What hurts early learning in GCC?

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What hurts early learning in GCC?

Only one-fifth of a per cent of the GDP in Gulf countries is spent on early learning — a far cry from the minimum one per cent necessary, say child advocates.

By Staff Reporter

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Published: Sat 21 Sep 2013, 9:32 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 7:43 PM

An eight-hour session on how to better the lives of children was held on Thursday at Dubai’s Dusit Thani Hotel, attended by child care providers, primary school teachers, social workers, pediatricians and researchers.

While the focus of the talks — by six key speakers — might have been on the development of the Arab child and providing Arab children with quality education and care, the topics discussed were relevant to young ones of any nationality. Twice in the day there was an address delivered by Tariq Kashmiri, Chairman, Arabian Child, at the Global Leaders for Young Children Forum in the GCC — first on child advocacy and an ‘activist-based approach’ to delivering quality knowledge, and later on leadership strategies.

According to Kashmiri, only an abysmal 0.2 per cent of the GDP in the GCC countries is spent on early learning when it should be not less than one per cent. “All the money is in real estate and construction,” he said as a side remark. “There is a law but it is not practised.”

To make matters worse, “people here look at quality by a good building and good furniture.” There needed to be a change in attitude and beliefs, he said.

Besides the importance of funding, Kashmiri’s talk was injected with facts and illuminating diagrams and instances on where the fault lies and starting with spreading awareness, what can be done to improve the status quo.

The wide-ranging talks included one from Ministry of Interior Child Protection Centre director Lt-Col Faisal Mohammed Al Shammari, who spoke about strategies taken to protect children from being employed as labourers in the production of designer bags.

At the risk of incurring criticism from newspapers about “repeating initiatives”, he spoke about the Child Helpline and Child Hotline; the general, confidential helpline available for anyone who needs help, be it children or parents, while the hotline is more specific, intended to be used to report information on specific abuse and injuries.

Mark Elliott, associate director for Programme Support with the National Interim Management Programme at the Community Development Institute, encouraged debate in the audience, with everyone swapping anecdotes and views and sharing their stories of emergency preparedness, both in English and Arabic. “Children are most vulnerable during an emergency,” he said.

Arguably the most interesting talk — on the importance of teaching critical thinking to children — was by British University in Dubai senior lecturer Dr Clifton Chadwick, who made the audience sit up and pay attention to what he was saying.

Dr Chadwick, who formerly worked for the World Bank in places as far-flung as East Timor, warmed up the audience by dispensing certain platitudinous notions such as,

“The purpose of teaching thinking is to prepare students to succeed in the world.” He then pointed out the top three needs under the title, Human Nature: Survival, sociabilty/ belongingness, and self-actualisation/self-efficacy.

Chadwick got perhaps the loudest applause for his engaging talk on the disposition of children, noting: “Sometimes parents don’t realise just how strong an influence they are as parents: the child of a hassled mum, surprise surprise, will be a hassled child, while the child of an uncommunicative father, will be an uncommunicative child.”

A telling example he gave was of his young daughter, still a toddler, who was once at the airport in East Timor tracing with her fingers the letters on a sign and babbling. What was she doing? She didn’t know how to read, “but she knew what reading was, and wanted to do it, anyway.”

The day-long forum made apparent to at least those present in the audience what a loss it is that critical thinking is not taught in any systematic way in most schools — a loss not just for the Arab child.


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