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UNESCO boss calls for emphasis on science, humanities in schools

Iraqi girls walk to school in west Mosul (File Photo/Safin Hamed / AFP)
DUBAI: The director general of UNESCO said Tuesday she would advocate for “integrating education and culture into a long-term strategy for rebuilding hope and dignity” at a conference on the reconstruction of Iraq.
Audrey Azoulay said she would attend a conference in Kuwait on Wednesday, and explained that UNESCO, with the support of governments, would lead several initiatives including the rebuilding of Mosul, which was liberated from Daesh in July last year.
Giving the penultimate speech on the final day of the World Government Summit in Dubai, which promoted the importance of collective intelligence in building peace, she said all people needed to be included in the dialogue.
“This means, for example, ensuring young girls are in the classroom and not forced into early marriage or early pregnancies,” she said, adding: “This means also making the most of our cultural diversities as a force of peace, innovation, critical thinking to put things in a wider perspective, to renew ideas and societies.”
And she said journalists should be treated as “guardians of democracy and freedom.”
She said 263 million children currently did not have a school place.
“These are the would-be teachers, scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, and citizens of tomorrow, unable to shape the future potential of the rest of their lives,” Azoulay added.
In September 2015 the UN created a plan for the future sustainability of the world’s population and the planet, called Agenda 2030.
Azoulay warned that without “quality education for all,” the goals of Agenda 2030 could not be achieved.
But she also cautioned against complacency about places where children are in schools, adding that they “are not necessarily gaining basic skills, leaving equipped with knowledge and competencies for the 21st century. We need to step up investment in quality education to reach the most marginalized and disadvantaged learners.”
The theme for much of the conference has been that with a faster-than-expected technological advancement, the importance of retraining people of all ages was essential.
The summit has also seen many speakers warning of the narrowing of education, stressing that a lack of information leads to prejudice and extremism.
Azoulay said the world needed a “skills revolution.”
“The shift to the green economy and the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution call for a sharper focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” she said.
“Especially for girls, who are too often dissuaded from pursuing a career in these fields.”
While placing an emphasis on sciences, she said there was also a need to include humanities in education.
“In recent years we have seen – including in this region – increased attempts at cultural cleansing by those who wish to erase traces of our shared history, and wish to deny diversity,” she said.
“But culture is more than buildings, documents and traditions. It is how we see ourselves, how we see the world, how we learn about ourselves and about others.”
Education for all, she said, was the “only long-term solution to fight extremism.
“When extremists divide humanity between us and them, we need to highlight everything that unites us as a single community.”