FEdMM Opening Remarks, SG Tuiloma Neroni Slade

Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, the Honourable Jim Marurai
Honourable Ministers, representatives of Member Governments
Heads of Ministries of Education
Representatives of Development Partners and Observers
Officials from our host government of the Kingdom of Tonga
Ladies and Gentlemen

Last evening we were, and we are, deeply honoured by the presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Salote Mafile’o Pilolevu Tuita and her welcoming words of guidance and support, and deeply impressed by the array of cultural performances providing a glimpse of the warmth and richness of the ways and traditions of this land.

In your name I express to the government of the Kingdom of Tonga our most grateful appreciation.

In particular, may I thank the Hon Rev Dr Tevita Hala Palefau, Minister of Education, Women’s Affairs and Culture for all the courtesies and generous arrangements for the official opening ceremony last evening indeed, since our arrival in Tonga.

What we observed of the performances last evening and this morning serves as to under score the vibrancy and living qualities of cultural traditions of our region and for Honourable Ministers it sets the context for your discussions over the next two days. While we need to prepare our children for an ever globalised world, we must also see that the children are properly grounded in the values of our Pacific in our traditions.

It is not possible to separate our countries from the wider world. The global economy is facing a crisis from which we are not immune. While education systems may not be the main focus of concern in relation to the economic crisis, there will inevitably be major implications. When public funds in developed countries are being diverted to shoring up economies, there may be less available for development assistance. At this point, we do not know the full impact of the still evolving global crisis on development assistance in the Pacific. What we do know is that in this period of recession and austerity, planning for more efficient use of scarce resources will become critical for development. There cannot be any doubt as to the need to gain efficiency in the management and use of scarce resources and I need to underscore this. The financial situation as a whole will be difficult and will pose challenges for all of us.

It may be helpful for me, very briefly to put this meeting into a broader context. In 1999, the Forum Economic Ministers met and recommended that the region’s Ministers of Education should meet to reflect upon the human resource needs of our region. The first education ministerial meeting took place in Auckland in May 2001 where the Forum Basic Education Action Plan was adopted. At that meeting, Ministers indicated that they wanted to be kept abreast of the implementation of the Action Plan and this request has led to a series of meetings in the past eight years that many of you have attended.

Honourable Ministers, I believe there is good reason to be proud of your Action Plan. Unlike some plans that are well-intentioned but basically neglected, the Forum Basic Education Action Plan has been implemented very well. Most of you will be familiar with the regional education project PRIDE that is the main vehicle of implementation of the Plan. PRIDE has been in existence now for over five years and has made significant achievements.

One of the hallmarks of PRIDE has been the close sense of ownership that Forum Education Ministers have had with this project from the outset. In fact, the ministerial meetings are at the apex of the management structure of PRIDE.

The life of the project is drawing to a close as the funding cycle on which it depends is ending. One of your major tasks at this meeting is to deliberate and decide upon an appropriate mechanism for the future to support education in our region.

There are numerous other aspects of the FBEAP that have been implemented by other development partners, many of whom are here with us at this meeting. I would like to acknowledge the key role of our partners in regional education including the South Pacific Board for Educational Assessment, the University of the South Pacific, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, UNESCO, UNICEF, the UNDP Pacific Centre, the Asian Development Bank. You will be hearing from many of them about their contributions to regional education today and tomorrow as they report back to you and look forward to the challenges of the future.

At each meeting of Education Ministers, the FBEAP has been added to, so by your last meeting in late 2007, it had become a somewhat weighty document. At this last Forum Education Ministers Meeting, you mandated a review of the Action Plan, as well as a review of the ministerial meeting process itself and you requested various options to be presented on a future regional project that might continue on the work of PRIDE.

Ministers, I am pleased to be able to tell you that this review has been completed and the findings will be reported to you. The review team visited all the Forum Island countries and met almost 200 people. I would like to thank those present who participated in the review and who facilitated its progress.

The 2008 review of the FBEAP identified many challenges that Pacific Island Countries face in the delivery of education. It found that despite the substantial differences in social, historical, demographic and economic contexts, that the 15 countries under review are experiencing many of the same challenges and have identified many similar priorities for further development of their education sectors.

In the main, countries are doing fairly well in the area of access to primary schooling and it is pleasing to see that some countries are commencing fee-free primary education. Many countries have access issues at the secondary level and most are not doing particularly well in the provision of early childhood education. The majority of children with disabilities in our region receive very little if any schooling. This is a matter of serious concern. Children in remote and isolated areas are also disadvantaged.
All countries have major challenges with quality of education, especially teacher quality, and I am pleased that we are addressing this issue at this meeting.

The meeting we commence today is of particular importance in that Ministers will be asked to deliberate upon the recommendations of the review and to look ahead to a new strategic direction for regional education in the form of a revised framework that will be a platform for collaboration and partnership among education partners.

This new framework, entitled the ‘Pacific Education Development Framework’, articulates these challenges and priorities and provides a platform for partners to coordinate and assist countries. It also includes areas that were not so prominent in 2001 when the Forum Basic Education Action Plan was first developed. An example is the development challenge that the region faces with HIV and AIDS. Information Communications Technology, or ICT, has a much more important role in education than perhaps it did seven or eight years ago. Many countries have engaged with the One Laptop Per Child initiative and we hope that the educational benefits of this and other ICT ventures will be worthwhile, as ICT has much to offer our region.

The theme of this meeting is ‘Partnerships in Pacific Education.’ I have already mentioned the key role of development partners in implementing the Forum Basic Education Action Plan for the benefit of the countries in our region. I would also like to specifically acknowledge the donor community for its role in assisting countries both bilaterally and through regional and multilateral mechanisms. We are very pleased to see such a high turn out of development partners present at this meeting.

Partnerships are critical to achieve the vision of the Pacific Plan – a vision that was articulated by our Forum Leaders in 2005, part of which reads:

Quote: ‘Leaders believe that the Pacific region can, should and will be a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that all of its people can lead free and worthwhile lives.’ UnQuote

A sound quality education for all of our children will help reach this aspiration of leading their own free and worthwhile lives.

While many of the presentations you will be receiving here concern regional activities, the beneficiaries are, of course, the countries of the region. I hope that you will learn of initiatives and programmes that will be of benefit to your countries and communities.

As is stated clearly in the Pacific Plan, regional activities exist to supplement and augment activities at the national level. It does not imply any limitation on national sovereignty nor does it intend to replace any national programme, but only to support and complement your own national programmes.

In closing, I want, again, to thank the Government of the Kingdom of Tonga for the kind arrangements and hospitality. The Forum Secretariat is pleased to provide a platform for your discussions and deliberations and I look forward to this meeting to produce outcomes that will signal real progress for our region.

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