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Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Island Agenda 2004 +

6 Education

World Teachers’ Day was inaugurated by UNESCO in 1994 to commemorate the signing (on 5 October 1966) of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. The day serves to highlight the contributions of the teaching profession to education and development world-wide, and each year UNESCO joins with the global teacher organization Education International to draw public attention to the crucial role that teachers play in society.

Over 100 countries observe World Teachers’ Day, with intentions and plans flagged on the special WTA website operated by Education International. In 2004, contributing events were organized in a fair number of small-island countries, including Anguilla, Barbados, Cape Verde, Cyprus, Dominica, Papua New Guinea, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines and Samoa. Activities included mobilizing media coverage, lobbying political leaders, and organizing special events such as television programmes, debates and public-speaking competitions, national seminars, and awards for individual teachers.

Among the publicity and resource materials posted on the WTA website — a compilation of some 150 quotations, sayings and aphorisms (each in three languages — English, French and Spanish) celebrating teachers and teaching, learning and education. 

Educational conundrums: continuing needs, evolving challenges

"We always keep building capacity but we never have enough – why?" 

This comment by a SIDS delegate at the third UN regional preparatory meeting for the Barbados+10 review meeting (Trinidad & Tobago, October 2003) encapsulates many of the educational concerns of small-island nations. Re-assessment of education and capacity building in a small-island context has need to incorporate emerging opportunities and innovations (e.g. new partnerships, distance education) as well as long-standing issues such as capacity building for a multitude of purposes and to mitigate the effects of migration.

A familiar conundrum for education planners and policy-makers in small islands is the need to improve local relevance whilst maintaining regional and international recognition. A high level of mobility for education and work is a feature of many small islands. 

For historical reasons, education in many small islands has been in the languages and cultures of the former colonial powers. One of the unfortunate consequences has been the alienation of large sections of the population, often young Creole-speaking men. In view of rising social problems, it might be necessary to reconsider what kinds of education and training can best prepare these societies for the future.

There are close links between education and social status in many small island societies. Sometimes as much emphasis is placed on examination scores as citizenship, life skills or employability. To achieve sustainable development, education may need to be more inclusive, in order to enhance learners’ confidence and self-esteem. In multilingual, multicultural societies with strong oral traditions, language issues in education are important for addressing social alienation and promoting cultural development. One approach might be to integrate informal and formal modes of learning, to legitimize the expressions of creativity that are so abundant in many small islands.

Many small island countries have achieved, or are close to achieving, Universal Primary Education (UPE). Improving the quality of primary education and access to secondary, vocational and tertiary education remain a challenge. In most cases, research capacity in education and other fields is limited. 

In some islands there may be need to address certain current trends, which in some cases produce individuals with limited skills and unattainable aspirations, and favour one gender group to the detriment of the other, by improving and refocusing school curricula, job placement schemes, mentoring and career guidance programmes.

Small-island fellows

The aim of the UNESCO Fellowships Programme is to contribute to the enhancement of human resources and national capacity building in areas that are closely aligned to the Organization’s strategic objectives and programme priorities. The programme works mainly through the award and administration of fellowships, study grants and travel support. A wide range of technical fields are involved, as reflected in the following sampling of recent awards to grantees from small-island nations. 

  • Bahamas: Counselling and personnel services (9 months) 

  • Bahrain: Production of educational programmes for television (32 days) 

  • Cape Verde: Irrigation methods (6 weeks); in-service teacher training (4 months) 

  • Dominica: Television documentary programme production (25 days) 

  • Jamaica: Molecular biology (4 months); museum studies (6 months) 

  • Mauritius: Plant ecology and bioinformatics (4 months) 

  • Vanuatu: Public policy and management (6 months)

Promoting access to basic education

An absolute priority in UNESCO’s overall programme is that of promoting access to basic education, through the realization by 2015 of what are known as the six Dakar goals for Education for All (EFA). In SIDS regions, critical issues identified in EFA reports include early drop-out from basic education, particularly by males. The preparation of EFA National Plans of Action was a key task for countries during the 2002–-2003 period. Now, one of the central challenges facing UNESCO and its international education institutes and other partners is to mobilize human and financial resources to support Member States in their efforts to fulfil EFA commitments and to address disparities in access to education, including those related to special needs, poverty, language, minority status, gender. Another challenge is to facilitate sharing among small-island nations of regional and international innovative experience, particularly strategies for achieving EFA.

Education for All. The Six Dakar Goals*

  • Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children; 

  • Ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in diffi cult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality; 

  • Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes;

  • Achieving a 50% improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults; 

  • Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality;

  • Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills. 

