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(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) The Seventeenth Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) opened today (17 November 2008) with a strong consensus that education, the driver of national and regional development is the most critical response to the social and economic global challenges now confronting the Region.

The four speakers who addressed the Opening Ceremony agreed that critical to the survival of the Region is the development of human capital through the formal education system, and while they did not view education as the panacea for all socio-economic challenges they all acknowledged that there was a strong causal relationship between countering those challenges and providing quality education within the Region.

It is against this background that in setting the tone of the Opening Ceremony Dr Edward Greene, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Assistant Secretary-General, Human and Social Development emphasized the need for expediting the implementation of education policies and programmes within the Caribbean Community. Notwithstanding, he enumerated several successes of the education system noting that much had been done by way of implementation, chief of which he cited were the work of the CXC in providing quality and comparable certification at the secondary and post secondary levels and the achievement by Member States of most of the targets for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Dr Greene said that the challenge of the COHSOD which was now meeting to evaluate the progress of education over the past ten years, was to make greater in-roads in the use of Information and Communication Technologies, the development of Language skills and science and technology, the strengthening of teacher training, and the retention of trained teachers within the Caribbean. He said the Community must now place greater emphasis on increasing access to tertiary education; promoting research and development and establishing cultural industries “to project and protect the creative talents of the Region.”

The Seventeenth COHSOD which meets under the theme Accelerating the Implementation of the Education Agenda, has a packed agenda which will focus not only on critical issues in education as raised by Dr Greene, but a slate of cross functional issues which impact the education system including, crime prevention, health and family life, the development of cultural industries, youth development and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), hence one of its major foci is on functional cooperation.

The Hon Shaik Baksh, Minister of Education of Guyana, who gave the welcome address, outlined several challenges which he stated had evolved into a socio-economic crisis confronting the Region. Nevertheless he expressed optimism that the regional education sector could facilitate a response by producing quality leadership for both the public and private sectors which, in his estimation, were the engines of economic growth and development. He also underscored the need for greater collaboration among tertiary level institutions as well as among Ministers of Education within the Region.

Ambassador Lolita Applewhaite, CARICOM Deputy Secretary-General in her remarks acknowledged some milestone achievements in education including, the establishment of the Caribbean Knowledge Learning Network (CKLN) to improve quality tertiary education through technology; the introduction of the Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) to facilitate greater movement of skilled persons within the CSME and the achievement of the target of Universal Primary Education.

She noted further that the Community, through several Declarations, including the Needham’s Point Declaration in 2007 and the Grand Anse Declaration of 1989, had placed people and the development of the Region’s human resources squarely at the “centre of our development.”

Ambassador Applewhaite highlighted further the critical role that education must play in strengthening the CSME, noting that “education is, and must continue to be, pivotal in national and regional efforts to sustain and enhance productivity and economic growth as well as social cohesion.”

The Hon Bertrand Joseph, Minister of Education, Antigua and Barbuda noted the strong connection between health and education and pointed to the important role that education should play in creating an awareness of preventive strategies and behaviour change necessary to improving wellness and maintaining healthy lifestyles.

Minister Joseph, who is also serving as the interim Chair of COHSOD, asserted that the education agenda for the 21st Century must consider the diversity in the human experience, and must intersect with other disciplines such as culture, cultural industries and edutainment to reach the widest cross section of the population.

“Education must engender tolerance of differences …it must draw on the new information technologies to optimize efficiencies and effectiveness of not just learning but lifelong learning…It must open up those opportunities for reducing inequities between rich and poor, urban and rural, men and women, boy and girl,” Minister Joseph added.

Twelve Ministers with responsibility for education and several representatives from regional educational institutions as well as other stakeholders in education are attending the two day COHSOD meeting.

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