Educationalists flock to The Bahamas for 19CCEM

Annie Fox

The Long View

The 19th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers saw ministers looking at post-2015 targets for education, including the need to increase access to primary education

© The Bahamas government

© The Bahamas government

June saw the great and good from the world of education gather in The Bahamas for the 19th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (19CCEM). The triennial conference explored the theme ‘Quality Education for Equitable Development: Performance, Paths and Productivity’ through ministers’ discussions and parallel events, including the Stakeholders’ Forum, Youth Forum and Teachers’ Forum.

Coming just a month after the World Education Forum, 19CCEM looked at the decisions made at the forum in South Korea and built on the work of the 18CCEM Ministerial Working Group on the Post-2015 Agenda. The group had proposed education goals for the Commonwealth covering primary, secondary and tertiary education. A new working group was formed at 19CCEM, tasked with developing the pioneering Commonwealth Accelerated Development Mechanism for Education, which will support countries’ harmonisation with the internationally agreed post-2015 agenda.

Ministers endorsed the Incheon Declaration, which frames a vision for progress on education by 2030. The meeting also saw the official inclusion of a specific forum for small states, which the ministers saw as a significant step in ensuring that the voice of small states continues to be heard on the world stage, given that 31 of the 53 Commonwealth nations are small states. Likewise, the role of education in building resilience was championed as a key factor in combating issues of vulnerability, particularly those faced by small states, such as climate change, migration, mobility and financing.

The meeting also celebrated successes that have been achieved to date in the drive for universal primary education, but noted that achievements on access leave much work to be done in the areas of equitable provision and quality.

The 2015-16 edition of the annual publication Commonwealth Education Partnerships was also launched at 19CCEM, featuring articles from eminent commentators on education in the Commonwealth, as well as profiles of each of the 53 member countries. The meeting also saw the launch of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Education Hub – a virtual ‘one-stop-shop’ where professionals can connect with their peers and tap into a vast array of information and services.

The statement put out by the Teachers’ Forum following its meeting in The Bahamas included a sober reminder of how much work is still to be done. The forum noted that “none of the Education for All targets and education Millennium Development Goals will be achieved by the end of 2015” and that “inequalities between social groups have not been reduced despite progress made on the MDGs”. The forum concluded that “achieving all the proposed SDGs is only truly possible through comprehensive cross-sector efforts that begin with education” and called on Commonwealth education ministers to work with ministries of finance and foreign affairs on robust education goals, targets and indicators in the post-2015 framework.

The Youth Forum brought together students aged 18-29 years from across the Commonwealth to discuss issues of critical importance to achieving progress in education. This included looking at the role and contribution of students in education, which was examined through an interactive programme, designed to inspire and motivate participants. Student leaders also had the opportunity to interact with ministers and senior government officials and present them with statements based on their discussions. Chair of the Commonwealth Students Association, Stanley Njoroge, said: “We are pleased that the Commonwealth sees the value of putting young people at the heart of its work and is committed to empowering students to be real partners in driving development and change.”

The main organisation behind the Youth Forum was the Commonwealth Students’ Association (CSA), which was launched in 2012 at 18CCEM in Mauritius to allow student leaders to gather and make recommendations on the current issues in education, strengthening their role in the Commonwealth education sector. The CSA played an instrumental role in the planning of the Commonwealth Students’ Congress, the largest gathering of students across the Commonwealth. The inaugural Commonwealth Students Congress was held during 19CCEM, at which the first CSA executive was elected.

The 19CCEM Stakeholders’ Forum was a major education event in itself, which saw delegates gather from all education stakeholder groups – business, government, academia, civil society, and the development and donor communities. The forum addressed the 19CCEM theme ‘Quality Education for Equitable Development: Performance, Paths and Productivity’, and examined ways in which non-state bodies can collaborate with governments, with each other and across the borders of the 53 member countries of the Commonwealth, in order to make the conference theme a reality.

While the World Education Forum in Korea had addressed what UN countries need to work towards in terms of widening the access to quality education, the 19CCEM Stakeholders’ Forum represented an opportunity for stakeholders to consider how, by working in multi-sector and cross-border partnerships, those education goals can be met.

Speakers at the Stakeholders’ Forum included Dame Pearlette Louisy, Governor-General of Saint Lucia; Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General of Education for UNESCO; and Lord David Puttnam, award-winning film producer and UK President of Unicef. The Caribbean launch of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report also took place at the Stakeholders Forum.

In his closing remarks at the end of the conference on 26 June, Jerome K. Fitzgerald, Minister of Education, Science and Technology for The Bahamas, said: “We have a great deal of work to do. Those of us present at this 19CCEM have many things in common; but it is really our shared commitment to education and the appreciation of its power to transform and elevate the people that unite us. As I stated during one of our plenary sessions, ‘as a group, we are only as strong as our weakest link’.

“Because we know the inherent value of education, we must find ways to strategically and creatively communicate and transfer that value and appreciation to our citizens. As Malcolm X said: ‘By any means necessary.’”

He concluded: “It is therefore imperative that we embark on an aggressive Commonwealth education campaign, that ‘through quality education, we can change the world’.

“We must put action to words. If we are not able to transfer what we have shared and received into practical application that is culturally relevant, needs based and flexible enough to meet the needs of today’s diverse group of learners, our meeting this week would have been in vain. We must now implement! Our fierce drive to implement must be sustained and measurable, driven by an uncompromised political will.”

For the full Nassau Declaration, outlining the major topics and issues discussed at 19CCEM, as well as the major remedial initiatives proposed, see


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