Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Planning education for a better world

Dawn to refining the culture of education:
Deframing the Framework for Action to 2030

Dr Kris Rampersad, Chairperson UNESCO General Conference – 38th Session, Education Commission, Opening Speech, 5 November 2015 US CO Headquarters Paris France

 Your Excellencies,
Honourable delegates,
Representative of the Director General and the members of the UNESCO Secretariat,

Thank you for the confidence you have placed in me in the election as Chair of the Education Commission of the 38th UNESCO General Conference.
Welcome to all of you to these most significant engagements poised as we are between the seasons of change as we embark on implementing the reform and re-visioning of UNESCO and its role in a world that places priority on the needs of the next generations in a climate of sustainable development. And to signal that process of change, and of where we are placing our priorities, you will see I have seated here with me for this opening session, the representatives of the 9th session of the UNESCO Youth Forum.
Ms Biru ANJANIE from Indonesia, Ms Esther VAN DUIN from the Netherlands, and Mr Faisal Khalid BIN GHANNAM from Saudi Arabia.
Also part of our team are: Secretary of the Education Commission, Mr Borhene Chakroun and the Assistant Director-General of Education, Mr Qian Tang (Chan Tang) and colleagues who will be co-piloting the Education Commission with me. Once again I would like to congratulate (Finland), (Gabon), (Kuwait), (Pakistan) and (Slovakia) on their election as Vice-Chairs and Rapporteur.
Today is significant because we are celebrating the UN and UNESCO’s 70th birthday.
A local calypso bard from my region might say, ‘70 years have passed, how you feel?’
Calypso and the rich musical heritage of my land, as some of you may know, is generally celebratory, but it is also reflective, introspective and an articulate chronicle of the times, and so it provides a mood very much attuned to an anniversary as significant as the biblical milestone of three scores and ten.
I was hoping to get some of the music of Trinidad and Tobago played – calypso, chutney and indeed we are in the season of parang which all are part of the music of our multicultural milieu - to mark the end of your speaking time but we are hoping that we wouldn’t have to use music as most of you would respect the timeframe of the agenda we have set ourselves to complete.
Some of you would have participated in yesterday’s launch of the Education 2030 framework of action.  
It was another opportunity to take a close look at where we have come as an institution, charged with building peace in the minds of men and women, as is in the motto of UNESCO - the leading UN agency for education. More significantly, however, is that it provides an opportunity for introspection for all of us to assess ourselves, and our roles as leaders, as ministers of governments, as officials of the public and private sectors, as policy makers, academicians, as social workers as youth, as citizens, and as men and women – of our role in working towards the achievement of our motto of building peace in the minds of men and women.
Let us remind ourselves of the realities before us:
This year, we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of UNESCO. In 1945, we, the Member States, enshrined in UNESCO’s Constitution our commitment to build peace in the minds of men and women. The fundamental role of education in this process is no longer an issue for debate. Our pledge to work to ensure that all people have access to inclusive and quality education and lifelong learning opportunities that leads to fulfilling lives for themselves and future generations is the cornerstone of UNESCO’s noble mandate.
This year 2015 is also the year of global action for people and our planet: a historic and unprecedented opportunity for us all to embark on sustainable paths to improve the lives of people everywhere, protect our planet and address climate change and the interests of the small and marginalised.
Our heads of states adopted a new global agenda to end poverty by 2030 and pursue a sustainable future. Education is central to this new Sustainable Development Agenda, with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 seeking to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
Education 2030 is universal. It is inspired by a humanistic vision of education. It reaffirms that education is a public good, a fundamental human right and a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights. It is essential for peace, tolerance, human fulfilment and sustainable development. It suggests that we focus our efforts on access, equity and inclusion, quality and learning outcomes, within a lifelong learning approach.
The new education agenda’s focus on inclusion and equity requires the political attention and the need for increased efforts especially aimed at reaching those marginalized or in vulnerable situations and more broadly giving everyone an equal opportunity, and leaving no one behind.
The attention to quality highlights the need to shift the attention from only access to learning and learning outcomes. Teachers play a crucial role in improving the quality of education. This means that it is of utmost importance to change current practices and mobilize efforts and resources including Information and Communication Technologies at an unprecedented pace.
The Education 2030 agenda is also emphasising on the importance of Lifelong learning opportunities and the need for new criteria and for new kinds of learning outcomes. For reasons of employability in a world characterised by fast changing labour markets and growing insecurity, unemployment and underemployment, learning outcomes should not just be more relevant at a given moment but they should be transferable. New kinds of learning outcomes have become important as well. These include the ability to learn, to be entrepreneurial, to think and act sustainably and to collaborate and live together as global citizens.
In terms of structure of the education systems, lifelong learning perspective gives strong arguments for recognising the cumulative nature of learning, creating open and flexible learning pathways, providing a rich variety of learning settings, and recognising non-formal and informal learning outcomes. For individuals, the lifelong learning approach gives them a more active role and responsibility in shaping their own learning pathways.
Rather than viewing education in isolation from other Sustainable Development Goals, we should consider that the realization of the Education 2030 Agenda is essential for the success of all the others. The challenge ahead is both to give attention to the complex interrelationships between education and key development sectors and also to determine which education strategies, policies and programmes are most effectively linked to the economic, social, environmental and political priorities of the new sustainable development agenda as a whole.
