BEATING THE ODDS WITH EDUCATION: INSPIRING TALES OF YOUNG PEOPLE HIGHLIGHTED AT GESF 2018

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Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) Closing plenary session also presented compelling views into driverless cars and technologies that shape the future

Ambarish Mitra – one of the speakers at the closing plenary

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: The sixth annual Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) 2018 in Dubai heard three inspiring stories by young people, who have touched lives of many and inspires others to draw on the power of education to transform the world we live in.

Rodrigo Hübner Mendes, the Founder and CEO of the Rodrigo Mendes Institute, a non-profit organisation in Brazil, and consultant for UNESCO, shared his personal story of being paralysed after being shot at by two armed robbers.

Passionate about soccer and while preparing to enter medical school, his life then centred on physiotherapy and visits to rehab centres, where he came face-to-face with the “misery that a majority of people with disabilities go through”. Touched by the plight of a family that couldn’t afford to pay for the treatment of their son who was born with cerebral palsy, he founded the Rodrigo Mendes Institute with a “mission to guarantee that every child or teenager with disability can achieve his best as human beings through education”, which is now guiding his life.

“It is more important to talk about education inequality than income inequality,” he said, adding “we are not going to prosper as a society unless each person has access to school, knowledge labour market and dignity.” He also called for the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games to keep the same flame alive, as “the separation is incompatible to an inclusive society. What message are we sending to the world by segregating people based on disability?”

Named as one of New York’s 10 Under 20 Young Innovators to Watch, Emma Yuang, the teenaged founder of Timeless, a mobile app that helps Alzheimer’s patients remember and recognise family and friends, developed the app to assist her grandmother.

She was vocal in the need for kids to be participants in social change, stating, “they are in a special place to solving problems and are only bound by the limits of their imagination. I saw a problem that others didn’t, and I believe, we need to change the perception of being skeptical about kids.” Her advice to her peers is that “if you are driven by purpose, you can solve the problems you see around you and matter to you”.

Sungju Lee, the co-author of his memoir ‘Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea’, recalled the trauma he had to endure, when he found himself living on the streets at the age of 12. North Korea was reeling under a famine and his father had moved to South Korea. He was separated from his mother whom he hasn’t seen since then. To survive, Sungju created a gang, found himself in juvenile detention centre, and finally moved to South Korea to unite with his father. He said one of the happiest moments in his life was when he had the “freedom to choose a pen I like” while he was in South Korea. Today, he champions the unification of the two nations, in the fervent hope of meeting his friends.

His life-lesson for others is “never to give up on dreams and hope. Two things kept me alive on the streets – my hope to find my parents and my hope to find my friends”. He says that standing united as humanity, “we can end suffering on this planet, and it is young people, who can build an equitable world.”

The discourses on the closing day of GESF 2018 also had Iyad Rahwan, an Associate Professor of Media Arts & Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, and the director and principal investigator of its Scalable Cooperation group, sharing insights on what moral decisions driverless cars should make. He discussed the forces of regulation that are relevant in the era of Artificial Intelligence. He said that while there are no universal machine ethics, it is important to define and quantify one’s own value systems for applying them to the machines.

Ambarish Mitra, CEO and cofounder of Blippar, which uses Artificial Intelligence to identity objects for smartphones, discussed six macro trends that shape the future. He demonstrated the ever-connected world that is in store, and how city structures will shift with AI coming to maturity. The rise of AI will be a key third trend touching all aspects of life, while the fourth key trend will be the application of creativity in education which focuses on early infant education – an important part of child development. In other key trends, genetics research will be transformed, he said, and the final shift would be the way we approach time and energy. He said that technology is a major equalizer in the world that will help address not only income equality but also gender parity.

 The GESF 2018 partners are the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), Dubai Cares, CBI, Education International, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Inter-American Development Bank, Junior Achievement, The Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Ministry of Education of the Argentine Republic, Teach for All, Times Educational Supplement, UCL Institute of Education, UNESCO and African Development Bank.

The Varkey Foundation believes every child deserves a vibrant, stimulating learning environment that awakens and supports their full potential. The foundation believes nothing is more important to achieving this than the passion and quality of teachers. They support global teaching capacity and seed excellence and innovation in the next generation of educators. They also founded the Global Teacher Prize to shine a spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over the world.