Speech - DSG at Forum Education Ministers' Meeting, NZ

Auckland, New Zealand
26-28 November 2007


Honourable Jim Marurai, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands
Honourable Ministers
Education Officials from Forum Island Countries
Representatives of Regional and International Organisations and Development Partners
Ladies and gentlemen

1. It is indeed my pleasure, on behalf of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, to welcome you here to the sixth meeting of Forum Education Ministers. The theme that has been selected for this meeting is ‘Enhancing Educational Outcomes for Pacific Children and Youth’. And the agenda for the meeting has been developed and structured around that theme.

2. But let me first of all, through you Minister Chris Carter, thank the Government of New Zealand most sincerely for last night’s warm welcome and for the fabulous dinner reception. Thank you also for hosting this important regional ministerial meeting and for all the logistical support and arrangements for the meeting.

3. Ministers will recall, that the first Forum Education Ministers Meeting was held here in Auckland in May 2001. That first meeting was convened as a result of a decision of the Forum Economic Ministers in 1999 to convene an ad hoc meeting of Education Ministers to discuss human resource development issues in the region, particularly focusing on the delivery of basic education.

4. The key outcome of that first meeting was the Forum Basic Education Action Plan, which has become the central focus of subsequent Education Ministers meetings including this meeting.

5. Much has happened since that first meeting in 2001.

6. With assistance from the European Union under the ninth European Development Fund and from NZAID, the Pacific Regional Initiative for the Delivery of Basic Education (PRIDE) project was established to implement many parts of the Forum Basic Education Action Plan. The University of the South Pacific is the implementing agency of PRIDE.

7. Education Ministers have taken a particularly close interest in PRIDE as it was born out of this ministerial meeting process. Ministers will have an opportunity at this meeting to receive an update on the project and review its progress.

8. Since PRIDE is a donor-assisted project, it has a limited life and this may be the last ministerial meeting before PRIDE is finally integrated into USP’s Institute of Education. This gives your deliberations on PRIDE a heightened importance as we look long-term to what will happen post PRIDE. We need to look at the impact and sustainability of projects such as PRIDE, not just the inputs, which are often the traditional focus. But we also need to be realistic about our capacity to implement the activities of various projects.

9. Other aspects of the Action Plan have been implemented by different agencies in different ways. As an example, I am particularly pleased to note that the Regional Qualifications Register is getting off the ground, after many years of discussion. This ties in well with the issue of labour mobility. I would like to thank the South Pacific Board for Educational Assessment and AusAID for their cooperation in moving this initiative forward and we look forward with interest to further developments on this regional initiative.

10. The Forum Secretariat executed a regional skills development study for the Asian Development Bank and that has reached completion. This study provides a wealth of information in the under-researched area of technical and vocational education and training. We hope that funding can be found to implement some of the recommendations of the study.

11. While technical and vocational education and training (TVET) cannot itself provide employment opportunities, it can equip our young people to cope better in their communities, to tap into the regional or international labour markets or possibly to become self-employed.

12. I welcome the opening of the Australian Pacific Technical College, which is expanding its range and reach to provide opportunities in TVET for Pacific people.

13. It is also pleasing to note UNESCO’s cooperation in commissioning a study on non-formal education to be presented at this meeting.

14. The FBEAP makes note of the potential use in education of Information Communications Technology. Since the first Action Plan a great deal has happened in the world of ICT and we are very happy to be bringing a good practice example from one of our member countries to showcase at this meeting. A recent survey by USP showed that there is a great deal of interest in ICT in the Pacific education community and countries have been making inroads into this area.

15. ICT is, however, an area where the rural / urban divide becomes pronounced and we must work to overcome this, so that education becomes truly inclusive. In this context there has been significant interest on the One Laptop Per Child initiative which offers interesting possibilities. Computers of course are just tools – they need the appropriate educational input and trained personnel to make them valuable.

