Fiji: Commonwealth Conference of Education Ministers to prioritise free quality education and educators

Education International has called upon governments to put free quality public education and educators at the heart of efforts to achieve sustainability and resilience through education.

This call was made at the 20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) held in Nadi, Fiji, from 19-23  February. Focusing on the theme “Sustainability and Resilience: Can Education Deliver?”, participants discussed ways of achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and ensuring resilience in both the Commonwealth and other countries.

Slow progress on SDGs

Speaking at the opening of the CCEM Integrated Partners Forum, Education International (EI) President Susan Hopgood reminded governments that nearly two and half years after their adoption,  the UN’s SDGs are yet to be translated into concrete action at country and local levels. She pointed out that millions of children and adolescents remain out of school and that those left behind are often young people in conflict, rural and other marginalised areas, girls, disabled children, migrants and refugees, indigenous groups and ethnic minorities.  

Tangible progress on the SDGs commitment to reduce global warming was yet to be realised, argued Hopgood, describing  climate change as “the critical urgency of our time”. She went on to urge governments to take immediate measures to address climate change. 

“Progress towards implementation of SDG 4 on quality education has been hampered by the lack of adequate financing, perennial teacher shortages, inadequate infrastructure and insufficient teaching and learning resources”, Hopgood deplored.

Ensure resilient systems, educators and students

She noted that, in examining the term ‘resilience’, participants should avoid shifting the responsibility of dealing with such global phenomena as climate change, radicalisation, conflict and other challenges from governments to individuals.

“Expecting individuals to absorb shocks and bounce back in the name of resilience without addressing the structural and root causes of the challenges affecting our countries, our communities and our education systems, would not only be unfair, but a negation of the primary responsibility of governments”, she underlined.

Hopgood also suggested three imperatives for achieving SDGs, sustainability and resilience through education, namely resilient education systems, resilient educators and resilient students. She insisted that resilient, sustainable and inclusive education systems are free and publicly-funded, stressing that private for profit schools, including the so-called low-cost private schools, are not a panacea to inclusive quality education for all.

She also urged governments to empower teachers and educators by providing them with high-quality training and continuous opportunities for professional development and accord them the professional autonomy they need to make decisions related to teaching and learning.

Hopgood further opposed the narrow focus of many governments on competition and testing, regretting that this tends to inhibit the students’ ability to solve problems, create, innovate and adapt to new situations.

Governments must be held to account for the provision of free quality education for all

Contributing to a panel debate on accountability in education, EI’s Dennis Sinyolo argued that education is a basic human right and a public good, whose provision should be guaranteed by the state. He went on to propose measures aiming to ensure the provision of free publicly-funded education for all. These measures include guaranteeing more domestic revenue collection, closing tax loopholes, fighting corruption and meeting internationally agreed targets for education financing.

The Commonwealth Teachers Group (CTG), a grouping of EI member organisations in Commonwealth countries, met in conjunction to the CCEM to discuss EI’s Global Response to privatisation and commercialisation of and in education, as well as EI’s proposed framework on professional teaching standards.

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