By Dana Shell Smith/Doha
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of welcoming US first lady Michelle Obama to Qatar. High-level officials from the US government visit Qatar from time to time but this visit was different: Mrs Obama was in Doha to promote girls’ education. This is a cause that is close to my heart and it is a crucial foreign policy issue for me and my colleagues at the US Department of State.
HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and the Qatar government have also championed education through Qatar Foundation initiatives like Education Above All and the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE).
Mrs Obama’s visit gave us the unique opportunity to further our discussions and to look for new avenues to partner to help ensure that all children worldwide have access to an education.
It is appropriate that Mrs Obama’s visit came in the lead up to International Education Week, which is celebrated from today to November 20. Mrs Obama cited the staggering statistic that 62mn girls worldwide do not have access to education and called for international action to deal with the struggles girls face globally in accessing education. Therefore, it is during this week, in particular, that we applaud Qatar’s vast education efforts and achievements and its commitment to education for all children across the globe.
It is also fitting, in my opinion, to celebrate the groundbreaking work Qatar has done to promote girls education.
I was especially proud to take the first lady to Education City, where 53% of last year’s graduates at the six US universities there were female. Nationwide, girls account for 64% of university students in Qatar, which is an impressive and praise-worthy statistic.
On the margins of the World Innovation Summit in Education conference, HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and Mrs Obama co-led a roundtable that brought together key global leaders in girls’ education from eight nations to discuss country-based solutions to get out-of-school girls back in school.
During this discussion, distinguished education activists and Nobel laureates discussed questions of how to increase the scale of current girls’ education projects in countries across the globe and the role of international donors and aid agencies in supporting these initiatives.
In the spirit of International Education Week, I urge all of us to keep this momentum going, to celebrate current projects and partnerships promoting education and to look for opportunities to forge new ones to ensure that all the world’s kids have bright and healthy futures.
I am proud to say that US and Qatar are already strong education partners. In addition to the six US university campuses at Education City, US and Qatari institutions have engaged in countless research and international exchanges that have benefited our societies.
One such project is the Global Nomads Connecting Cultures Exploring Science Program, sponsored by the US embassy, which is empowering secondary students in Qatar with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) knowledge to create global solutions to local environmental and energy issues through virtual exchange collaboration with US high schools. Another is the Fulbright Program, which sponsors US and foreign students and academics for educational exchanges in all areas of research and study.
Since 2010, the US government has sponsored nearly 20 exchanges between US and Qatari institutions under the auspices of the Fulbright programme and we look forward to expanding the programme in the years to come.
There is also Qatar Foundation’s Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF)which has sponsored dozens of research grants, bringing together US and Qatari Institutions. In fact, QNRF recently announced a joint research grant between Hamid Bin Khalifa University and Weill-Cornell Medical College in Qatar on original breast cancer research.
We are also honoured by the increasing number of Qatari students who choose the US as a destination for higher education. This year alone, our embassy provided visas to 1,480 students headed to universities in the US. Studying abroad is a life changing experience and we are always thrilled to connect with Qatari alumni of US college and university programmes.
Check our Facebook Page (facebook.com/usembassyqatar) throughout the week for profiles of some of our alumni. We are also excited to see more and more US students coming to Qatar on academic exchanges and we are working hard to encourage US students to choose Qatar as a destination for study abroad.
Despite all these efforts and achievements, there is still much work to be done, and it’s heartening to know that countries like Qatar are investing so much time, effort and funding into global education initiatives.
During HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser’s speech at WISE last week, I was touched to hear her say that in the face of the world’s education crisis that she was “still hopeful”. I too am hopeful that together we can empower individuals, schools and nations to be catalysts in turning each child into a student.
♦ Dana Shell Smith is the US ambassador to Qatar.
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