All Means All: Gulf States launch the 2020 GEM Report

On Monday 12 October 2020, the UNESCO Office for the Gulf States and Yemen (UNESCO Doha) in cooperation with the Qatar National Commission for UNESCO, and under the patronage of His Excellency, Dr Mohammed Abdul Wahed Ali Al Hammadi, Minister of Education and Higher Education, held the Gulf Subregional Launch of the 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report. The theme of this year’s Report is “Inclusion and Education: All means all.”

The GEM Report is an editorially independent, authoritative, and evidence-based annual report published by UNESCO. Its mandate is to monitor progress towards the education targets in the Sustainable Development Goals framework. Each annual GEM Report analyses a major theme crucial for progress towards SDG 4. The Report is widely recognized as an indispensable advocacy and monitoring tool for ensuring the provision of quality education and lifelong learning for all.

In line with its mandate, the 2020 GEM Report assesses progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) on education and its ten targets, as well as other related education targets in the SDG agenda. The theme of Inclusion and Education draws attention to all those excluded from education, because of identity, background, or ability. It is motivated by the explicit reference to inclusion in the 2015 Incheon Declaration, and the call to ensure an inclusive and equitable quality education in the formulation of SDG 4, the global goal for education. It reminds us that, no matter what argument may be built to the contrary, we have a moral imperative to ensure every child has a right to an appropriate education of high quality.

Monday’s online event delved into the issue of inclusive education in the Gulf States. Bringing together a range of stakeholders from Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar, including government, NGOs and civil society actors, practitioners and academics, its objective was to increase awareness of the multifaceted nature of ‘inclusive education’, stimulate policy dialogue, identify gaps and explore cross-sectoral partnerships to ensure all children and youth living and learning in the Gulf states receive the education they deserve – during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.

High level support for the 2020 GEMR Message

His Excellency the Minister of Education and Higher Education opened proceedings by reiterating Qatar’s commitment to ensuring every child’s right to education in pursuit of SDG 4. He continued, “The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of working together and exchanging experiences to ensure equal opportunities are provided, and that no child is left behind in education.”

Dr Anna Paolini, UNESCO Representative in the Arab States of the Gulf and Director of the UNESCO Doha Office thanked His Excellency for his patronage of the event and drew attention to the impact Covid-19 has had on achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She called for all stakeholders – government and non-government alike – to double-down on efforts to ‘build back better’ and ensure learning never stops.

The keynote address, delivered by Dr Bilal Barakat, Senior Policy Analyst at the GEM Report Team, focused on some of the key barriers facing learners around the world. For example, 10-year-olds in middle- and high-income countries who are not learning their mother tongue are 34 percent less likely to have basic reading skills, while children with disabilities are two and a half times more likely than their peers to never go to school. Dr Barakat also noted that continued investment in education, despite the crisis perpetuated by Covid-19, as well as increased data collection and monitoring in the region are key to ensuring progress made towards achieving SDG 4 is not derailed.

The many faces of inclusive education

The panel discussion following the keynote was moderated by Education Programme Specialist at the UNESCO Doha Office, Mr Danilo Padilla, and comprised esteemed speakers including Dr Mary Pigozzi, Executive Director of Education Above All (EAA) Foundation’s flagship programme, Educate a Child; Mr Anthony Macdonald, Head of Office and Senior Programme Manager of the UNICEF Qatar Office; Ms Amna AlBalushi, Assistant Secretary-General of the Oman National Commission for UNESCO; Mr Ziad Najem, Vice President and CEO of Kuwait’s KFAS Academy; and Ms Hana Yoshimoto, Chief of Education and Senior Education Specialist at the UNESCO Regional Bureau of Education for the Arab States.

Picking up on the issue of data collection and out-of-school children and youth in the region, Dr Pigozzi implored stakeholders to “Make those children visible – start by counting all children, not only those who are in school.” She continued, “Remember, a child only counts if she is counted. Our education systems must start with a baseline of all children in the country and then count who actually enrolled.” Dr Yahia Zakaria Al-Agha, Director of the Al-Salam School II in Qatar – which serves formerly out-of-school children and youth – echoed Dr Pigozzi’s points and outlined the ways his school is working to reduce a range of barriers to quality, inclusive education for vulnerable students.

Drawing attention to UNICEF’s recently developed Teacher Preparedness and Training package, Mr Macdonald emphasized the importance of prioritizing children’s safety and psychosocial well-being in schools as a critical part of ensuring inclusivity in education. He said, “Since the start of the pandemic, UNICEF globally has seen an increase in reports of physical and psychological violence against children at school and home. Therefore, it’s important that teachers and parents are not only more aware of this but also putting in place measures to prevent further harm to their children.”

Following on from this, Chief of Education and Senior Education Programme Specialist at the UNESCO Bureau for Education in the Arab States, Ms Hana Yoshimoto, provided an overview of the challenges to inclusive education in Yemen, where the impacts of conflict and insecurity are now being exacerbated by the spread of Covid-19. She noted that around 4.7 million children are in need of assistance to access education, with 36 percent of girls and 24 percent of boys currently out-of-school. Ms Yoshimoto explained that, as a result of Covid-19, the “social, economic, and psychological impacts that children now face is unprecedented” and exacerbated by “reduced remittances on which families and teachers rely.”

Turning to Oman, Ms Amna AlBalushi, Assistant Secretary-General of the Oman National Commission for Education, Science and Culture, spoke about the Sultanate’s efforts to promote enrollment in pre-primary education. Oman is one of the ten countries with the largest positive trend towards enrolling children in pre-primary education. The 2020 GEM Report shows that children who receive pre-primary education are more prepared to succeed at school, which helps reduce inequality in the longer term.

For his intervention, Dr Ziad Najem, Vice President and CEO of KFAS Academy (Kuwait Association for the Advancement of Sciences), reminded the audience that while Covid-19 has exacerbated some inequalities through the broadening of the ‘digital divide,’ the rapid shift to online learning has also helped bring some learners back into the fold of quality education. He urged stakeholders to take advantage of these new education opportunities and innovations.

Addressing the importance of high quality pre-service training for teachers, the Dean of the College of Education at Qatar University, Dr Ahmed Al-Emadi, elaborated on the steps the College takes to ensure its graduates enter the workforce with a diverse range of skills and methods to use in their classrooms. He stressed the critical role of teachers in achieving inclusive education.

Mr Abdulla Al-Mansoori, Director of the Qatar Career Development Center, spoke about the challenges facing youth with disabilities and learning difficulties when it comes time for them to enter the workforce. He said, “Career counselling and orientation are considered essential pillars for linking educational outcomes, labour market requirements, and the aspirations and capabilities of youth.” Mr Al-Mansoori noted that the field of career counselling in Qatar is still maturing and requires further national policy development and strategies in order to have the required impact and reach, particularly for students with special needs.

Questions from the public

Following these interventions from the panel, Dr Saba Mansoor Qadhi, Associate Director, Core Curriculum Deanship of General Studies at Qatar University moderated an audience question and answer session. Members of the audience asked questions about data collection methods, the critical role of parents in supporting their children’s education, and what more the Gulf States can do to ensure equity and equality of access to education for non-citizens.

Mr Padilla closed the session by reiterating the key message of the GEM Report – that each of us has a moral obligation to ensure that every child receives a quality, inclusive education, no matter their identity, background or ability.