Arab youth sent a strong message to their leaders in the latest Doha Debate, saying education is pointless without the freedom to express your opinion.
Out of an audience of mostly Arab and Muslim students, 53 percent supported the motion: This House believes education is worthless without freedom of speech, while 47 prcent voted against it.
The debate was held on the eve of Qatar’s World Innovative Summit for Education (WISE), which has drawn hundreds of international experts to discuss education in the 21st century.
In often heated exchanges, panellists and audience members alike posed searching questions about the regions education system, pointing out that not a single Arab university featured in the list of the worlds top 100 academic institutions.
While both sides agreed that freedom of speech was desirable, those for the motion hung their argument on the fact that the ability to express oneself in a free and democratic society was more important than just learning in countries where freedoms are suppressed.
In his opening gambit, Dennis Hayes, a Professor of Education at the University of Derby in the UK, who spoke for the motion said free speech was the ability to “argue, probe and criticize” and that if you didnt have freedom of speech, “all your other freedoms meant nothing”.
Dr. Nagla Rizk, Professor of Economics at the American University in Cairo, countered by saying that the motion wasn’t about defending free speech, but rather that education was totally defunct without it. She told the audience that she came from a family of doctors in Egypt, who had spent their life treating the sick. “You want to tell me their education was worthless,” she said: “What is wrong with training that helps somebody find a job to provide for his or her basic needs and make a living for their family?”
Her argument that education can create freedom and prosperity was strongly rebuffed by Professor Tariq Ramadan, a philosopher and Islamic scholar, who said that any education system spreading knowledge without critical thinking could be counter-productive – breeding “parrots and sheep”.
Speaking against the motion Kevin Watkins, Director of Education For All Global Monitoring Report led by UNESCO, cited child death rates in Africa which were four times higher in mothers with no education compared to those with secondary education. “[If youre calling education] worthless, he reasoned. That depends on the value you put on a life.”