UNESCO boss calls for emphasis on science, humanities in schools

Iraqi girls walk to school in west Mosul (File Photo/Safin Hamed / AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018
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UNESCO boss calls for emphasis on science, humanities in schools

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.”


UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Updated 18 June 2019
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UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

  • Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya
  • They have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts

YANGON: The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.”
Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.
The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine.
Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya.
But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.
That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.
The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.
The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”
“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.
The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.
Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult.
But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work.
“If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said.
“I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”
An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.”
On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation.
Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”
All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.
The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.
Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities,” the social welfare ministry said.
Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.
Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else.
They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali,” a term implying they are from Bangladesh.
“They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.