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The Power of Education

Volunteerism and Social Transformation - Education in Focus Conference at the United Nations Office, Geneva, Switzerland (20th-23rd June 2017)

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

Education. It’s a big word and it calls for big actions. Everyone is talking about education, but what does it mean to them? Education should be a human right, but is it really?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges every country (and almost every country has signed up this convention) to ensure the right of every child to a basic education. I consider the world to be a place brimming with opportunities. Unfortunately, educational opportunities are still not equally available to all.

Today, on the 20th of June 2017, in the 21st century, there are more than 121 million children who should be sitting at their primary or lower secondary school desks. But they are not. In both developing and developed countries, many children are deprived of their right to access education due to their gender, health issues and cultural identity, such as ethnic origin, language and religion. They cannot enter schools because of basic human rights being denied every single day.

So I need to ask all of us again today: Is education really recognized as a human right? Can we say that this is a human right when there are so many instances where children are denied a basic schooling?

But that’s not the only big issue. The other question is: Does education really help children who are able to enter the classroom to fulfill their potential and to create the lives they desire? I doubt it. Education systems all around the world are in dire need of improvement. No matter where we would go and whom we would ask, many people would agree to that.

There is something going wrong here. And education is too crucial a matter to leave as it is today. So the question is: “How can we change that situation?” I wish I knew. But instead, I have a few ideas on it.

In today’s speech, I would like to cover the concept of combining three powers: creativity, entrepreneurship and intercultural communication in order to provide children with the education which will allow them to shape their own future. Not a very big deal, just three powers which have the potential to change their lives, and hopefully to make the world a better place for future generations. Of course, it will not happen overnight, but I hope it will give us the inspiration to work on in our communities.

1. The power of creativity

Let’s make it clear. Education is not enough. The lack of education causes a lot of problems, but the wrong education can be followed by tragedies, as it has been proven many times in the past. The main problem of the education system in many countries is that children are taught what to think and not how to form their own opinions and how to question the status quo. Many children learn dates, dry data and facts without understanding them or questioning the use of this knowledge, their cause or effect.

You may ask yourself why I think that the power of creativity is one of the most important things to consider when talking about the education. The answer to that question seems easy to me. I was that child, a challenger, a creative thinker. Someone who wasn’t scared to ask questions to challenge teachers at school and then professors at university. I was this type of so-called troublemaker.

And it wasn’t viewed positively at school and in the community itself. But I believed that it was the right thing to do. And today, it doesn’t matter that I was often in trouble. What matters most is that I learned not to give up on making my point heard and challenging “accepted truths”. That’s why I believe that we need more creative, critical-thinking troublemakers in our societies. We need to encourage both younger and older members of our society to think creatively and critically.

Having a creative mindset allows children to see the world differently, to be open enough to explore new things and to ask questions, and most importantly to have an actual impact in the real world, changing people’s perception and actions.

In our global, interconnected world we need more people who are unafraid to challenge the status quo, question political systems both globally and locally, create solutions for existing and new problems, disrupt the economies and reshape them.

And our job is to give children the tools and the courage to form their own future and find a creative confidence in their lives.

2. The power of entrepreneurship

There is no doubt that it is very important to teach students entrepreneurial skills. Why?

Because entrepreneurs make changes. They bring about real change and development. They bring purposefulness and prosperity, change lives and livelihoods on a local and global level. In our communities, we need to recognize that the power of entrepreneurship followed by economic growth can shape our future.

We need to teach children how to become entrepreneurs which means how to create, how to take responsibility, how to become a leader in order to motivate others, and also how to fail and start over – without feeling guilty. They need to know that they have the right to choose and also the right to start again.

We need to encourage them to speak out. We need to show them that they can be in charge of their own future as entrepreneurs and that they can create purpose and prosperity, to provide a better quality of life, both for themselves and for their communities.

Entrepreneurship can be a way out of the poverty for many people around the world. Through it, we can connect people from different backgrounds who can work together on achieving common goals. History has already proven it. Thanks to the collaboration of people from different cultures, political and social boundaries have dissolved. Collaboration is the key word here. We need to teach children how to work together, and not how to fight against each other. So they can influence the civic, social and commercial sectors.

