DUBAI – Innovative partnerships should start in education as it is essential for economic growth, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak told the 10th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF).
“By making education a priority, from early years to later life, we can unlock new opportunities for our people, new human resource for our businesses, and new growth for our nations.
“Meeting these objectives will require innovative partnerships between private sector education providers, governments and communities,” Najib, who is also the patron of the WIEF Foundation, said in his special address at the opening of the three-day forum here today.
The forum, themed, “Innovative Partnerships for Economic Growth”, is held in Madinat Jumeirah here until Oct 30.
Also present were Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai; Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan, and Tun Musa Hitam, Chairman of WIEF Foundation.
“Education is central to our history. Indeed, the first word Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad was â€˜readâ€™. In the Golden Age of Islam, the worldâ€™s first universities â€“ the Bayt al-Hikma in Baghdad and al-Qarawiyyin in Fez â€“ were
established in Muslim lands.
“From Cairo to Cordoba, scholars from around the world came to Islamic capitals to engage in study, translation and discourse; preserving works from antiquity, and advancing human knowledge in everything from astronomy to geography,” he said.
Najib said that for centuries, Muslims led the world of learning but despite those notable successes, “we did not turn this strong start into a lasting legacy”.
Today, he said, “too few Muslims are able to read or write”.
Citing the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Najib said illiteracy rates in some Muslim countries reached 40 per cent for men, and 65 per cent for women.
“Our tradition of pioneering science did not produce a generation of modern scientific leaders: only two Muslims have won the Nobel Prize for chemistry or physics.
“We have the worldâ€™s oldest universities, but few of the worldâ€™s best. And the Organisation of the Islamic Conference countries spend just a third of the global average on research and development.
“The end result is that too many Muslims are missing out on opportunities â€“ and too many Muslim nations are missing their greatest assets â€“ their people,” he said.
By prioritising education throughout life, Najib said, the potential of the people, reducing poverty, raising living standards, and unlocking 21st century growth, could be realised.
“We need new and innovative partnerships between educators, governments and private and third sectors to make good the gap,” he said.
Najib, who was Minister of Education from 1995 to 2000, foresees that the starting point is literacy, the foundation for success.
He said that according to the World Literacy foundation, illiteracy cost the world economy more than US$1 trillion a year.
“But the human cost is greater still: a child born to a literate mother is 50 per cent more likely to live past the age of five.
“We should unite behind the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisationâ€™s call to ‘use all means available’ to ensure our people can read, write, and then contribute to national economic and social development.
“We should follow the example of Arab states, whose adult literacy has risen by 20 per cent in the past 20 years; or South-East Asian nations, where literacy rates are consistently above 90 per cent,” he said.
Alongside efforts to improve adult and youth literacy, Najib said: “We should continue to focus our policies and resources on schooling.”
He noted that the primary and secondary education is the standard that makes achievement possible.
Najib said UNESCO reports suggest that each year of additional schooling increases a personâ€™s earnings by up to 10 per cent and gross domestic product growth by 0.37 per cent.
Najib highlighted that one of the worldâ€™s most courageous education activists is a Muslim, the Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai.
“She has drawn global attention to the struggles that some girls still face in accessing education.
“We should honour her inspiring courage and work by continuing to focus on providing quality primary and secondary education for all our citizens; preventing young people from dropping out of school; and working with countries with sizeable Muslim minorities to understand why some Muslim communities are underachieving, while others are flourishing.
“We can also do more to build up the quality and capacity of our higher education systems. As technology spreads further into the workplace, creating new sectors and careers, countries are competing to create strong knowledge-driven economies,” he said.
That includes scientific knowledge, where countries like Turkey and Iran have made significant leaps forward, he said.
By investing in research and supporting scientific study, countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia have built strong reputations and even stronger results, he said.
“And when it comes to encouraging new technology sectors, our hosts, Dubai, have lead the way, making the digital economy one of the pillars of their economic policy,” he said.
For Malaysia, the issuer of the worldâ€™s first sovereign sukuk, Najib noted that it has made a strategic decision to focus on Islamic finance, with institutions and courses designed to train professionals in this fast-growing sector.
“Often, the conversation about education stops at the university level. But we can also do more to encourage a culture of lifelong learning. That includes post-graduate and vocational programmes in specialty areas,” he said.
WIEF is organised by the WIEF Foundation in collaboration with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The forum gathers a stellar line-up of nine leaders, 12 ministers, four central bank governors, 181 role-players and more than 2,000 delegates from more than 100 countries.
Najib arrived here Sunday for a three-day working visit in conjunction with the 10th edition of WIEF. – BERNAMA