The World Bank Youth Summit inspires change makers like me

BSc International Relations student Keely Cheong reflects on the stimulating questions posed at the World Bank Youth Summit
Final year BSc International Relations student Keely Cheong
BSc International Relations student Keely Cheong pictured at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington D.C.
Despite a diverse range of questions, the delegates generally agreed on the role of youth as an agent of resilience and the role of education as a pathway to ending conflict

Education Can…

Before I embark on this reflection piece, I would like readers to think about how education has impacted and shaped your lives and what they envision education to achieve.

As an education development enthusiast, being selected by the World Bank Group for the World Bank Youth Summit on Rethinking Education for the New Millennium was the perfect opportunity for me to play a role in shaping international education policy. 300 change makers from over 100 countries across the world were brought together for two days of intensive discussions and workshops. I was humbled to be the only delegate from Singapore and I am thankful to have received sponsorship from my school, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM Global Education) and the National Youth Council of Singapore to attend the Summit at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington D.C. [Keely Cheong pictured below, 2nd from right, with friends from Nicaragua and Indonesia.]

Keely Cheong at Youth Summit Most of the participants I met were running their own NGOs or working in industry. I met people from Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Colombia, George Washington University, and Georgetown University. I also met friends from less developed countries like South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon. It was truly an honour to meet organisational representatives from UNESCO and the International Labour Organisation and hear from the Education Commission helmed by the former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, Office of the First Lady, USAID, Peace Corps and World Bank.

The Summit was focused on four subthemes: Innovation and Technology in Education, Skills for the New Economy, Gender Equality in Education and Education in Crisis Zones. The format of the Summit was such that each subtheme kicked off with a plenary session followed by workshops which allowed for more intimate conversations about the experiences and vision that delegates had for the future of education.

"There were a number of thought-provoking key questions raised during the Summit."

There were a number of thought-provoking key questions raised during the Summit: what should we do when education is not producing enough learning? Why are workers still lacking the necessary skills in performing their jobs efficiently? How can education adapt to the extreme conditions that children in crisis zones endure? It is also important to note the diverse contexts and environments in each country – what works in one country might not work in another.

Despite a diverse range of questions, the delegates generally agreed on the role of youth as an agent of resilience and the role of education as a pathway to ending conflict. This is especially relevant in today’s society against the backdrop of increasing extremism and self-radicalisation. For me, I felt that the conference posed more questions than it answered, which gave participants room for self-reflection.

Keely Cheong at Youth SummitAn interesting aspect of the Summit was how it incorporated the element of social entrepreneurship through a competition to challenge young people to solve the problems that matter to them most by crafting their own solutions, so that they can build the future they want. More than 850 proposals from over 100 countries were submitted and six finalist teams were selected to present their ideas to a panel of judges and the audience.

The team which inspired me the most was NaTakallam, a social initiative by students of Columbia University in the US. It is a platform that connects displaced Syrians with Arabic learners through Arabic language sessions over Skype. NaTakallam gives learners access to affordable, flexible, and tailored training with native speakers, and provides an enriching work opportunity to displaced Syrians. It was interesting as they tackled the refugee situation by providing them with an opportunity to earn a living and to be self-subsistent. [Keely Cheong pictured above, 2nd from right, with new friends from Japan, Germany, Nicaragua, Indonesia and Vietnam.] 

"I now have a clearer sense of how I would like to make full use of my time and contribute to my society and the wider international community."

For me, it was the competition which led to my greatest takeaway from the Summit. As I watched the teams present their ideas, I realised that I have been unnecessarily limiting myself and being afraid to step out of my comfort zone for fear of failure. My participation in the Summit has caused me to rethink my priorities. I now have a clearer sense of how I would like to make full use of my time and contribute to my society and the wider international community.

For me, Education Can Inspire a New Generation of Change Makers and I believe that I am on my way to becoming one.