16. Teacher performance is of course a major ingredient in student learning and it is pleasing to learn that the USP Institute of Education is undertaking a ‘Teacher and Education in the Pacific’ project with support from AusAID and the Asian Development Bank.

17. Next year, it will be seven years since the Forum Basic Education Action Plan was conceived. Since then the Plan has been reviewed annually and Ministers have added and supplemented the initial Plan. As a result, the Action Plan is no longer contained in a single document but a composite of document each containing an annual review updates of the Plan. I think it is time Ministers should consider developing a consolidated version of the Action Plan which brings together in a single document all the current and operative aspects of the Action Plan.

18. At this meeting, I hope the Ministers will start considering what is the most appropriate form of support for education systems in our region.

19. The balance between regional and national programmes and how regional programmes can best add value to national initiatives is not a straight forward issue and one that we could discuss at length. It is an area that regional organisations must also handle with care because of the sensitivity in the interface between regional and national programmes.

20. I think the critical issue in this regard, is how regional programmes can add value to national initiatives. In my view, if regional initiatives and projects could not be successfully translated into national benefits or add value to national initiative, then frankly there may be no justification for those regional initiatives.

21. The Pacific Plan as you all know provides a framework that guide and facilitates enhanced regional cooperation. The Pacific Plan suggests three ways of testing whether regionalism can add value to national initiatives. And I will like to reiterate them here for the benefit of Ministers as they may provide a useful guide in determining the regional agenda on education.

22. The first test is called the Market test. And the question need to be asked is whether the market can provide a service well? If the answer is yes, then involvement by national governments and / or regional bodies should be minimal (if any at all).

23. The second test is called the Subsidiarity test: And the question need to be asked is whether national or local governments can provide the service well? If the answer is yes, then involvement by regional bodies should also be minimal. The Pacific Plan document actually provides the example of primary and secondary education which are generally managed by local and national governments, whereas for small Pacific Island states, a regional university such as USP is ideal.

24. The third test is called the Sovereignty test: And the question that need to be asked is whether the proposed regional initiative will maintain the degree of effective sovereignty held by national governments? The principle in play here is that regional initiatives should shift only the management of services to regional bodies, but not the prerogative of making policy. Countries, not regional bodies, should decide priorities and related policies.

25. If we apply these three tests to the subject of this meeting, education, you will probably answer ‘no’ to the market test, as this is not something that the market addresses although there is a growth of private education providers in some countries.

26. The answer to the subsidiarity test may differ from country to country, but it is evident that not all of the countries in our region are able to provide services without various forms of external assistance.

27. The sovereignty test is always the tricky one as it deals with the interface between regional and national undertakings. But the important thing to remember here is that the key role of regional bodies is management of services and supporting national initiatives. They are not in the business of policy making – that is the prerogative of the member countries.

28. And it is up to you, Ministers and representatives of countries to set the priorities for the regional bodies. One of the purposes of this meeting is for you to set the regional agenda on education, in concurrence and in line with the priorities of your respective countries.

29. Ministers, you do face many challenges regarding the education systems in your countries and have to regularly make difficult decisions. We hope that you may take home from this meeting some ideas that will make a difference to the lives of your people.

30. In closing, I would like to thank the large number of observers for their interest and their attendance. Many of the observers are development partners who actually implement aspects of the Forum Basic Education Action Plan and we are indebted to you for that. I hope that you will find opportunities in the margins of the meeting to talk informally with each other and to Ministers. Your contributions certainly add value to the meeting process and the large number of requests that we have for attendance is a positive indicator of the usefulness and value of such a meeting.

31. Once again, I wish to reiterate our sincere thank and gratitude to the Government of New Zealand for its assistance in convening this meeting. I would also like to note the support and contributions of other CROP agencies, in particular SPC, SPBEA and USP; and also the support provided by the UNESCO office for Pacific States.

32. I wish you all a most successful meeting.

Auckland, New Zealand
27 November 2007