We need to give them possibilities to learn how to make it happen, how to develop their entrepreneurial potential, how to recognize and solve problems, and most importantly we need to motivate and encourage them to discover their potential through entrepreneurship and make their ideas become a reality.

That’s how they will be able to write the future and reform industries, and also how they can manage existing challenges across the world. Entrepreneurial education should show children that everyone has a chance to become an entrepreneur and that they have the right to think creatively about the economic challenges and perspectives without borders.

3. The power of intercultural communication

We live in a world that is more interconnected than ever. New technologies enable us to communicate with everyone. It brings a lot of opportunities but also a lot of challenges. In many countries, people have access to the internet but they don’t have access to education.

Intercultural communication and education are missing because it’s not recognized as an important element of social and economic development. I believe that in this global world, making children aware of culture and curious about different cultures must be one of the main goals in our schools. So children can discover and develop cross-cultural competencies, understand diversity and be able to work with people from different backgrounds, to succeed in life and flourish in their careers and last but not least, to shape a global society.

I was lucky. Having very open-minded geography teachers who shared their experiences from all around the world showed me that the world is more than just the small town I was born and grew up in, more than the country in which I spent my teenage years and more than the European continent that I was privileged to travel through. Yet, I’m aware of the fact that traveling the world is not possible for every child. Thanks to my international background, I know how crucial it is to be sensitive to other cultures, lifestyles, and opinions.

That’s also what we are committed to at Inter Cultural Education, a social enterprise based in Hong Kong that brings the world to the people at their schools and universities with our Global Lessons. We connect them to our international community through workshops, camps and learning trips. Together we build global perspectives and we inspire them through shared stories to take action. Thanks to the international background of the whole team, we make students more proactive in learning and proficient in intercultural communication. By today, we have worked with over 80 nationalities to spread cultures and foster understanding in local schools.

We believe that providing relevant learning to young people through interaction with our global community can empower the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. We also work with overseas youth coming to Hong Kong for global education projects as well as university training on social entrepreneurship and intercultural competence. Time and time again, we have seen how our engagement has changed children’s perspectives and opened their minds to intercultural differences.

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There is no doubt that education changes people’s lives. It certainly opened my horizons and changed mine for the better. By following my curiosity, life has brought me to places that my childhood self would never have imagined visiting.

Yet, there are still many things to do in order to ensure that education will be a human right for everyone, and that quality education will be provided for all children.

I believe that we must give every child a chance – not just to access education but a chance to have a true education which equips them with skills to explore, question and to write their own future.

We need to ensure that all children will have the opportunity to fully develop their talents, regardless of his or her origin, sex, belief, race and so on. That should be a mission of each and every one of us. Too often, the focus of education has been knowledge acquisition, learning facts by rote, without understanding their purpose or their value.

We need to teach children to blindly memorize less but to experience and follow their curiosity more. They need to build, create, interact, communicate, experience and experiment without the fear of failing. And even if they fail, they need to know that they have the right to do so.

It’s less about what to teach children, it’s about how. So, teach them how to become the creative critical thinker, the responsible entrepreneur, the intercultural communicator. And most importantly, we need to teach them how to experience life at its fullest. They need to be aware of the fact that they have the chance and choice to shape their lives and their society. I believe that with those skills children will make the world a better place. They will be the innovators; they will build peace, drive sustainable development, take responsibility for the ecological and socioeconomic balance, make a global and local impact, and cooperate across different cultures. Those are their human rights, and also a hope for the future.

I believe that teaching children all the above-mentioned powers: the power of creativity, the power of entrepreneurship and the power of intercultural communication will help them to create a career without borders in an equal world and will finally end poverty.

The three powers also implement three of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development of the United Nations: Goal No. 4 Quality Education, No. 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, No. 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. Sustainable Development Goal No. 4 aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

This session is called: “I dream… – innovate educational approaches as a basic premise for a successful future”. I also have a dream. I dream to wake up one day and see the world full of equal opportunities for every child in every corner of this world, the world without poverty.

I believe that we can change the education – and also achieve the Development Goals by 2030 – but we can only do it when we will work together. So, let’s make this dream come true.

Geneva, 20th June 2017

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