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Secretary-General Dr Carla Barnett’s address to Wednesday’s launch of the CARICOM Digital Skills Task Force

  • Honourable Ministers;
  • Heads and Representatives of Regional Institutions and Organisations;
  • Co-Chairs of the CARICOM Digital Skills Task Force –            Dr. Barbara Reynolds and Mr. Carlton Samuels;
  • Representatives of the Media;
  • Ladies and Gentlemen.

Good Morning, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Launch of the CARICOM Digital Skills Task Force.

The Task Force has been established to provide an opportunity for the Region to deliver a more collaborative, coordinated and innovative approach to meeting the digital skills challenge. Technology is quickly transforming the way we live and work. Most transactions are digital, information is immediate.

As you may be aware, the need for digital skills has also come to the ‘forefront’ due to the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. The regional digital footprint has increased tremendously over the past year, with citizens doing what they can to adapt to the new normal way of living.

However, COVID-19 has deepened the existing inequality of access, and further exacerbated the mismatch between income and education, training and job prospects.  The crisis revealed the weakness and unpreparedness of the current education systems worldwide, following the deployment of digital learning during mass school closures across almost all countries.

At the Global Education Meeting (GEM) convened by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in October 2020, governments and the international community identified five priorities for urgent action, including support to teachers as frontline workers, scaling up of digital skills and narrowing the digital divide.

Before the pandemic, digital skills were valued, but now they are vital to keep up with the growing trend of the virtual world in which we live and must thrive.

Strong collaboration is needed between the public, private and civic society sectors, to promote learning and skills delivery in different environments, and make it accessible and inclusive to all. The private sector is well-positioned to help meet and expand this increasingly urgent, and unmet need and demand.  At the government level, this will also mean developing comprehensive education, social welfare, and economic policies.

Addressing digital inclusion and proliferating digital skills across CARICOM in a comprehensive, strategic manner will add another important layer to being “A Community for All”, as it will help to ensure that all CARICOM citizens have the necessary skills and can participate meaningfully in society.

Digital skills for CARICOM citizens were already envisioned as we crafted the CARICOM Single ICT space in 2014 and, in 2017, the Human Resource Development Strategy 2030. Those skills are identified as key inputs to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

The need to close the global skills gap is now urgent. While the full effects and numbers of this gap in CARICOM are not yet known, I am happy to share that the CARICOM Secretariat will embark, in 2022, on an ICT Sector gap analysis across the whole of CARICOM, with funding provided under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF). This gap analysis will support the recovery efforts of the Region, through the identification and quantification of critical parts of our digital infrastructure, and help to fast-track digital transformation.

The primary objective of the CARICOM Digital Skills Taskforce is to promote awareness of the importance of digital skills for students, business and governments. It is also to provide technical guidance on the development of digital skills and capability levels across CARICOM.  The work of the Task Force will therefore be complementary to many other important regional actions.

I express sincere thanks to the Co-chairs and all Members of this Task Force, who have volunteered their valuable time, and accepted to be a part of this important and much-needed initiative.  Your work will contribute significantly to the education, human resource development and digital transformation efforts of the Caribbean Community, and ultimately provide many individuals, especially our youth, with greater opportunities towards providing a better quality of life.

I encourage all of you listening and participating today, CARICOM citizens in the Region and in the Diaspora, and key stakeholders, please keep interested and engaged in the work of the Task Force, which holds its inaugural meeting today. Share your expertise, contribute wherever necessary and however possible.   

Once again, welcome to this Launch Ceremony and I look forward to the outcome of the efforts of this Task Force.

Thank you.

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