Qatar offers a half-million dollar ‘education Nobel’ to Bangladesh

Doha (Qatar), Nov 2: Bangladesh’s BRAC, one of the world’s largest NGOs, has been awarded a prestigious new award, the WISE Prize for Education.

Awarded by the Qatar Foundation, in this emirate on the coast of the Arabian Peninsular, the half-million US dollar prize is the first such global prize recognising the effort of an individual or team for ‘outstanding, world-class contribution to education’.

It was awarded here Tuesday evening as part of the World Innovation Summit for Education, an initiative launched by the Qatar Foundation three years ago under the leadership of Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, the high-profile wife of the ruling emir.

The 2011 WISE Summit, being held for the third consecutive year here, runs in Doha from Nov 1 to 3, and its prestigious prize is being likened to the equivalent of a Nobel, which rewards excellence in other fields but not education.

‘On a par, (the) WISE prize aims to place education on the same level as other disciplines such as medicine, the sciences, economics and the arts,’ the local English-language Qatar Tribune said here, without directly mentioning the Nobel.

From a tiny emirate, with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world and a population of just 1.5 million made up largely of expatriates, the prize went to an NGO in densely populated Bangladesh, grappling with its own problems of South Asian poverty.

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed was awarded the first WISE Prize for Education ‘in recognition of his 40-year career dedicated to alleviating poverty through education’. He earned a specially-designed gold medal, with the word ‘education’ written in over 50 languages, at the summit attended by some 1,300 people from 120 countries.

He received the award from Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar.

Abed founded BRAC, formerly known as Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), in 1972 to address the humanitarian crisis, which followed the country’s struggle for independence from Pakistan.

He built it since into the world’s largest NGO with 120,000 workers, nearly half of whom are teachers. It aims to help people set up micro-businesses, become health workers, or teach generations of children.

BRAC is also believed to be one of the largest non-government providers of education in the world, and claims to contribute directly to the pre-primary, primary and secondary education of more than 10 million students.

In his citation of the laureate, WISE chairman H.E. Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani said: ‘Fazle Hasan Abed’s life and career embody the values of WISE. He recognised that education is a passport to social inclusion and opportunity. He discovered a successful formula, and he adapted and expanded it – first in Bangladesh and then in other countries….

‘The jury saw him as an ideal WISE prize laureate.’

This award was decided after an international call for nominations, followed by an 11-strong international committee of educational experts making a preliminary assessment and a high-level jury of five eminent individuals taking the final decision.

Jury members included US Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, South African minister of science and technology Naledi Pandor, Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University, India’s Fatma Rafiq Zakaria, and Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani of the Qatar Foundation as chairman.

1936-born Sir Fazle Hasan Abed completed his secondary education in Dhaka and went on to study at the University of Glasgow. He trained as a management accountant in London and came back to his homeland to eventually lead the finance division of Shell Oil Company there.

He returned to the UK during the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence from Pakistan where he lobbied and raised funds for his country’s struggle. After the conflict, he discovered the newlyborn country in ruins. Using his own savings, he established BRAC and launched a lifelong campaign to improve lives by educating the rural poor, which now claims to reach some 138 million people in 10 countries.

Some 750,000 children — 70 percent of them girls — are enrolled in 25,000 BRAC primary schools in Bangladesh.

BRAC has also adapted its programmes to countries in Africa, Asia and Central America through another 11,000 schools. In Afghanistan alone, BRAC has established over 4,000 primary schools. More than 122,000 students – 84 percent of them girls – have graduated from primary school and a further 125,000 are currently enrolled.

(Frederick Noronha can be contacted at fredericknoronha1@gmail.com)

IANS