Pacific Island States place education, science and culture at the forefront

From education for sustainable development to the safeguarding of traditional knowledge, representatives from Pacific Island States stressed the importance of UNESCO’s support for building resilience to climate change, during a meeting with the Director-General on the margins of the 38th General Conference, on 11 November 2015.

Chaired by the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture of Samoa, Mr Magele Mauiliu Magele, the meeting provided the opportunity for Delegates to share their priorities and concerns as a region.

In a region where youth make up 60% of the population, support with the development of national policies that empower youth to be future leaders was highlighted as a top priority by the Solomon Islands.

Applauding the adoption of the Education 2030 Framework for Action, Tonga singled out the role of education for sustainable development “that cuts across all themes and has brought ministries together to achieve the MDGs and has mobilized new partnerships,” making specific reference to support for projects from Malaysia and Japan. The Solomon Islands noted the powerful influence of early childhood care and education and called for expertise to improve quality in this area.  Australia underlined that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is a priority for all countries in the region and welcomed the recent review framework supported by UNESCO that sets the scene for the better branding of TVET, the collection of best practices and data, and the harmonization of qualifications standards. Samoa appealed for support to increase access to ICT and to help teachers use new technologies in a transformative manner to improve learning. She also noted the need to harness ICT for better monitoring because lack of integration between data systems impedes informed decision-making.

Turning to Science, the Cook Islands made a plea to ensure that “the blue economy is developed and kept green because ocean is about our traditional voyaging and ancestors.” She said that UNESCO was the only agency that could explicitly advocate for the role of traditional knowledge within the context of the forthcoming COP21. 

Building on this, Tuvalu stressed the fundamental role of culture and traditions for the identity of the Pacific peoples, noting that the latter are disappearing because of lack of interest among youth, the impact of globalization and insufficient attention in school curricula.  Rising sea levels are threatening tangible and intangible cultural heritage, which are intricately linked. Soil erosion is a case in point: it not only damages cultural sites but also wipes away trees that are used for handicrafts, traditional medicines and housing, all of which call on traditional knowledge and skills. New Zealand drew attention to a regional initiative established after the earthquake in Christchurch in 2011 that encouraged youth to share their stories in how to build resilience in the wake of natural disaster, and encouraged links with global citizenship education.

Affirming that the safeguarding of heritage is a top priority for the region, Tuvalu called for support in training and capacity building. The representative shared the commitment of Pacific Island Member States to join all UNESCO’s conventions in the area of culture and to put safeguarding systems in place, reiterating that the promotion of the region’s rich tangible and intangible cultural heritage was critical for social cohesion, identity, youth and job creation.

In the area of communications, the representative of Fiji requested support for the preservation of national archives.

In the name of all the Delegations present, the Chair expressed appreciation for the support provided by the Apia Office for the Pacific States and the Asia Pacific Regional Office in Bangkok.

Welcoming the presentations that all underlined the relevance of UNESCO’s mandate for achieving the new sustainable development goals, the Director-General affirmed her full support to the region to strengthen resilience through quality education, science, culture and communication. Recalling her participation in the SIDS Conference in Samoa in September 2014, she affirmed that the Plan of Action for SIDS adopted by the Executive Board would further strengthen cooperation.  She also affirmed that universal access was a priority for the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, for which UNESCO is a vice co-chair. Looking ahead to COP21, she  noted the force of UNESCO’s transdisciplinary approach that draws the links between science and culture, informing Delegations about an international conference on the indigenous knowledge and its role in tackling climate change that will be organized with France on 26 and 27 November at UNESCO.