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Arab Education Should Focus on Early Childhood and Adoption of Technology

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Leading policy-makers and academics called for education reform in the Middle East and North Africa, as the region faces a triple challenge of 22 million children out of school or at risk of dropping out, high youth unemployment, and diverging access to and quality of public and private education. As solutions, they pointed to technology as an educational tool, life-long and vocational learning, and public-private cooperation.

“Today, governments are struggling between getting the basics done and dealing with emerging conflicts,” said Ghassan Hasbani, Deputy Prime Minister of Lebanon, on the opening day of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa. But necessity and urgency can also help leaders to “think out of the box,” he added. In those circumstances, “basic technology can be used to help advance education, particularly at the literacy level.”

Pre-school is the best place to focus investments and introduce these basic technologies, said Maysa Jalbout, Chief Executive Officer of Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, United Arab Emirates. Only 31% of children in the region are currently enrolled at this stage, with most of them enrolled in private education. The result is that “inequity in education starts at this very early stage,” she said, because pre-school is the most crucial time for learning outcomes later. These technologies and their capabilities should come from within the Arab region, not from import or “copy-pasting”.

“If you don’t develop your indigenous capability, you cannot sustain the results,” said Tony F. Chan, President of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. He called for “multigenerational” investments, both at the research university level and at the kindergarten level. Inherently, it shouldn’t be a problem: “Algorithmic thinking is an Arab invention,” he said.

But it would be wrong to think the private-public educational gap is just a regional problem that can be solved only with technology, said John Sexton, President Emeritus, New York University, USA: “There is a worldwide disinvestment in thought and education, teachers and compensation … The big picture globally and in this region is that we have to worry about the privileged isolating themselves in the area of education that is successful, and the politicians settling for what seem to be good results.”

Youth unemployment in the region is endemic, with up to 38% of youth unemployment even in wealthy nations such as Saudi Arabia. To solve that, Marita Mitschein, Senior Vice-President of Digital Skills, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) South, SAP Middle East and North Africa, United Arab Emirates, suggested more public-private cooperation. In one project, her company “picked the ‘raw diamonds’ and ran them through a bootcamp.” The result was a 100% job placement in its ecosystem afterwards.

But even as the private sector can help improve post-education job placement, policy-makers and educators should not forget the primary objective of education, Jalbout said. “It should help people solve the problems they face.”

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UNIDO and Morocco’s MASEN to strengthen cooperation to deploy renewable energy technologies

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photo: UNIDO

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy of the Kingdom of Morocco (MASEN) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop and implement projects deploying advanced renewable energy technologies in Morocco and targeted African countries, with the aim of creating aspirations to support African countries on their path towards inclusive and sustainable industrial development.

The partnership with MASEN complements UNIDO’s ongoing activities under its flagship ‘Low Carbon Low Emission Clean Energy Programme’ in Africa, which seeks to reduce poverty by promoting industrial growth through renewable sources of energy. It already started in 2017, on the margins of the 22nd Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), when UNIDO Director General LI Yong, and MASEN President Mustapha Bakkoury launched the Vanadium Flow Battery project to demonstrate smoothing and stabilizing electricity output. An official handover ceremony is planned to take place in Ouarzazate, Morocco, in conjunction with a workshop gathering Moroccan officials and representatives from neighboring countries.

With MASEN’s support, UNIDO proposes to create a platform for the dissemination of renewable energy technologies in targeted countries while developing the local production of some technology components, thus creating grounds for achieving shared prosperity, economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability.

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EU Politics

EU delivers on stronger European Border and Coast Guard to support Member States

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Today, the Council has officially adopted the Commission’s proposal to reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency will have a standing corps of 10,000 border guards, a stronger mandate on returns and will also be able to cooperate more closely with non-EU countries, including those beyond the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. This will give the Agency the right level of ambition to respond to the challenges facing Europe in managing migration and its external borders.

Welcoming today’s final adoption, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner for Home Affairs, Migration and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said:

“Today the European Union has achieved an ambitious task of transforming the EU border agency, Frontex, into a fully-fledged European Border and Coast Guard. This Agency will be equipped to offer tangible support to Member States to manage the EU’s external border – wherever and whenever needed.

