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 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 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 among 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.
Collaboration and cooperation among national education systems and regional institutions through south-south cooperation are critical to its success. The commitment by regional institutions such as The University of the South Pacific (USP) and the Educational Quality Assessment Programmme (EQAP) and by partner agencies UNESCO, UNICEF and the Australian Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) towards PacREF will ensure a sustainable and affordable mechanism for implementation.
In this respect, and through partnerships 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.
By Meg Taylor DBE, Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat &
Professor Rajesh Chandra, President and Vice Chancellor, The University of the South Pacific