The Hon. Shawn Richards shared the privilege of being one of the 140-strong education ministers from 140 countries who converged at Incheon, South Korea, over the past few days to attend the UNESCO-sponsored World Education Forum 2015, (WEF2015), a gathering of education authorities, experts and high ranking personnel from education-related international organizations.
Over May 19-22, some 1,500 participants from 154 member states of the United Nations attended the ministerial event to take stock of progress on the Education for All goals initiated in 2000, the education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as well as lessons learned, with a view to developing a proposed 2030 education agenda.
The core theme of the forum continued to be how “Education for All” – which is a UNESCO-led global movement for meeting the life-long learning needs of children, youth and adults – could be fully realized in vast parts of the developing world, in particular. And, importantly, how this ambition could be financed. For many ministers, the EFA Agenda remains unfinished business.
Almost all small island developing states (SIDS), however, have achieved the EFA goals, although access to education still poses a challenge, especially in the Pacific. In the Caribbean, the net primary school enrolment rate is still below 90%, according to UNESCO. St. Kitts and Nevis has an 85% enrolment rate based on 2011 UNESCO statistics.
A strong consensus evoked by Ministers was that the year 2015 has emerged as the horizon toward which the world projects its aspirations to achieve the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals. While accelerating efforts to achieve these goals, the United Nations has been mobilizing the world to define the post-2015 development agenda. In this process, UNESCO and UNICEF have carved out a key role in mapping out the 12 strategies and to reinforce the 6 education-related MDGs and facilitating international, regional and national reflection action on education beyond 2015.
The WEF2015 high-level discussions indicated that the direction of the post-2015 education agenda should be anchored in a lifelong and sector-wide perspective, addressing access and results, equity and quality for all – children, youth and adults – from early childhood care and education to higher education and adult learning, and in formal, non-formal and informal learning.
Amongst the most prominent participants speaking at the WEF 2015 included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim; UNESCO director general Irina Bokova; and Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, the mother of Qatar’s current emir.
Commented education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Shawn Richards, “we found much commonality amongst ministers in our new government’s pre-election pledge to develop life-long employable skills for young men in St. Kitts and Nevis via a robust Technical and Vocational Training regime. Our TVET thrust is shared by many UN Member States, and much discussed at the high level event WEF2015, where we could point to the need for such a regime to enable young, dis-enfranchised men to be integrated into the mainstream jobs market”.
While in South Korea, Minister Richards had a productive one-to-one meeting with Hwang Woo-yea, the Minister of Education and a Deputy Prime Minister of South Korea. Discussions ensued on the gratitude of the government of St. Kitts and Nevis for South Korea’s recent gift of school material and equipment, and future technical assistance in teaching instruments in science and music. The Minister extended an invitation to his South Korean counterpart to visit St. Kitts and Nevis.
Minister Richards also seized the opportunity to meet UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, who greeted him by remarking that this he could not have chosen a better way to inaugurate his role as education minister of St. Kitts and Nevis but by participating in the single most important UNESCO education ministerial conference of the past 15 years, with over 140 ministers attending.
Early during the WEF2015 event, Minister Richards met Mr. Qian Tang, the Assistant Director General for Education, UNESCO, and underlined the continuing importance of the UNESCO review, under way in St. Kitts and Nevis, into the Federation’s education policy and strategy. The results of the UNESCO study, covering curriculum, governance, teacher training will be presented to the Government in July.
The forum adopted the Incheon Declaration and Incheon Framework for Action, which will “show the direction and strategic plan for global education for the next 15 years,” according to officials.
The framework includes goals such as: ensuring opportunities for equal primary and secondary education, increasing the number of adults with occupational skills, eradicating gender discrimination in education, and supplying affordable and accessible higher education.
Minister Richards was accompanied by Dr. David Doyle, St. Kitts and Nevis’ Ambassador to a UNESCO, based in Paris, who galvanized a number of Small Island Developing State ministers attending WEF2015 in proposing amendments to the Ministers Declaration to incorporate SIDS in the future strategic plan for global education. “The Declaration further strengthens the work we are pursuing at UNESCO in developing a dedicated, focused Action Plan for small island developing states, like St. Kitts and Nevis. It was an opportunity we could not miss while attending such a high-level ministerial meeting in South Korea”, noted Ambassador Doyle.
Concluding the 4-day attendance at the ministerial event, Minister Richards said “It is important that St. Kitts and Nevis’ voice is heard at such high-level meetings, in particular, in articulating our special needs as one of the 38 SIDS members to the UN”.
The Minister spoke at a GRULAC press conference on the last day on behalf of the English-speaking Caribbean states. His statement is featured separately.