering committee and I was delighted to support its launch at the UN in New York last September. The Education First initiative will drive progress on the second Millennium Development Goal – the promise that we should fulfil the education needs of every child by 2015.

Education First has three main pillars: to put every child in school; to improve the quality of learning; and to foster global citizenship. By working to re-energise the global community around the issue, Education First is bringing together many actors, from governments to corporations, in a shared commitment to making a real difference.

While Educate A Child is not officially linked with Education First, it aims to significantly contribute to delivering on the goals enshrined in its first two pillars. We are working with expert partners on the ground – partners with broad global reach and partners with deep roots in local communities. Our partners have proven track records in achieving results. Educate A Child is enabling them to scale-up and share these successful approaches. I am confident that the combined actions and efforts of Education First and Educate A Child will see remarkable progress in the coming years.

Rahim Kanani: Looking at the Middle East in particular, how would you rate the current landscape of educational offerings and institutions? And what can other countries learn from Qatar’s efforts?

HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser: Where education has been allowed to thrive in the Middle East, the quality of the offering has improved tremendously. Qatar has put education at the very heart of government policy. We have consistently sought to provide Qataris with the very best education and training opportunities, reforming our curricula and investing heavily in schools, teachers and facilities. For instance, our Education City campus in Doha encompasses education, innovation and delivery, from school age to research level.

Unfortunately, there are other less positive examples in the region, especially in areas affected by conflict such as Syria where countless schools are now closed, destroyed or rendered useless by the fighting. Qatar has endeavoured to preserve the right to education in conflict-affected areas, and has, for instance, supported educational programmes in Iraq and Gaza. My dream is to see a Middle East region where everyone has access to the unique and rich tradition of learning that has such a strong place in our Arabic and Islamic heritage.

Rahim Kanani: Lastly, how much weight would you give to the lack of access to quality education as one of many factors that led to the Arab Spring?

HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser: No matter where you look in the world, there is a strong correlation between a lack of education, a lack of opportunities and consequent frustration that can contribute to a propensity towards social unrest.

Research shows that for every year of schooling a boy in a conflict-affected country receives, his likelihood of being drafted into an army or militia decreases by 20 per cent. That is a serious incentive to the world to make sure children get a proper education, because a proper education promotes understanding between people, enhances civic responsibility and political participation, and can ultimately contribute to peaceful outcomes. Of course education is not the only determining factor at work in these situations, but the benefits of education to peace are an important motivator for me – and should be for everyone.