Opinion Piece in Huffington Post, "Educate a Child: Delivering Quality Schooling to the World's Hardest-to-Reach Children"

Doha, 14 November 2012

In the developed world we tend to forget the transformational power of education. That's understandable in a way; a gift that is a birthright unfortunately gets taken for granted over the course of generations. But we have unquestionably lost some of our connection with the wonder and blessing of a quality education.

The case of Malala Yousafzai has, for a while at least, reminded us of the true value of this gift. The world is now familiar with the bravery of the 14-year-old who, from her hospital bed, has said she wants nothing more than to return to her school in the Pakistani city of Mingora, the scene of her attempted assassination by brutal fanatics. We are reminded that education is something that young people in many countries are willing to risk the ultimate sacrifice to obtain.

We should not be surprised. In my two decades of leading education projects, I have yet to meet a child who was not passionate about her school, or, where there was no school, the possibility that she might one day attend one. And yet right now, through disaster, poverty, prejudice, conflict, cultural pressures or any combination of these and other factors, more than 60 million children are deprived of their fundamental right to quality education. Children in the war-ravaged villages of South Sudan or the overcrowded refugee camps of Yemen. Children in the flood plains of Bangladesh or in isolated and impoverished regions of Kenya. Children living in the ruins of war-torn villages of Cote d'Ivoire or the smashed suburbs of Syrian cities.

But this is a problem that has a solution. This is a field in which we know how to act. And because we can, I believe we must.

Today, at the fourth annual World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, a summit that brings together over 1,000 delegates from over 100 countries to share the best and most innovative practices in education, I am launching Educate a Child. It is an initiative that is bringing together a coalition of respected local, regional and global partners to tackle the scourge of deprivation of education, and to break the vicious circle of poverty that this so often engenders.

In just six months, through over 25 projects that it already encompasses, Educate a Child has already reached half a million children through innovative and flexible real-world education projects that are changing lives for the better. But our ambition is far greater than this. The model of matched funding, partnership and collaboration that we have adopted means that the potential for Educate a Child is almost as limitless as that of the children themselves.

Last month, I spent some time in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, close to the South Sudanese border. I wanted to witness firsthand the experience of children in zones of conflict and areas of insecurity. At Kakuma I was struck by how the very act of going to school transforms these children beyond the education they receive. One boy told me that when he puts on his worn-out old uniform, it's more than that. To him it's a virtual bulletproof vest that protects him from threats outside the schoolhouse.

It was also at Kakuma that I met Suad Sharif Mohammed, the head teacher of Horseed Primary School. She is responsible for the education of 1,400 children of different nationalities, cultures, languages and faiths. The school has just 25 teachers, some teaching classes of more than 160 pupils, all in crowded spaces without electricity, and sometimes even without chairs or desks.

To many of us, acquiring a good education in these circumstances might seem impossible, but Suad and the other teachers are resourceful. When they lack books and pencils, they teach through song. And they have provided a small patch of land behind the school for some of the children to grow food for those children who would otherwise go hungry.

The proof that it can work is Suad herself, who grew up in the Kakuma refugee camp and is a product of Horseed School, which Educate a Child is now supporting in partnership with UNHCR. And now, in addition to managing this large school, she is studying for a degree through distance learning. She is an amazing woman -- and she is still young. Not so long ago she was an amazing child, like Malala, like all the millions of boys and girls whose lives Educate a Child has the potential to change for the better.

Crucially, Educate a Child is focused not just on the numbers of children getting into school but on the quality of their education. That is why we are collaborating with the world's most expert partners -- strategic partners such as UNESCO and the Global Partnership for Education -- as well as implementing partners such as BRAC or the Norwegian Refugee Council. And Educate a Child is about enabling and doing. It is about adapting the solutions to the needs of the children and bringing resources to bear where they really count. It is about finding the genius in local solutions that can be scaled up and implemented wherever the need may be.

My experience in education has taught me that wherever we find children, we find hope, resilience and determination. Offering poor or marginalized children the chance of a quality education also offers them the chance to escape poverty, improve their health and enhance not only their own prospects but those of their families and communities.

So I urge you to visit educateachild.org.qa, and more than that, I urge you to get involved if you can. We are already making a difference, but with your help we can transform lives and change societies. In a world where children put their lives on the line, it's our obligation to support their dreams by providing the hope that a good education provides.