More than 500 education practitioners, policymakers, academics, government officials, UN staff and representatives from 22 countries gathered from 24 to 26 February 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand, at the Asia Education Summit to share their creativity, experience and innovative strategies on how best to reach millions of out-of-school children who face difficulties in accessing education.
The Asia Summit on Flexible Learning Strategies for Out-of-School Children was intended to serve as a platform for presenting and disseminating innovative education programmes, providing an opportunity to build and foster networks and partnerships on education for disadvantaged children and youth.
Representing UNRWA, and as a UNESCO post-holder, the UNRWA Director of Education, Dr. Caroline Pontefract, participated in the summit to share the Agency’s experiences on supporting the learning of children in times of protracted conflict and crisis. Dr. Pontefract briefed the participants on the UNRWA education programme for Palestine refugees, highlighting the quality and equitable learning opportunities that have been provided for Palestine refugees in the Middle East, despite the challenges arising from the myriad crises the region has endured.
She described how the onset of the Syria crisis had presented new challenges in the delivery of education to the Palestine refugees displaced in Syria or forced to flee to Jordan, Lebanon and Gaza. She also talked of how in the midst of the Syria crisis, there was the conflict in Gaza and how this resulted in wide-scale damage to schools and homes; fatalities, including of children; and psychosocial trauma in the coastal enclave.
Dr. Pontefract described how UNRWA has initiated and developed an innovative education in emergencies programme to ensure the continued delivery of quality, inclusive and equitable education for all students throughout periods of crisis.
The summit also highlighted some major challenges that may impact the promotion of lifelong learning opportunities, such as gender, poverty, child labour, minority status and disability. The participants, serving in various capacities across the Asia region, shared the different methodologies, practices and innovative educational initiatives they were using towards addressing these challenges and supporting learning opportunities for out-of-school children.
In her summary remarks at the closing of the conference, Dr. Pontefract pointed out that, despite the differences in the root causes which impact negatively on children’s learning, there was much commonality in the ways to respond. She said that she hoped that the lessons of UNRWA had benefited participants in the same way that the lessons of Asia region would be of benefit to the education programme at UNRWA.
This was endorsed in closing remarks, which emphasized the need for flexibility and innovation in all aspects of the education system in order to overcome the challenges faced towards quality and equality of learning for all.