* Adopted by the World Education Forum, Dakar, Senegal, April 2000.


Education for All Assessments – Worldwide

EFA 2000 Assessment. Most in-depth evaluation of basic education ever undertaken, taking stock of the status of basic education in more than 180 countries and evaluating progress achieved during the 1990s since the World Conference on Education for All. 

EFA Global Monitoring Report 2002: Is the World on Track (2003). Assessing the extent to which countries are meeting their commitment to ensure a basic level of education to all children, young people and adults by 2015. 

EFA Global Monitoring Report 2003/4. Gender and Education for All: The Leap to Equality (2003). Reports on where countries stand in their effort to achieve gender equality within and through education. Highlights innovative and best practices, and suggests priorities for national strategies.

Education for All – Caribbean

A number of assessments have been carried out in particular SIDS and individual island regions, particularly in respect to the EFA 2000 Assessment process. Some Caribbean examples:

Antigua & Barbuda. Focus on qualitative and quantitative changes in education since independence in 1981. 

Bahamas. Special emphasis on early childhood care and development, primary education, and learning achievement and outcomes.

St Kitts & Nevis. Includes examples of commercial sector inputs to basic education services provided by government, in the form of donations of televisions and computers, provision of free internet services, training camps for young footballers, scholarships for primary and secondary school pupils. 

Trinidad & Tobago. Longitudinal study of 2,125 secondary school students in 64 classroom groups (from every school type and education district), who were asked whether or not they liked coming to school and why, what classroom events evoked interest, which ones triggered feelings of being ‘unsure’, and how they responded in each case.

EFA Plan of Action for the Caribbean. Assessment by the Caribbean Regional Technical Advisory Group (RTAG) for EFA, as part of preparations for the World Education Conference in Dakar in 2000. The EFA Assessment was based on two subregional reports and 14 thematic issues/case studies, which led to a determination of the basic education needs of the subregion. This needs assessment served as a catalyst for the development of an ‘Education for All in the Caribbean: Plan of Action 2000-2015’, with specified goals and targets as well as clearly identified dates (2002, 2008, 2015) for achievement of these goals and targets. 

Critical issues in primary education in the Caribbean* 

  • Lack of access to primary education by marginalized groups in Caribbean societies.

  • Early drop-out from basic education, particularly by males.

  • Failure of the primary education system to produce high levels of literacy and numeracy.

  • Weak systems for addressing post-school illiteracy among youths and adults.

  • Increasing violence within educational institutions, particularly by teenage males against other students and their teachers.

  • Lack of relevance of educational programming.

  • Deterioration in teaching services and overall levels of professionalism, with inadequate preparation of teachers for programming requirements, falling status and esteem, and an exodus of teachers from the education systems of member states.

* After Caribbean EFA (Education for All) 2000 reports

Education for All – Pacific

All the small-island nations in the Pacifi c have fully developed EFA National Action Plans. They also have active EFA forums. Pacific EFA National Coordinators meet twice a year to share ideas and progress about EFA in their countries. EFA goals will be complemented by the Pacifi c Regional Initiative for the Development of Education (PRIDE). Funded by the European Union, PRIDE will provide small grants for activities in basic education. The UNESCO Apia office is closely involved in all Pacific education developments.

Improving the quality of education


Young people as seen by their teachers
 was the slant of an international photo
contest, or-ganized as part of activities
in 2003 to mark the 50th anniversary of
Associated Schools Project Network.
Among the ‘special mentions’: (top),
Colegio Santa Rosa de Lima, Dominican
Republic; and Instituto preuniversitario
vocational de ciensas exactas Ernesto
Guevara, Cuba. © Nancy Ramirez
© José Echeverra Torres

Contributing to quality improvement of education (at all levels, formal and non-formal) includes strengthening the capacity of countries to plan, manage and reform their education systems. Building on an earlier monograph on educational strategies for small-island states, topics addressed in recent (2001-2003) IIEP training workshops in the Caribbean include reforming school supervision for quality improvement, developing indicators for planning basic education, education costs financing and budgeting, and university–industry linkages. 

Technical and vocational education and training are receiving increased attention in many small-island countries, in view of the difficulties faced by many young people on leaving school in finding employment. Among recent initiatives is that of UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning to promote entrepreneurship among those involved in the informal economy. Activities in the Pacific have included a training programme on ‘Learning about Small Business’, a regional forum on improving the quality of technical and vocational education and training, and support to the Pacific Association of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (PATVET). In Bahrain, a National Centre of Excellence in Technical and Vocational Education and Training is being developed, which will serve as a resource centre for a broad spectrum of disciplines (business, technical subjects, career guidance, counselling).

