PARIS, France, November 11, 2021- Barely twenty-four hours after arriving in Paris from the World Expo 2020 in Dubai, the Hon. Jonel Powell, Minister of Education, Youth Empowerment, Sport & Culture was delivering his speech at the 41st session of UNESCO General Conference, at which he made a robust call to the international community to accompany small island states in their quest to be heard on key challenges, greatly accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Minister, addressing some 180 UN member states at ministerial level – either in-person or virtually – underlined the two major challenges facing vulnerable island states: adapting to climate change and scaling-up the professionalizing of the teachers.
On the fringes of the UNESCO ministerial General Conference, Minister Powell also had the opportunity to greet the President of the General Conference, His Excellency, Mr Santiago Irazabal Mourao, Ambassador of Brazil to UNESCO, and upon her re-election as UNESCO Director General, Ms. Audrey Azoulay.
In his address, Minister Powell acknowledged the valuable expertise provided by UNESCO to St. Kitts and Nevis, as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), faced with multiple challenges, “ranging from water shortages arising from climate change, to galvanising youth, especially boys, into quality education fulfilment, and from scaling up the professionalization of the teaching force, to integrating education for sustainable development, not to forget the need to preserve both our tangible and intangible cultural heritage.”
Noted St. Kitts and Nevis’ Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris, H.E. Dr David P. Doyle, who accompanied the Minister to the General Conference: “in all these domains, I have to say that UNESCO remains our indisputable partner in providing cutting-edge expertise in our quest to achieve the UN sustainable development goals”.
Returning to the SIDS as the central theme of his speech, Minister Powell echoed the sentiments of many Caribbean ministers expressed at various United Nation’s forums, and more recently at COP 26 summit in Glasgow, “small states like ours must have a heightened voice at the top table in contributing to solutions impacting us, situated as we are on the frontiers of damaging climate change”.
In terms of UNESCO’s role, he urged the specialized UN agency to re-deploy climate change expertise and resources in developing and implementing a series of more focused and tailored measures that adequately reflect the unique condition of SIDS.
“This must indispensably take account of our islands’ vulnerabilities linked to diseconomies of scale, and thus limited institutional capacity, over-exposure to external economic shocks and the increase in frequency and intensification of natural disasters”.
The COVID-19 pandemic had accentuated these challenges, reported Minister Powell, and require expedient UNESCO intervention, “notably in delivering unfettered access to education and ensuring access to clean water for washing hands, as the only most effective means of combating pandemic!”
But important lessons had also been learnt during the COVID pandemic-provoked disruption to education system. “Despite laudable benefits to digitize the learning process, stated Minister Powell, “it cannot be a substitute for the pedagogical knowledge and skills imparted by the teacher in the face-to-face experience. This is the basis for quality education, regardless how it is delivered.”
The Minister announced the proud record of St. Kitts and Nevis school institutions being able to complete the full academic year without disruption, a situation that compared more favorably to the rest of the Caribbean region.
As work in progress, the Ministry of Education, with the help of UNESCO, had embarked on a professionalization of the teaching force, “a central feature of which was the creation of national teachers council focused on boosting standards of quality control”.
The next priority for St. Kitts and Nevis, with UNESCO’s assistance, forecast Minister Powell, was in building and integrating a policy framework for education for sustainable development, as part of the horizontal and vertical curriculum components in our national education programme.
Turning to the one of the most critical damaging factors of climate change – addressing fresh water shortages – the Minister pointed to yet another field where UNESCO could bring immediate assistance to the Federation, and its Caribbean neighboring island states.
“The key vulnerability factors remain, sadly, rising sea levels, climate variability and change”. He described a situation where “a pressing need had now emerged for the UNESCO intergovernmental Hydrological Programme assist the Caribbean Island states in reinforcing human and institutional capacities with scientific knowledge, methodologies, and resilient water ITC-based management tools.”
Ambassador Doyle commented that achieving these ambitions may not be realizable alone, “but with UNESCO may require forging alliances with other expert partners, such as the World Bank, the EU, UNEP, to drive three key goals: enhance water security and supplies, improve water quality and waste-water management and promote safe re-use of waste-water, ultimately contributing to enhanced water and food security”.
Minister Powell used his short stay in Paris to meet up with the UNESCO experts in education, human science and natural science to discuss progress on various technical assistance projects being implemented in the Federation with the assistance and funding of UNESCO.