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Friday, January 8, 2010

In an interview with Shania Twain, Queen Rania talks about 1Goal

Shania Twain (ST): Hello I’m Shania Twain. You’re listening to a special Friday edition of The Current. Around the world there are seventy two million children who don’t have access to education, And now FIFA, the international governing body of soccer has teamed up with the Global Campaign for Education to try to change that. The result is the 1Goal campaign and the idea is to make sure that every single child in the world is able to go to school. It’s a lofty goal but the campaign has a powerful backer. Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan is the co-founder of the 1Goal campaign and she’s in Amman, Jordan. Hello.

HMQ: Hi Shania, it’s a pleasure to be speaking to you.

ST: Well thank you so much for being with us. Universal access to education worldwide by 2015, that’s the 1Goal Campaign’s ultimate goal and it’s an ambitious one. How realistic is this really?

HMQ: Well you know Shania it is very achievable. In the year 2000 it was a real watershed moment for humanity because we all came together as one global family and we said we wanted to alleviate the hopelessness that many people face in the world. So we set ourselves some goals. We called them the Millenium Development Goals, And one of those goals was to try to achieve education for all by the year 2015. Now we’re two thirds of the way there and we’ve only done one third of the job. So you know there is some good news to report that forty million more children are in school today. But we can’t put our feet up yet because there are seventy two million others who aren’t. And it is possible to get them in to school. It would cost about eleven billion dollars a year to get all children in low income countries into primary school. Now it may sound like a lot but actually if I put it in to perspective for you. It’s what the golf industry has generated for the Canadian economy, or actually less than what the golf industry generates for the Canadian economy annually, so it’s something that we can achieve. And we want to hope, you know 1Goal is a global movement. We’re partnering with the World Cup, to try to get, to tap in to the most watched sporting event of 2010. And to make global education the most important item on the international agenda. So you know by the time the final whistle goes off in July of next year we are hoping to gather thirty million signatures from people all around the world, and to submit that to global leaders when they meet in Canada actually this summer, and really show them that global education is actually a global demand. It’s something they have to, you know they’re promises that they have to fulfill to the children of the developing world.

ST: Right, okay, so when we’re talking about eleven billion, you see obviously there are so many challenges in overcoming poverty over all.

HMQ: Okay.

ST: Guaranteeing access to food, housing, clean drinking water, farmland, providing jobs and loans for entrepreneurs, fighting government corruption, even global warming is wreaking havoc in the developing world. Where does education rank in all of those priorities and how much of the money, the eleven billion, are we looking for that’s going to have to go to the infrastructure in order to get these schools in to place for the kids to attend?

HMQ: Well you know, here’s what I love about this initiative you know. I’ve been doing this job now for over ten years and I’ve had to deal with a lot of issues, and I’ve come face to face with a lot of challenges that our world faces. The ones that you mentioned, poverty, hunger, disease, extremism, climate change, all of those. And they’re all very important issues that we need to deal with. But I can’t think of a single one of those issues that can’t be helped, if not resolved, through education. So if there is one solution which underpins all of the challenges which we face today it is education. The sad thing is that you know because our world is so fast paced and we’re bombarded with information, and we rely on so many conveniences in our life, I think we’ve kind of lost our patience a little bit, we have a short attention span, we expect quick fixes to problems...

ST: Right.

HMQ: ...and the truth of the matter is if we really want to solve these issues we have to get down and do the hard work. And education is part of that hard work

ST: Okay so....

HMQ: It’s not a quick fix but it’s a long term solution. And that’s why I think it has to be on the priority list, very high on the priority list, of most politicians.

ST: Right, so...

HMQ: Now the thing is with education it’s very easy to get people to agree that education is important. What I find is a challenge is to make people realise that it’s an urgent issue. You know you’ll hear most politicians saying when they’re campaigning for positions that they’re going to fix up schools. But once they get elected you find that education starts to drop on their priority list and that’s because the rewards of education are not maybe reaped during the political cycle. But actually it is an urgent issue and in many cases it’s a matter of life and death. You know we know that education reduces maternal mortality, child mortality. You know if we get all children in to school today, this is quite surprising, if we get all children in under privileged countries in to school today, we can prevent seven million new cases of HIV in the next decade. Now that’s a lot of lives saved, and that just underpins the urgency.

ST: Putting the priorities, excuse me, putting priorities in the right order is what you’re talking about I think, and correct me if I’m wrong. You know putting education, certainly if not first at the top of the priorities, getting everything in order, so that everything else that is of course important will fall in to place, and I do agree with you there. Ok, can, so you have painted a little bit of a picture already of the situation of how it looks right now in terms of global access to education, or the lack of it is more what you were maybe touching on...

