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Education conference must ensure “no-one is left behind”

26 January 2018

Education ministers must ensure “no-one is left behind” when they gather for a major Commonwealth conference next month, former prime minister of New Zealand Helen Clark has said.

Speaking at Marlborough House ahead of the 20th Commonwealth Education Ministers Meeting (CCEM) in Fiji, Ms Clark said attendees had “a huge leadership role” in improving outcomes for future generations.

She added that the conference was an “incredible” opportunity for governments to discuss ways to strengthen the schooling system across the 52 member states and tackle issues such as low levels of enrolment.

Ms Clark, who was also head of the United Nations Development Programme until last year and will be speaking at CCEM, said, “It’s an incredible time for the ministers to be meeting because we are early on in the Sustainable Development Goals [process]. They are challenging every country to have inclusive education for all; to leave nobody behind; to educate for sustainable development; for resilience; for inclusive and cohesive societies.”

She continued, “A huge issue is those who have been left behind from the formal education system. We still have tens of millions of children not enrolled in school. And quite a number of those are in Commonwealth countries. So it will be very important for this conference to be stressing leaving no-one behind in education. Because if there’s anything that makes for inclusive development it is the opportunity of every child and every young person to have access to schooling. So I would like to see that very strong equity focus come through in the outcomes.”

The Commonwealth Education Minister’s Meeting is being hosted by the Fijian government. The theme for the conference is ‘Sustainability and Resilience: Can Education Deliver?’, with further focus on related issues, including climate change, technical and vocational education and training, and information and communication technology expansion.

Discussing the opportunity that the conference provided, Ms Clark said, “The education ministers have a huge leadership role in their countries in bringing up the next generation and for continuing education, so what I hope is to inspire them to do their very best to help their countries achieve the goals of the sustainable development agenda and their national development goals.”

Ms Clark praised the unique role the Commonwealth fulfils in bringing together so many different nations to learn from one another and share best practice. She said, “The Commonwealth brings together a very diverse group of nations, but they are united in many ways by aspects of history. And one of those aspects is the common use of the English language, so the literature that we use in one country can be used in another.

“We can share a lot – the common language means we share ideas easily – so I think there will be camaraderie among these ministers. They are all tackling similar problems – some of greater degree than others – all of them want their societies to be successful – all of them know the role that education will play in that.”