An education expert and a campaigner for deaf children’s rights have been chosen to represent Wales in this year’s British Council international programme for young leaders, Future Leaders Connect.
Owen Evans, director at Teach First Cymru, and Deborah Thomas, policy and campaigns officer at the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru, will join fifty other future leaders from around the world.
They will undertake nine days of advanced policy and leadership development at the Møller Institute at Churchill College, University of Cambridge. They will also visit Westminster to discuss today’s biggest global challenges, meet world leaders and have the chance to visit influential UK institutions.
Following the programme they will have worldwide connections, a policy action plan for change and the skills, knowledge and networks needed to be an influential leader back home in Wales and beyond.
Owen and Deborah beat applicants from across Wales to win their places. As part of the selection process, both had to outline one major global change they would like to see over the next five years.
Deborah, who began her career in journalism before moving into policy and campaigns, wants disability awareness to be taught in schools.
She said: “I feel that disability discrimination could be greatly reduced in the UK if there was an improved understanding of various disabilities and how they impact on people’s lives. I believe that raising disability awareness would lead to a more inclusive society and would help to foster a more positive approach to disability in society.
“I also believe in the importance of raising disability awareness in nations across the globe. I am particularly aware that the low level of awareness in some regions has created negative attitudes and disabled people consequently have little in the way of life chances. Furthermore, in developing countries, where poverty is rife, getting disability on the political agenda and accessing equipment to assist disabled people can present challenges that are very different from the UK.”
Owen, a former teacher, wants to see the eradication of the attainment gaps in literacy, numeracy and qualification levels that exist between learners from wealthier backgrounds and those from less wealthy backgrounds and between nations. This would mean significant progress towards achieving two of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals in quality education and reduced inequalities.
He said: “In Wales, the attainment gap at age 16 between pupils eligible for free school meals, a measure of low-income, and their peers is 32.4%. This is a profound injustice which clearly impacts on individual life chances and Wales’ economic performance.
“In order to address this issue, we must “bias resources” to those schools and communities most affected by educational inequality. This isn’t just about the redistribution of funding – we need a workforce development strategy which prioritises recruitment of high-quality teachers for schools with the greatest need. We must then ensure that the professional development of those teachers is prioritised. It is vital that we place leadership development at the core of this agenda – as poor school leadership is known to be a key driver of educational inequality. Policy makers must strive towards solutions to the persistent problems of educational inequality not only because of the economic benefits, but, as international research shows, more equal societies are happier, safer and more tolerant.
“On a global level, this would see significant improvements made in terms of educational outcomes amongst developing nations. For instance, today there are still 57 million children world-wide who do not have access to primary education. UN figures also indicate that there are over 100 million young people in developing countries who lack basic literacy skills. I would like to see both these figures reduced to zero in five years’ time.”
Director of British Council Wales, Jenny Scott, said:
“Yet again we were very impressed with the standard of entries from Wales for the programme, there is obviously no shortage of young, talented, up-and-coming leaders in Wales. Future Leaders Connect aims to help a new generation understand practical policy development by putting them in contact with the leaders of today. The programme will help Owen and Debbie develop the skills and international contacts they need to make positive change for Wales and further afield.”