HMQ: Right.

ST: ...but how is it looking on the positive side in terms of access to education. Are we getting anywhere in that regard?

HMQ: Yes I mean as I said we have forty more million children in school since 2000 so that’s something to be very proud of. But there’s still a lot of need out there and there’s a lot that we can do. So you know for example I urge everybody in Canada to sign up to join 1Goal.org and put their names down there, because if we can make our voices heard then we can really get politicians to meet the promises of the children in the developing world.

ST: Okay, so it’s about signing their name and showing their support. So signing their name, showing their support, it doesn’t even necessarily mean...

HMQ: Signing their name, showing their support. You know this is not a hard luck humanitarian case you know. There is a very convincing and compelling economic reason to get children in to schools. The prosperity of nations and their development depends on it.

ST: Yeah.

HMQ: You know ignorance is a dark cloud that can hang over humanity and that could be a festering ground for so many other problems that can arise so it’s so urgent for us to really realise. And I mean even I’m sure you understand and, would we have been blessed with your beautiful songs had you not gone to school? I’m sure you know your education underpins and sets the foundation for your own music creativity. I know in my job you know when I became Queen I wasn’t prepared, I didn’t know I was going to come in to this position. I think the only thing that saw me through was my education. It was the one thing that I could fall back on and the one thing that could give me the confidence to do the job that I do.

ST: Yeah, the security of the foundation, and the foundation is the education and the knowledge. Now I did have another question, I wanted to go back just a little bit because we are talking also about, well we’re talking about the western world as well. Canada, my country, the US. So to what degree as far as helping, and reaching out to help and sign up and to give money. To what degree should the developed world, the rich countries, be responsible for making sure that impoverished nations have that access to education, because the Western world is also feeling a crunch right now, The average Canadian guy for example might be having a hard time making ends meet himself because of the financial crisis. So how do we ask that guy to reach in to his pocket and give, or to even want to pay attention to what’s going on in other parts of the world regarding education when he’s so worried about his own family. How do we reach out to that guy and get him to care?

HMQ: First of all Canada has always been a standard bearer when it comes to international development, and I think it’s, I don’t know if most Canadians know, that but it’s a reputation that you can really be proud of. And the Canadians have really made an investment in their own education system and it’s much admired around the world. There’s a lot of expertise that we can benefit from from Canada when it comes to teacher training and when it comes to providing bilingual education which many developing countries struggle with. You also have a very strongly rooted ethnic community who can transport their experience and skills to countries around the world. But I understand there is the financial crisis and people are hurting, but I don’t think that that’s an excuse because as I said the numbers we need are very achievable. And also you know growth will return, people will find jobs, but children only have one chance at a childhood. So reducing funding saves tax payers in the developed world a few pennies but it costs children in the developing world their future.

ST: Yes, time is crucial.

HMQ: And when you put it in that perspective you realise that there is a sense of urgency here. And you also just have to look at your own children and see how important it is for you to make sure that they have a quality education. Think of other parents who also want the same for their children, because education you know it’s the greatest justice that you can do for people around the world. They start off on an equal footing and then they can make the most out of their own lives. In many cases it’s the springboard out of poverty. It gives you the skills to make the most out of your own life. It really helps you shape your future so I mean that’s something that we owe to the rest of the world. And it’s an excellent investment to make.

ST: Yes.

HMQ: Especially education of girls. I have a very soft spot for educating girls.

ST: And I wanted to ask you about that. So why do think it is more difficult for girls to get education? Because it seems to be such an obvious problem and a disappointing one. But what do you have to say on that? Because the boys seem to have an easier time getting in to the schools in these countries...

HMQ: Absolutely.

ST: ...so why is it so much more difficult for girls?

HMQ: You know around the world there are forty million girls that are trapped and untapped. They’re trapped in poverty, or early marriage or child labour, and they’re untapped by the communities and countries who really need them the most. And if you want to imagine just a typical day for one of these girls. They wake up early before dawn. They have to work for hours to fetch water, they’re hungry, they reach home to do home chores, and take care of their relatives. You know I’m talking about girls who are sometimes five years old. You know it would break my heart if that was one of my daughters. But on the other hand when a girl gets educated she grows up to be a woman who spends more on the nutrition of her own children, on their health, on their education. She gives more to society. So girls are like turbo chargers for social and economic development you know. Unleashing their potential creates a tidal wave of benefits for everyone. Health, prosperity, peace you know. And it’s just a matter of you know to get them in to school. Sometimes it’s just a few simple steps that you have to take.

