SHARM EL-SHEIKH: Education was the talk of the town as the three-day World Economic Forum on the Middle East came to a close Tuesday in Sharm El-Sheikh,
Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF, asked leading political and business figures to reflect on whether the Middle East will learn from the future – this year’s theme – and be able to catch up with the needs of the 21st century.
“It will be presumptuous to think about the future without listening to those who have the largest stake in the future: the younger generation, said Egypt’s Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. “The region’s governments and leaders are thinking more than ever before about the future. We live in a dynamic world that is moving very fast, and we need to look at issues [that will put the region on track].
For the second time, the world’s spotlight was turned on Egypt’s prime Red Sea resort as it played host to some 1,500 A-listers from around the world, gathered to discuss issues of pressing concern to the region as well as the entire world.
Nazif highlighted issues of concern in the region, focusing on education, which he called “a word circling more than any other in this year’s WEF on the Middle East.
The challenges ahead of the region, he pointed out, lie in the need to develop human capital, with the right schools and the right teaching methods.
Talk of developing education echoed throughout the forum’s premises as the key catalyst for change in the region.
“This year’s theme is ‘Learning from the Future’ and to do that we need to address education very extensively, said Mohamed Alshaya, chairman of Alshaya Group. “We cannot let our children be educated by sub-standard teachers. We have to choose the [most superior] teachers to educate our young.
Alshaya added that the region’s employment needs are now changing, and thus new fields of education have to be created. “The largest sector of employment in any country these days is services.and we need to turn our eyes on vocational training to fill in that need.
Khalid Abdullah-Janahi, chairman of Ithmaar Bank, reiterated the same view and said throughout the forum’s three scenarios for 2025, political, social, and economic reforms have to be on the ground. If we don’t tackle reform today, he said, we won’t catch up with the needs of the 21st century.
“By reform, I mean action and deeds and not just words.
A firm believer in privatization, Janahi said that the size of the public sector has to be reduced throughout the region. “It’s a burden on all of us: from Morocco to Bahrain. We have to take serious actions towards privatization, particularly in health and education.
He also pointed towards the importance of building bridges between Islam and the West. He applauded the WEF on launching the series “Dialogue between Islam and the West and said that such efforts were also essential to move the region forward.
Other panelists underscored the need to flourish the region’s culture of learning, to put the people first and recognize their sovereignty.
“There are concerns over censorship and suppression of information, said Jimmy Wales, founder and chair of Emeritus. “As we move into an information-driven society, we need to [address] these policies so that we can move forward.
“Building a knowledge society means building skills for the future. And we can only build a modern society with [proper] education, said Nazif. “We also need to see true engagement of the youth across all levels as well as engagement from business and civil society.
“We’re passing a new threshold in the Middle East, and I believe that the WEF during these past 48 hours has proven that this region is on the move and that it cares about the future of its younger generation.
“I hope that next year’s World Economic Forum on the Middle East in Jordan and the 2010 one in Sharm El-Sheikh see more progress and celebrate a Middle East with more stability and more progress.
This year’s WEF on the Middle East has been dubbed one of the world’s top clearing houses for ideas and networking, drawing influential figures from all walks of life.
In Sharm El-Sheikh more than 1,500 participants, including 12 heads of state, ministers, leading business figures, and leaders from civil society participated in this year’s forum, joined by the media from over 60 countries.