And January 2005 sees the formal launching of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), with UNESCO (as lead agency) currently working with a suite of partners and collaborators on the refinement of the draft implementation plan for the Decade. One number in a series of ESD Information Briefs, released in early 2004, is specifically focused on Small Island Developing States. 

Small-island schools and other learning institutions play an important role in UNESCO’s various educational networks. An example is the Associated Schools Project Network (ASPnet), created in 1953, now involving over 7,500 educational institutions in 172 countries, with flagship initiatives on such topics as beaches in the Caribbean (see page 40), the transatlantic slave trade (page 15), and the testing of a young person’s guide to the World Heritage.

At the higher education level, the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme serves as a prime means of capacity building through the transfer of knowledge and sharing in a spirit of solidarity with and between developing countries. Since the programme was launched in 1992, some 500 UNESCO Chairs and inter-university networks have been established in over 110 countries. These chairs and network address all major fields of knowledge within UNESCO’s competence, as reflected in some of the titles of existing 13 chairs established so far in seven individual SIDS: environment and sustainable development (Bahrain), educational technologies (Barbados), bio-materials (Cuba), peace, human rights and democracy (Dominican Republic), teacher education and culture (Fiji), higher education (Mauritius) and freedom of expression (Papua New Guinea).

Asia–Pacific University Twinning and Wise Coastal Practices

Advancing the concept of multi-stakeholder agreements as a tool for preventing and resolving conflicts in the use of coastal resources was the focus of the first regional workshop of the Asia–Pacific University Twinning (UNITWIN) Network held in Khuraburi (Thailand) in November 2002. Case study experience came from a range of field project sites supported by UNESCO’s Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and Small Islands (CSI) Platform, including Jakarta Bay and the Seribu Islands (Indonesia), Motu Koita urban villages near Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea), Ulugan Bay in Palawan (Philippines), Upolu Islands (Samoa) and Surin Islands (Thailand).

Building on a solid foundation of research on the core issues and challenges, a thorough analysis of stakeholders, socio-cultural context and imminent threats and confl icts are essential steps in the process, which ideally leads to an appropriate forum for multi-stakeholder communication and decision-making. In some instances, such as the Samoa field project, existing local mechanisms based on long-standing cultural tradition provide a firm foundation. But in most situations, considerable time is required to fully involve all stakeholders in a representative manner. 

Negotiations between stakeholders are often delicate and convergence is a long-term process. Case study experience suggests that a multi-stakeholder agreement must be sensitive and responsive to changes over time. Open communication channels and effective dialogue are critical for such agreements to be successful. 

Building new knowledge societies

UNESCO’s Educational Institutes 

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) was established in July 1999 to meet the needs of Member States and the international community for a wider range of policy-relevant, timely and reliable statistics in the fi elds of education, science and technology, culture and communication. Among its publications is a study on Caribbean students at the tertiary level and an annual Global Education Digest that provides key education indicators from early childhood to higher education. Among recently launched programmes is that for building capacities for statistics collection and reporting in the Pacific region.

Of special interest to small islands is experimentation and innovative practice in the application of information and communications technologies (ICTs) and distance education technologies in the fields of education and building new knowledge societies. ICTs are considered both as a necessity and as an opportunity, since they offer the potential to expand the scope of learning, breaking through traditional constraints of space and time as well as through the boundaries of current education systems. 

Recent activities include launching of the Caribbean Universities Project for Integrated Distance Education (CUPIDE), aimed at providing improved ICT and distance education technologies for five universities across the Caribbean, including the regional University of the West Indies. Support is being provided to national capacity building projects involving distance education and ICTs in Cape Verde, Mauritius, Sao Tome & Principe and other small-island nations. Higher education institutions in Cyprus and Malta are among those taking part in the Avicenna virtual campus to promote ICT-assisted open distance learning in the Mediterranean region. And in the Pacific, continued development of science communication practices – through formal education as well as public debate and the media – is being approached through workshops, training courses, electronic exchanges and website development, in a partnership between the UNESCO-Apia Office and the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science of the Australian National University.

ICTs in Education: Some Questions

  • How can one use ICTs to accelerate progress towards education for all and throughout life?

  • How can ICTs bring about a better balance between equity and excellence in education?

  • How can ICTs help reconcile universality and local specifi city of knowledge?

  • How can education prepare individuals and society to master and benefi t from ICTs?



© Rod Lamberts/ANU
Workshop for science teachers in Samoa, focused on the use of readily available materials for actively engaging students in basic science principles. One of the activities in a programme of science communication in the Pacific, a joint inititiative of UNESCO-Apia, the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at the Australian National University and educational and scientific institutions in the Pacific Island countries.


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