ST: So they’re more preoccupied you’re saying by carrying so much weight in doing everything else on a more practical level in daily life and this is why they’re not necessarily getting around to education.

HMQ: Yes, sadly you know there is a bias, there is a gender bias, and families tend to prioritise the education of boys over girls, and girls are viewed as having to earn money for the family and take care of relatives and do the house chores. And that’s really sad because you know the dividends that are to be gained when you educate a girl are just enormous and it can be a really transformative force in any society to educate girls.

ST: Yes, absolutely. Listen, so can I ask you then, the 1Goal Campaign hopes to collect thirty million signatures to petition world leaders. So how many signatures do you have at the moment now?

HMQ: I haven’t checked lately,

ST: Okay.

HMQ: But this campaign is going to get underway in the Spring. You know we already have collected millions of signatures so far.

ST: Fantastic.

HMQ: But you know we’re hoping that by the G8 and G20 meetings that are happening in Canada that we will present those thirty million signatures to the global leaders. And I have a feeling we’re going to collect probably many more than thirty million. It’s not just the number. It’s really the significance. The sense that this is an urgent matter, that there is a global demand for this, that really people want you to ask politicians to live up to the promises that you made.

ST: Right, so you see, is improving access to education about money or is this really about political will? So this is another factor.

HMQ: Well, yeah, first of all political will is born out of popular will. So at the popular level we need to make sure we’re mobilising, that we’re making our voices heard, that will affect the political decisions. And sure it’s about ensuring that we have the right funds and making sure we’re distributing these funds in the right kind of way. So we have to have an infrastructure that is improved. That needs to be upgraded. We need to focus more on results. We need to look at new ways of forming partnerships so it’s not just the government that’s responsible for education but that you have the private sector, non-governmental institutions involved, There’s got to be an international governing body that makes sure this money is well spent, that we’re getting the results that we need, that there’s quality. Because it’s not just about numbers you know, any increase in the numbers of children going to school should also be matched by a leap in the quality, because sadly too many of the classrooms today are undersupplied and overcrowded. So you know a lot of these kids are having to attend in classes of fifty-five kids when the classroom only fits twenty, you know. So a lot of them drop out early or they graduate not having the right math or reading skills. So the quality is a very very important issue and teacher training is instrumental. The world today needs ten million extra teachers to improve the quality of education.

ST: Well let’s talk a little bit more about the infrastructure and what it really takes to be able to set up an infrastructure, the infrastructure that’s really needed in order for this to succeed in place on the ground. So something as simple as the clean water, or you’re saying supplies or qualified teachers. So how do you incorporate those realities in to your program?

HMQ: Well you know this is a multi-faceted problem that needs to be tackled from different areas. You know we need to fix up the schools. In many countries it would help to abolish the school fees, to provide free meals for children, to train teachers so you know it has to be tackled from many different angles to achieve the results that we need. And it’s very much a case by case kind of situation. Some governments are quite efficient and they do a good job of upgrading their educational system. Others need to be held to task and we need to really monitor their progress and reward them for good results. And if they’re not achieving those good results then maybe sometimes you need to withhold some of the funding until they kind of improve their situation.

ST: Okay. Now certainly you are involved in many many charitable things. You have so much good will and a giant heart, that’s obvious. Besides your work promoting education worldwide you’re also leading efforts in Jordan. So please tell me a little bit more about that, about Madrasati.

HMQ: Well you know as I said education has become a real passion for me just because I have seen the way it can transform people’s lives, and you know there’s no better way than to start at home. And here in Jordan we have a good situation, we have a good enrollment rate, ninety nine percent literacy rate. But we wanted to really improve the quality of the education. So ‘Madrasati’ means ‘my school’ in Arabic, and it’s a program to rejuvenate the most disadvantaged public schools in Jordan. So basically by revamping their learning environment we hope to get kids more excited about going to school, because they have a cleaner, brighter, more stimulating kind of learning environment. So we started in 2008 and so far we’ve fixed two hundred schools. In April we’re starting on another hundred schools, and by the end of the program in five years we’ll have reached five hundred schools. And the interesting thing about this model is that we’ve adopted a public private partnership style. We realised that education is in everyone’s interest, so it has to be everyone’s responsibility, not just the government. The government is rich with good intentions but they don’t have the resources to really handle this issue on their own.

ST: We need the compassion of the people. We need the compassion of the community.

