The values of global citizenship and inclusivity, and the potential of big data to transform education set the tone for the opening of the Fifth Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) in Dubai.

A Varkey Foundation initiative, the opening assembly, attended by over 2,000 delegates from 140 nations, witnessed emotionally charged moments as Sa’a and Rachel, victims who suffered atrocities under Boko Haram militants, shared their stories, and put the world’s attention to the 195 girls still missing.

With a call to #BringBackOurGirls, the ceremony had Dubai GEMS students on stage, symbolising the Forum’s solidarity with the victims, and reminding the world of the need for inclusivity through education.

Uplifting, insightful and focused on driving discussions on ‘How to make real global citizens?’ the Forum also put forth the call for a ‘global anthem’ as Indian visionary master Sadhguru, underpinned the need to include all segments of society in education. Sadhguru challenged the conventional understanding of ‘intellect and inclusiveness,’ emphasising the need for it to happen as part of our individual experience. He warned that lacking such understanding could lead to a divisive world.

Dubai Cares Chief Executive Officer Tariq Al Gurg in turn, encouraged people to look deeply and critically about what is just and what minimises harm to the planet. He said that foundations of global citizenship are laid early on by providing children with education beyond their immediate surroundings.

Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris, discussed the transformation of big data in education, adding that in a world full of challenges and opportunities, ‘it is up to us to reimagine education using spaces, people, technologies, much more creatively to address the demand for education.’

Sunny Varkey, Founder and Chairman of GEMS Education and Varkey Foundation, said the Forum draws the world’s eyes to education.

Each of the 130 million children born every year are completely innocent; they have not learnt suspicion, hatred or violence. They are lives of endless possibilities; the dividing lines of nation, culture and religion are yet to be imprinted in their minds. It is only later that they realise they have inherited the heaviest burden that their parents and grandparents lacked the will to solve.’

This generation of young people, Varkey said, ‘are the first true global citizens,’ who are special, born at a time when technology has put amazing powers in their hands. Varkey said we must educate children from every country, culture and faith. We must open their minds that people everywhere share the same values, dreams and disappointments. He said that if this is done together, they will become powerful forces of peace who could solve many of today’s pressing problems.

Vikas Pota, Chief Executive of Varkey Foundation, said the Forum, now in its fifth year, focuses on identifying the creation of ‘real’ global citizens – and this differentiates it from other events. This year’s event hosts over 40 ministers of education and 112 speakers. Among the key speakers this year include former Australian PM Julia Gillard,  NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

For more information about the Global Education & Skills Forum, visit