Moving the Pacific region towards the Education 2030 Agenda
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Students of Jai Narayan College in Suva, attend the FSTE Engineering Day at USP's Laucala Campus.
By Meg Taylor DBE, Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat & Professor Rajesh Chandra, President and Vice Chancellor, The University of the South Pacific
In 2014, Forum Leaders endorsed a Pacific Vision that supported and promoted peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity, so that all Pacific people can lead free and healthy lives. The Framework for Pacific Regionalism represents the Forum Leaders’ political commitment to regionalism as a means to achieving this vision. Four principle objectives underpin this commitment: sustainable development, economic growth, strengthened governance systems and institutions, and security for all.
In 2017, Forum Leaders endorsed The Blue Pacific as the core driver of collective action for advancing the Leaders’ Pacific Vision. This narrative reaffirms the shared ownership of the Pacific Ocean and the connection of all Pacific peoples with their natural resources, environment and livelihoods and aims to harness their shared ocean identity, geography and resources to drive positive socio-cultural, political and economic development.
To support the Forum Leaders’ Pacific Vision, Forum Education Ministers at their recent meeting on 24 May 2018, in the Republic of Nauru, endorsed in principle a new regional education framework, the “Pacific Regional Education Framework, Moving Towards Education 2030” (PacREF) which prioritises actions in four key policy areas;Quality and Relevance, Learning Pathways, Student Outcomes and Wellbeing, and Teacher Professionalism.
The PacREF promotes a human rights approach to education and seeks to empower Pacific Islanders to fully enjoy, without barriers, the benefits of education. It recognises the disadvantages faced by some groups and communities in accessing opportunities to education. Some of these vulnerable groups include girls, young women, youth, persons with disabilities, rural and outer island communities and minority groups. The Framework aligns with the 2012 Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration (PLGED) in striving towards gender parity in informal, primary, secondary and tertiary education and training.
It also supports the Pacific Framework for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2016-2025 (PFRPD 2016-2025) and responds to its goal of expanding early intervention and education of children with disabilities. The PacREF seeks to promote fully inclusive learning opportunities and environments where students with special needs can fully participate without barriers, and seeks to explore the opportunities provided by Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in reaching out to remote communities in the Pacific island nations. However, while recognising the potential of ICT in education, Ministers cautioned on the negative social impacts of its usage amongst students. While ICT offer some solution to improving access and delivery of quality education to rural and remote communities in the region, continued high costs also remain a huge challenge.
In the context of small island states such as in most of our Pacific island nations, the PacREF recognises the limited employment opportunities within most of the regional countries. It is also recognised that the potential of most students are not being fully developed within regional education systems due to limited learning pathways available within the school curriculum and as a consequence, a large number of students in the region are leaving schools without employable skills and adding to the already large number of unemployed school dropouts in most of the regional countries. In response, the PacREF through its policy area learning pathways attempts to ensure that all learners have equal access to multiple and seamless pathways and modalities of learning that will allow them to meet their full potential and gain employable skills.
Additionally, the need to understand and respond to the critical linkages between labour market/industry needs and appropriate training cannot be over emphasised, if students are to be provided with learning opportunities relevant to their future. The PacREF recognises the importance of ensuring that demand and supply are clearly linked. The ability to gather, share and use labour market research to inform the planning of educational programme delivery is essential if the Pacific is to effectively and efficiently provide secondary and tertiary education and Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programmes that are relevant and of value to employers.
The role and contribution of regional agencies have been recognised and is being promoted when designing the implementation strategy of the PacREF as it is believed to be the most sustainable way forward. In this respect, regional agencies such as The University of the South Pacific (USP) and the Education Quality and Assessment Program (EQAP) with the Pacific Community (SPC) are being actively encouraged towards integrating the PacREF into their institutions’ work programmes. In this respect and throughpartnerships and a commitment to regionalism the PacREF will deliver sustainable, affordable and high quality education goods and services that are accessible to all Pacific Island Countries. Collaboration and cooperation among national education systems and regional institutions through south-south cooperation are critical to the success of the PacREF.
The PacREF recognises the existence of the various forums convened by different regional and international agencies whose mandates relate to either regional or global education commitments. In the development of the governance structure for the PacREF, a rationalisation process has been undertaken to assess the benefits of linking these forums under a governance structure for the PacREF. Such existing forums include the Forum Education Ministers Meeting (FEdMM) convened by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, the Pacific Heads of Education Systems Meeting (PHES) convened by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the CROP Human Resources Development Working Group convened by USP. Rationalising attendance by country officials in regional meetings is important to minimise time away from national duties while maximising outcomes of meetings through high level decisions on regional education.
The PacREF provides a means for identifying and understanding similarities and differences across the region. It offers organising mechanisms for sector planning, reporting and collaboration, and it provides development partners with an understanding of where the region’s resourcing priorities lie. It supports activities that are politically feasible and technically sound and that have a high probability of producing the desired outcomes.
Over a three-phased twelve year period, the PacREF seeks to operationalise commitments by Member States to raise the quality of education across the Pacific, to enhance learners’ education outcomes, and to produce high quality graduates who are able to contribute economically and socially to their communities. It recognises the serious performance challenges that Pacific education systems face and offers an integrated set of tools and mechanisms to help Pacific countries meet their education objectives. Engagement with communities will reflect the recognition that every Pacific Islander is a stakeholder in education.
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