Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Learners Voice AT WISE 2011 - The girls from Haiti

With over twelve hundred delegates at the World Education Summit for Education (WISE) in Doha, a crucial component of the conference is the focus on young people and 'Learners Voice. This year, thirty students from all over the world underwent a rigorous selection process to attend and represent their peers. Not only are they attending, they are also running sessions, running workshops, interviewing delegates and reporting on the conference. a tall order for a group that had never met before. To prepare for this they had a two day pre-conference of their own, it was obvious to see how well they have 'gelled' as a team. The workshop I attended was the best of the day - delegates had not had to work and contribute so much before - brilliant!! (It was also good to see evidence of Gavin Dykes (Education Impact, UK) and his guiding hand behind the scenes to help it have maximum impact).

Despite all this activity and the focus on young people, there will be many delegates that will really miss out by not actually speaking to them. How can this be right in an education conference? This is a real pity, the students I spoke to and who ran the sessions are scarily bright, ambitious and articulate. (Maybe this aspiration is scares off some delegates). Some of the young learners I spoke to have amazing stories to tell.
I was fortunate to talk to Augustin (studying Electrical Engineering) and Daphnee (studying Agro-economics), both of whom had come from Haiti. For one it was their first ever trip out of Haiti - and to come all the way to Doha via Miami and New York was a real, daunting, experience! What a first trip!
They spoke enthusiastically abut Haiti and with real honesty about the significant issues of all forms post earthquake: poverty, high unemployment (50%), incredibly low take up of higher education especially by students who lived out of Port-au Prince. (Only one from Augustin's former school this year went to higher education). They talked about low aspiration and young people's resignation about having to live by scraping together a living by selling water etc. It was truly humbling to hear them talk about it.
Both girls had only managed to secure university places with the assistance of an organisation called HELP. This great organisation offers scholarships for students to go to university in Haiti and is now helping over one hundred students to attend university. Without this assistance they were not sure what they would be doing. It was a depressing thought that these two girls may have been a vastly resource if they had not had the chances given to them. It made me wonder just how many more potential resources were being wasted. The significant social issues are not helped however as both girls mentioned that those who graduated with degrees nearly always then emigrated - an effective brain drain of bright young citizens. The real challenge is to try and retain them and allow them to contribute to their society. They both mentioned that whilst lots of people and organisations are helping in Haiti, so much more help was needed for their education system.
What had the conference done for them? Well they both admitted to being even more aspirational than they had previously been and also determined to contribute back to their society. This is a great outcome for them from WISE 2011.
Augustin, when asked about her impression of the conference in it's stunning surroundings and it's amazing delegates, talked not about these but instead focused on the amazing technology available. There is no doubt that a fabulous infrastructure in Haiti would be a significant factor is raising the education opportunities and aspirations.
It was a real privilege to talk to Augustin and Daphnee. I probably won't ever see or talk to them again, but ladies, it was a humbling experience and I wish you all the best for the future!! To those delegates that don't speak to these young delegates - you really don't know what you missed!!

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