From less than 300 border guards on the ground in 2014, the European Border and Coast Guard is now deploying around 1,300 officers and will soon have a 10,000-strong standing corps available for deployment. This is a collective achievement, which would not have been possible without strong political support for a common approach.

The European Border and Coast Guard is now stronger than ever. While Member States will remain responsible for the management of external borders, the standing corps will provide unprecedented operational support on the ground. Its officers will be able to assist national border guards in conducting identity and document checks, with border surveillance and return operations.

The Agency will also provide support beyond the EU’s borders. With European Border and Coast Guard officers already deployed in Albania and soon in other Western Balkan countries also, the Agency will be able to cooperate with third countries beyond the EU’s immediate neighbourhood.

We have spared no effort to make sure that Member States have the necessary tools to protect their borders and ensure the security of European citizens.

But our work is not yet done. The Commission will now provide its full support to help the Agency quickly take up its new tasks and ensure the standing corps swiftly reaches its full capacity of 10,000 border guards.”

Next steps

The European Parliament and the Council will now jointly sign the final text. The text will then be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and the European Border and Coast Guard’s reinforced mandate will enter into force 20 days later. The new European Border and Coast Guard standing corps will be ready for deployment from 2021, and will then gradually reach its full capacity of 10,000 border guards.

Background

The European Border and Coast Guard consists of Member States’ authorities responsible for border management and return, and of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. It was established in 2016, building on the existing structures of Frontex, to meet the new challenges and political realities faced by the EU, both as regards migration and internal security. The reliance on voluntary contributions of staff and equipment by Member States has however resulted in persistent gaps affecting the efficiency of the support the European Border and Coast Guard Agency could offer.

In his 2018 State of the Union Address President Juncker announced that the Commission will reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard even further. The objective of this upgrade was to equip the Agency with a standing corps of 10,000 border guards and to provide the agency with its own equipment to allow it to respond to challenges as they arise. The European Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on the Commission’s proposal on 28 March 2019. With the last step completed in the Council today, both institutions have now formally adopted the text.

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EU Politics

EU-Singapore agreement to enter into force on 21 November 2019

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EU Member States today endorsed the trade agreement between the EU and Singapore. This means the agreement will enter into force as soon as 21 November.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “This is the European Union’s first bilateral trade agreement with a Southeast Asian country, a building block towards a closer relationship between Europe and one of the most dynamic regions in the world. It crowns the efforts of this Commission to build a network of partners committed to open, fair and rules based trade. Trade has created 5 million new jobs in the EU since I took office in 2014, and now contributes to the employment of 36 million people. This, together with the fact that it accounts for 35% of the EU GDP, shows how critical trade is for Europe’s prosperity.”

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “Our trade agreement with Singapore provides further evidence of our commitment to fair and rules-based trade. The agreement will benefit workers, farmers and companies of all sizes, both here and in Singapore. It also includes strong clauses protecting human and labour rights and the environment. This agreement means that in the last five years we have put in place 16 EU trade deals. This brings the total to 42 trade agreements with 73 partners, accounting for a third of total EU trade. This is the largest such network in the world.”

Singapore is by far the EU’s largest trading partner in the Southeast Asian region, with a total bilateral trade in goods of over €53 billion and another €51 billion of trade in services. Over 10,000 EU companies are established in Singapore and use it as a hub for the whole Pacific region. Singapore is also the number one location for European investment in Asia, with investment between the EU and Singapore growing rapidly in recent years: combined bilateral investment stocks reached €344 billion in 2017.

Under the trade agreement, Singapore will remove all remaining tariffs on EU products. The agreement also provides new opportunities for EU services’ providers, among others in sectors such as telecommunications, environmental services, engineering, computing and maritime transport. It will also make the business environment more predictable. The agreement will also enable legal protection for 138* iconic European food and drink products, known as Geographical Indications. Singapore is already the third largest destination for such European specialty products. Singapore also agreed to remove obstacles to trade besides tariffs in key sectors, for instance by recognising the EU’s safety tests for cars and many electronic appliances or by accepting labels that EU companies use for textiles.

The EU and Singapore have also concluded an investment protection agreement, which can enter into force after it has been ratified by all EU Member States according to their own national procedures.

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