When it is based on the principles of democracy, quality and equity, education is a powerful vector to bring many other economic, social and environmental benefits, such as better employment and revenues, raised productivity gains - fuelling economic development, social participation, improved individuals’ health, reduced malnutrition, reduction of violence and discrimination in particular gender discrimination, better care for the environment and sustainable consumption patterns and behaviours.
In this context, UNESCO should fulfil its five key functions including supporting its Member States to strengthen their policies, systems and capacities to transform their education system and to develop appropriate normative instruments and standards, to act as a laboratory of ideas and ensure a clearing house function. As the specialized UN agency in education, UNESCO should be a catalyst of international cooperation and should play a vital leadership role in co‑ordinating partners.
As I examined the Global Framework for Action for Education to 2030 launched yesterday I recalled a line from one of Trinidad and Tobago’s two Nobel Laureates for Literature:
“The purpose of education,” says a schoolteacher, standing before a classroom on the first day of school, “is to form, not to inform.”
It is a scene from Laureate Sir Vidia Naipaul’s epic novel, A House for Mr Biswas, set in Trinidad and Tobago, but it could have been any school across the globe. For how long has the focus of our systems of education been on forming, moulding, shaping, when it should be creation, formation, remaking.
This global framework - the Sustainable Development Agenda which includes the education goal SDG 4 mandates us, I repeat, to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
They are well chosen words. And if I were to de-frame them we will punctuate each word to absorb its significance:
Lifelong Learning.
For All.
We cannot miss the lyricism of the words lifelong learning – preceded as it is by the gaps we need to fill in the education process to make it inclusive – and nurture generations who can rise above prejudice and discrimination whether it is at political, social or economic levels that are responsible for so much of the social strife that occupies UNESCO’s attention today.
We have assessed the successes – and the shortcomings - in reaching the targets of the Millennium Development Goals.
But the world of change before us is not insignificant. It is a world in which all knowledge can be contained in a computer chip the size of our thumbnails; and it is the knowledge that we do not yet know that deserves attention.
We live in a time when all scientific truths that used be considered facts; are as liable to become obsolete as the next discovery, the next invention or the next unearthing of an ancient culture.
We all have testimonies personal and otherwise of the value of education and man of us are living examples of the ability of education for social and personal enrichment and fulfilment and to transform a society and poise us to lead meaningful lives as nationals and as global citizens.
But the challenges remain and the new agenda mandates us to recognise that most of learning occurs not inside a classroom wall but outside, not within school hours but outside on the streets, in communities, in religious institutions, among gangs and peers as my friends from the Youth Forum here can testify - and in families.
So in the education mandate, SDG 4, there is the significant word and which we must be neutralised if we are to de-frame the framework so that our education mandate to the process of lifelong learning are inseparable and indistinguishable from each other. That would set us well on the part of achieving sustainable development.
Colleagues, today feels like the first day of school. We are about to embark on perhaps one of the most significant journeys of our time; a journey that will lead us towards fulfilling our mandate, not just as a UN agency, not just as UNESCO, but as leaders of our societies, as teachers, as parents, as citizens.
That thought brings to mind the words of another of our Nobel Laureates for Literature – one whom we share with St Lucia, our Caribbean neighbour, or should I say famalee – as we do in Trinidad and Tobago – as, although minute islands- we see ourselves intrinsically part of the global as our roots are in all the continents of the world.
Laureate Walcott, whose works are inscribed on the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register, in his Nobel Laureate acceptance speech, evokes for us the primeval spirit that is contained in lifelong learning which finds fertile soil for germination and perpetual renewal in our region:
There is a force of exultation, a celebration of luck, when one finds oneself a witness to the early morning of a culture that is defining itself, branch by branch, leaf by leaf, in that self-defining dawn, which is why, especially at the edge of the sea, it is good to make a ritual of the sunrise.
… The sounds of leaves, palm fronds, and birds are the sounds of a fresh dialect, the native tongue. The personal vocabulary, the individual melody whose metre is one's biography, joins in that sound, with any luck, and the body moves like a walking, a waking island.
Distinguished Delegates:
Who in this room does not feel this force of exultation to celebrate this dawning of redefining a culture which is our task here – to remake the culture of education, bringing together conventional systems of education with original and primeval instinct for lifelong learning, clause by clause, branch by branch, leaf by leaf.
The purpose of our education agenda to 2030 is not just to form nor inform as Laureate Naipaul’s small island school teacher might pronounce, but also to remake, reform and transform; to break down the barriers of prejudice, discrimination, and conflict to respect the natural human rights as global beings that is at the core of the youth vision we would hear shortly.
We can ritualise that through our work here in this room over the next few days so at to provide our societies, with our own vocabulary for change, a fresh dialect for transformation, a native tongue for inclusivity with a self-defining melody that adds a spring to our projections and like Walcott’s awakening island, to create the world we want.
I thank you.

Dr Kris Rampersad is an independent educator and international development consultant/facilitator in media and culture and specialist in international policy mechanisms of education, culture, media and information and gender.

 Dr Kris Rampersad (second from left) with representatives of the 9th session of the UNESCO Youth Forum at the opening of the US CO Education Commission at the 30th General Conference 

Ms Biru ANJANIE from Indonesia, Mr Faisal Khalid BIN GHANNAM from Saudi Arabia and Ms Esther VAN DUIN from the Netherlands