Dubai – MENA Herald: Identifying innovative strategies that draw in the power of information technology, a focus on corporate social results to engage the private sector and increased funding for middle income nations that bear the brunt of the refugee crisis, were today cited as top priorities to address the challenge of educating refugee children, at the fourth Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) in Dubai.

Convened by the Varkey Foundation and held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the Forum hosted a panel discussion on ‘Addressing the Challenge of Refugee Children’.

Moderating the session, Marie Staunton, Interim CEO of Plan International, Canada, presented the enormity of the refugee crisis that the world faces today. She noted that while a child spent an average nine years in a refugee camp in 1993, today the duration is 17 years.

With 2 million children in Syria, nearly 700,000 out of school, she said the prevailing system makes it difficult to deal with the crisis faced by children, adding that UN funds do not reach middle-income countries that host refugees. Of any humanitarian aid received, less than 2 per cent goes to education.

Prof. Mohammed Thneibat, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education of Jordan, described the unique approach of Jordan towards hosting refugees, whereby no child, irrespective of nationality or faith, is denied access to education in the country.

“More than 85 nationalities attend our public schools – both from Arab and non-Arab nations. But we have a lot of challenges to deal with today; every class today has over 70 to 80 students; and schools are working double-shift to accommodate the Syrian children,” he said.

Prof. Thneibat said that the country is opening another 100 double shift schools to ensure education for all children, but called for the support of the international community to support the country’s initiatives. “The funds we have received to support education is not more than 36 per cent of the total cost that the Jordan government bears for supporting Syrian children in our schools.”

George Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece, who said he spent his early years in a refugee camp, provided a compelling argument on why providing education for refugee children needs a pragmatic approach, drawing from his own life experience.

He stated: “It calls for a visionary approach, where we recognise the scale of the problem. Greece had witnessed problems similar to that of Jordan; we needed more schools and teachers to meet the influx of refugees from Albania, Ukraine and Central Eastern Europe. We opened our schools for the children, and today, they contribute to our society.”

Tom Fletcher, Director of Global Strategy, Global Business Coalition for Education in the UAE, highlighted the role that the private sector can play in supporting the education of refugees. He said that underlining ‘corporate social results’ has been proved to be more motivating in engaging the private sector. Fletcher said the old model of government raising money and pledging funds doesn’t work and today, a different model, led by a coalition of the government, private sector, individuals and civil society is needed.

Representing Aqeela Asifi, a Top 10 finalist short-listed for the Global Teacher Prize, Duniya Aslam Khan, Communication/ Public Information Officer, UNHCR, Pakistan, described the heart-warming story of how Asifi works to promote education of female children in the Kota Chandana refugee camp for Afghans in Pakistan.

She said that Ms. Asifi transformed the region that has traditionally resisted education for girls without confronting the elders but by taking small but significant measures that made the community aware of the need for educating girls. From one tent that educated eight girls, Asifi today has set up nine schools in the Kot Chandana camp with over 1,500 students including 900 girls.

The interactive session concluded with the panellists calling for tapping the power of information technology to accelerate education among refugee children, and the need to introduce innovative strategies to reach out to the widest possible segment of refugees.

With partners including UNESCO, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Dubai Cares, GESF features intense debates on reconciling the relevance, excellence and inclusiveness of both public and private learning environments. GESF 2016 will culminate on Sunday March 13 with the live announcement of the second annual award of the US $1 million Global Teacher Prize.