Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland invited teachers, universities, Commonwealth youth and civil society organisations to develop pragmatic policy solutions to ensure a sustainable and resilient education system, at the commencement of the Integrated Partners’ Forum in Fiji
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland invited teachers, universities, Commonwealth youth and civil society organisations to develop pragmatic policy solutions to ensure a sustainable and resilient education system, at the commencement of the Integrated Partners’ Forum in Fiji.
For the first time, the Forum is running alongside the Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM), which is held every three years.
She urged the 300 delegates to the CCEM to work with governments to build equitable, quality education systems and improve accountability.
Higher education institutions, she said, needed to be focused on fuelling creativity and competitiveness for global markets, in order to improve levels of entrepreneurship and innovation in the Commonwealth.
Teachers need to be gender sensitive, qualified, motivated and well paid, Scotland added, and vice-chancellors had a responsibility to forge partnerships with industries and government in order to work towards regional, national and international development and sustainability.
Furthermore, the Secretary-General urged the business sector to invest in universities, so that scholarships could be offered to build the required skilled workforce and so meet, in particular, the demand of blue and green economies.
Secretary-General Scotland then addressed the Commonwealth Youth, urging students and young people to engage with the decision makers in educational institutions and participate in peer mentoring and coaching programmes.
She added that youth leadership could be the catalyst for positive social change that equips students with the skills necessary to become engaged citizens.
Fiji was also the host country for the Pacific regional meeting of the Commonwealth of Learning Focal Points, which took place on February 16-17, 2018.
The gathering looked to strengthen the effectiveness of the Commonwealth organisations’ work on key education and training priorities and to share feedback on developments relating to learning for sustainable development.
Located at the University of the South Pacific, the event was co-hosted by the Pacific Centre for Flexible & Open Learning for Development and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL).
COL hosts Focal Points meetings around the Commonwealth every three years to review each country’s education priorities.
Representatives from the 11 member states of Focal Points attended the meeting, which is the first in the series planned for 2018.
In her opening statement, COL President and CEO Professor Asha Kanwar said: “As a Commonwealth organisation, it is part of our mission to promote Commonwealth-wide cooperation.
“The Commonwealth is often referred to as a family of nations that works through consensus, respect and understanding.
“These meetings serve to remind us of our shared values and our common identity as citizens of the Commonwealth.”
An important feature of the discussions still to come during the CCEM will be the introduction of the Commonwealth Education Policy Framework, where Ministers will agree to substantially increase the number of international scholarships and bursaries offered to students from developing nations, including poorer small-island states and African countries.
A report on the proposed framework said that increasing the amount of scholarships available by 2020 would help to build a `shared Commonwealth higher education space’ and suggested more attention be paid to shorter, more flexible exchange programmes.
Since 2000, there has been rapid growth in higher education enrolments in Commonwealth member states, but the quality of education and related services, funding systems, regulation and staff development have struggled to keep pace.
The framework report found that universities are delivering `overly specialised courses for which there is no labour market demand’ and producing too many graduates in the arts and humanities disciplines.
It suggest that countries should address public and employer concerns on the comparability of qualifications and introduce improved planning processes and mechanisms regarding higher education programming and offers to incentivise study that better relate to national economic needs.
In addition, it noted that research capacity in universities needed to be increased and focused more on work that is `developmentally useful’, that is, of academic or practical value.
Another target Ministers are set to agree on is to achieve equal access to affordable and high-quality education in universities for women and men by 2030.
The Commonwealth Education Policy Framework will act as the Commonwealth’s contribution to meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal, set in 2015, which called for lifelong opportunities and quality education to be made available to all.
Secretary-General Scotland pointed to research conducted by UNICEF between 1960 and 2010 which showed that countries with a great level of inequality in education between groups had a much higher risk of conflict.
It also showed that, despite efforts and progress made in the last two decades, girls were more likely to remain excluded from education.
Globally, over 260 million children and young people do not attend school, including 60 million primary school-aged children.
The Secretary-General said that education, a `human right and the best guarantee against unemployment and poverty’, laid the foundations for responsible citizenship and for personal and social development.
She added: “One out-of-school adolescent is one too many.
“If we reduce the number of out-of-school children in Commonwealth countries, we make a very substantial impact on global figures.
“At risk young people can become disillusioned and lose hope in the economic and political systems and processes of a society.
“For marginalised and disadvantaged people, education can be a bulwark against volatility.”