HMQ: The compassion of the people and you know we got the private sector involved so you know in many cases the private sector companies came in and adopted some of these schools. So that led to an injection of much needed cash that we didn’t have access to. And we’ve also got the community involved. The teachers, the students, the parents, community leaders. They all got together and saw it as their responsibility to really pick up the pieces and really revamp some of those run down schools and turn them in to vibrant community hubs that all the community can share in. And it’s been incredible for me when I visit these schools that have been fixed, just the sense of pride that the students feel. They have a sense of ownership of their school, they are very protective over it. And I spoke to some of the families and the members of the community, and they all feel so energised because they feel that they are able to improve their own environment. They feel empowered. So if something’s not going well you know what we have the power to change our own lives, and that’s just so rewarding to see. And just to see the change in the mentality and psyche of the people has been the greatest reward.

ST: Okay. That’s wonderful. I just want to go back to the G8 for a second. What do you want to see happen at the G8 this summer when it comes to education priorities?

HMQ: Well you know the G8 and the G20 meetings are very important venues where critical issues facing the globe are discussed at the very highest level. So you know issues are tackled whether it’s health, or labour, or law enforcement, or energy policy, so you know we want during that meeting to make sure that the global education is at the top of the global agenda for some of these leaders meeting in Canada.

ST: You’re pushing for priority, you’re pushing for addressing the crisis and urgency of it.

HMQ: The urgency of it, you know to create the political will, to make sure that it’s number one on their priority list. That it is something that we need to pay attention to. You know it’s something that underpins the solutions to all the other issues that they’re tackling.

ST: Yes.

HMQ: And it may not be a quick fix but as I said it is the long term solution. And we need to see it that way.

ST: And which countries are taking a global lead on this issue?

HMQ: As I said Canada is a country whose achievements we’re very proud of. The UK has done a marvelous job. A lot of the Scandinavian countries have delivered. But I think we still need Canada’s goodwill and leadership in this to try to persuade other leaders to get on board and to be as committed to this issue as Canada has been.

ST: Okay, so Canada come on keep pulling your weight on this issue.

HMQ: Exactly. Don’t be complacent or put your feet up. It’s time to really act actually.

ST: Yes it really is. It sounds as if, certainly from my perspective I’ve learned a lot today, and certainly about the urgency of it all.

HMQ: Absolutely. And Shania I have to mention that you are a true inspiration to all of us. First of all I’m a fan of yours, of your music. But also I’m a big fan of you as a person. And I know how committed you are to children, and how much you’ve done for underprivileged children, whether it’s through providing meals or shelter or just simply emotional support. It’s really been very inspirational to see what you’ve done as well.

ST: Well thank you so much. The feeling is very very mutual and you know I just wanted to say I know that all of these initiatives that you are pursuing are you know a huge inspiration to everyone I think. It’s a big topic to a lot of people I talk about especially when I’m discussing my own initiatives in regarding charity. And I’ve got my own personal feeling about why I’m doing what I’m doing and I was just wondering you know personally from you if you were just to sum it up in a very short sentence, what is it personally why are you personally doing this and choosing this, education. I know you have children so maybe it’s more associated with your own, with the way you see your children, how grateful you know how grateful you are that they’re not kids at risk of lack of education.

HMQ: Well you know what it is, I think for me it’s just trying to achieve justice. As I said I’ve been exposed to so many problems around the world and I feel that the one way that you can empower people and give them a fair chance at making something out of their lives is through education. You give somebody the skill, you give them the opportunity, and then they can make the most out of their own lives. So it’s just about fairness you know. There’s no greater equaliser in this world than education.

ST: I think that sums it up very beautifully. It’s all about equalising and education is at the root of so much of the suffering. We could probably manage much better at least a lot of the suffering in the world if everybody had a better education, even those of us who are technically educated. We need to be more educated about the urgency of this, about not getting an education.

HMQ: Absolutely, absolutely.

ST: Well thank you so much Your Majesty. It’s been a real pleasure for me. Thank you for agreeing to do this and I really look forward to crossing paths with you again.

HMQ: It’s been wonderful chatting with you Shania and I hope to see you soon.

ST: Okay, same here. Thank you so much.

HMQ: Thank you, thank you so much. Thank you. Bye.

ST: Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah is in Amman, Jordan. Well that’s it for this podcast. You can listen to The Current weekday mornings on CBC Radio One right after the CBC 8.30 news. As well as serious satellite radio on 137. If you have any thoughts on what you were hearing on The Current, send us your comments. Visit our website on CBC.ca/The Current and click on Contact Us or you can call our feedback line toll free on 1-877-287-7366. You can also find us on Twitter, at The Current CBC. And as always our mailing address is PO Box 500, Station A, Toronto, M5W 1E6. Thanks for listening to The Current podcast. I’m Shania Twain.

Listen to the interview here: Eastern Pt 3 - The Current_682599.mp3

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