World Innovation Summit for Education "WISE" 2017

Doha, 15 November 2017


 As-salamu ʿalaykum (peace be upon you)…

Distinguished guests,

I welcome you to Doha, where WISE gathers us all today, as in the past, in its capacity as an international platform for ideas, innovative solutions, and exchange of expertise in the area of education. It is a great pleasure to share with you, from this stage, a topic that has become inseparable from the core challenges of education.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is an intellectual, worldwide consensus, which you are a part of, that says that education is a treasury for all solutions. But, I am afraid that this treasury will face bankruptcy and will not be able to confront global challenges if we do not rush to address its flaws. As you know, issues in education demand that we examine rising phenomena and changes around us, and, when necessary, even examine education itself.

Education that drives progress, sooner or later, faces varying challenges at different levels; be it political, media-related, cultural or technological. The challenges worsened when political rhetoric employed exaggerated tactics and manipulations, and when media discourse shaped our lens of reality. When the Internet revolution happened, it created a virtual world that deals with reality selectively, validating only its credibility. This jeopardized truth to a point that begs cross-examination.

What is promoted in some of the media today, from falsehoods disguised as real stories to images that resemble the truth, is, in fact, not the truth. Principals and standards of objective media discourse have been overthrown.

Social media has become cluttered with organized activities that spread propaganda, rumors and lies to divert people’s attention away from reality and truth, and towards what is propagated as real or true. It is “the managing of minds” that Herbert Schiller studied in the 1970s.

When these practices become commonplace in our world, the outcome would certainly be fake facts presented as alternative truths, which we accept in this so-called “post-truth” world, a premise that we will all explore in the following plenary session titled “Education in the Post-Truth World.”

 It is a world where “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” It is when truth is manufactured to take a different form to fit the image of those who want to reshape the world on fake news, fake images, fake truths and the pretense of representing the truth.

Iraq was besieged for 13 years using tools of deception, and excuses were fabricated to justify invasion in 2003. It was so strange that the invasion was dubbed as liberation. Instead of finding weapons of mass destruction, Iraq saw massive destruction. Iraq’s education system, one of the best in the region in 1990, was in complete ruins. A country that was on the verge of eradicating illiteracy, was caught in the midst of wars and conflicts that dragged progress back to the unfortunate conditions of the past.

With those same tools, Yemen is besieged today, so that it may not know prosperity or stability. So that it drowns in a dreaded triangle of ignorance, disease and illiteracy.

With those same tools, a blockade is imposed on Qatar since the 5th of June. Some wanted to make matters difficult for us, yet it was only difficult for them. They wanted us to change, yet we remain unchanged.

A world that is congested with fake news should not stop us, as advocates of education, from standing on the side of truth. We must keep faith that an education grounded in values will instill the importance for truth to take precedence over personal beliefs in educational contexts.

To fortify education, to make it true and unwavering, against the machinations of manipulation, we must push for comprehensive reforms in education. It must include curricula and pedagogies that develop students' critical mind and their skills in examining various issues, away from stereotypical thinking. It is vital for education to equip students with tools that gives them cultural and media “immunity.”

Through media and information literacy in school curricula, students will be empowered to observe media discourse and examine political rhetoric from a critical perspective. It would give them keen insight to differentiate between what is real and fake on the internet.

Through education, we will be able to protect future generations against dangerous mind games, from both known and unknown entities that use cyberspace as their playground. This way we can save the world from getting lost in the post-truth maze.  

As Arabs, we should not claim innocence for our decline. We went from makers of civilizations and producers of science, philosophy and knowledge thousands of years ago, to consumers of what others produce. We have abandoned our role in innovation and failed to contribute to modernity. We settled and limited ourselves to modernization attempts that had no future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let us be inspired by this year's WISE theme of coexistence, and place it at the core of solutions for different challenges, from issues of security and peace to stability and development. Let us return to education to reinforce this truth.

I wish you a successful summit.

Thank you for listening.