(From L-R): Rear Admiral (Ret), Honourable Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji and Minister of i-Taukei Affairs, Sugar Industry and Foreign Affairs and Her Excellency Ms Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of Commonwealth during their address.
The Prime Minister of Fiji and Minister of i-Taukei Affairs, Sugar Industry and Foreign Affairs, Rear Admiral (Ret), Honourable Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama officially opened the 20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (20CCEM) on 20 February 2018 at Sheraton Resort, Nadi, Fiji.
The University of the South Pacific (USP), which is one of the major sponsors of the first ever CCEM in the Pacific, is well-represented with a number of presentations done by its staff and students.
Presentations by USP participants covered topics such as, Education for Sustainability and Resilience: The Task Ahead, by Professor Rajesh Chandra, Vice-Chancellor and President; Transforming pedagogical practices at USP, by Professor Som Naidu, Pro Vice-Chancellor Flexible Learning and Director of the Centre for Flexible Learning; Recovering from natural disasters to build resilient universities, by Dr Giulio Paunga, Vice-President Regional Campuses and Estates and Infrastructure and Professor Elisabeth Holland, Director for Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD); International Mobility for capacity building by Professor Derrick Armstrong, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Innovation and International; and Professor Konai Helu Thaman talked about Culture and Education for Sustainability and Resilience. Representatives from the USP Students Association (USPSA) discussed the importance of integrating culture into education systems, particularly the Pacific culture.
The theme of the Conference is Sustainability and Resilience: Can Education Deliver?; and keeping the theme in mind, Hon. PM Bainimarama said that education is the key to sustainable development because it equips people with the skills they need to benefit in their lives and the lives of those around them.
He emphasised that governments at all levels must place sustainability at the core of their decision making.
Talking about climate change, Hon. PM Bainimarama said that at the global level, we must do everything in our power to meet this challenge and resist all attempts to slow the process of climate change.
After surviving a dreadful Tropical Cyclone in 2016, the Prime Minister believes that nothing is more important to any nation than to enable young people have adequate access to quality education.
Her Excellency, Ms Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of Commonwealth said that this is the first CCEM since the international community collectively adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“This means that we can now take stock and measure how in the Commonwealth we are performing against and towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) targets,” H.E Ms Scotland said.
The SDG4 is about “Ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.”
She added that the commonwealth ambition is for improved education outcomes in all communities and national settings, so that people of all ages and backgrounds are able to fulfill that potential with dignity, equality and a healthy environment.
“By extending access to inclusive equitable quality education, member states can ensure and secure a sustainable and prosperous future,” she added.
In her keynote address, Right Hon. Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand said that she was pleased that the Conference is being held in Fiji, a country which gives high priority to its participation in international organisations, and “where challenges at the heart of the global sustainable development agenda are so pressing, not least those of building resilience to adverse events such as those brought about by climate change.”
Talking about the Conference theme, with much enthusiasm, Rt. Hon. Clark said that education can and must deliver sustainability and resilience.
Some of the participants during the official opening.
She acknowledged the role of USP and said that it really is the region’s university, which can take a lead on these issues and encourage studies in the kinds of areas that each of the Pacific Small Island Developing States will need to cope, going forward.
She further stated that there is a need for community outreach and community level of education, building awareness, and added that communities are now seeing the effects of climate change and want to learn how to adapt.
Another special guest at the 20CCEM, Hon. Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati and Climate Change Ambassador commended USP for providing programmes in climate change right from skills-based qualifications to PhD level.
Hon. Tong said that many countries in the region face existential threats of climate change and education, and through the region’s tertiary institution, it will allow young people to get the right knowledge and solutions to this “almost impossible task.”
The conference includes an integrated partners’ forum for students, teachers, higher education leaders and civil society. For the second time since the conference was established in 1959, there is a special forum for Ministers from small states.
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