Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat
 

FEATURE ADDRESS BY MS LOLITA APPLEWHAITE, DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL, CARICOM, AT THE NATIONAL AWARD CEREMONY FOR OUTSTANDING STUDENTS, 9 OCTOBER 2003, GEORGETOWN, GUYANA
 
 

Chairman
Hon. Samuel Hinds, Prime Minister
Dr. the Hon. Henry Jeffrey, Minister of Education
Permanent Secretary
Chief Education Officer
Distinguished guests
Senior Government and other Officials
Principals, Teachers, Parents
Awardees, Students
Members of the media

It is an honour for me to be present here today, as we celebrate the accomplishments of our outstanding young academics, in whose hands the future of our countries and region lies. It is with a sense of pride that I look out on our future Presidents and Prime Ministers, our Teachers, our Doctors, our Nurses, our computer wizards, our farmers.

I suspect the genesis of my invitation is the excellent address delivered by my predecessor at last year’s Award Ceremony, and I hope that I live up to the standard that she set.

It is also with a sense of not a little trepidation that I speak to the theme: “Modernising Education and Strengthening Tolerance” in the presence of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education – two eloquent speakers. 

The Guyanese education system is widely regarded as one of the soundest systems in the Region and certainly in the world. The outstanding performances being honoured today and which have been produced consistently by Guyanese students, together with the brain drain that provides highly qualified Guyanese professionals for the world are evidence of this excellence. 

The theme, however, obliges us to look at change. Such change is occasioned, not by the poorness of what we have, but by the necessity to adapt and prepare for the new environment. So, as we celebrate the achievements of the past, we have to be forever looking forward to how we can build on those achievements and make the future even better. 

What is the new environment of which we speak so glibly? One refers to the world we live in today as the “technological age”, the “information society”, the “knowledge-based society”, and other such terms. It all amounts to one thing: that we need to prepare our populations to be creative – not just to be users and consumers of other people’s creations but to be creators ourselves; to be readily re-trainable at any point in our lives - gone are the days when most of us had a “job for life”, today it is expected that we will train and retrain for a changing job market, that we will be training for jobs that do yet exist, and that we will be creating our own jobs; we need to prepare our people to have confidence, self-esteem, and the values and skills we need to meet the demands of a fast-changing world; to be tolerant of other cultures and to be respectful of our environment. This seems to be a lot we are asking of our educational system, but education has always had a dual purpose: providing personal fulfillment, as well as providing the skills and attitudes required for the world of work.

In the Region, we have a solid foundation to continue to build on. On 4 July, the Caribbean Community marked a significant milestone, for on that date in 1973 the Treaty establishing the Community and Common Market was signed at Chaguaramas in Trinidad and Tobago. Thirty years later, our CARICOM family has grown to fifteen Member States and five Associate Members. This year also marks thirty years since the Caribbean Examinations Council has been in existence. In the first year (1979) that CXC administered examinations for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), only five subjects were offered and 30,194 candidates registered for the examinations. By 2002, CXC was offering 48 subjects for the CSEC examinations - 30 at General Proficiency, 14 at Basic Proficiency and 4 at Technical Proficiency) and one hundred and twenty-two thousand, six hundred and twenty-one (122,621) candidates registered for the examinations. The figures speak for themselves.

Additionally, CXC, in fulfilling the mandate given by CARICOM Ministers responsible for Education in the early nineties, developed the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE), which is equivalent to the GCE A Level but structured with Units and Modules for the various subjects, offering increased flexibility in studies at this level. It is a testament to the success of this structure, that the UK has now adopted a similar approach. 

So you see, we have much cause to celebrate in our Region.

Today we celebrate the outstanding achievement of our students, schools and teachers. It is a celebration for all of us because we all – learners, teachers, parents, employers, citizens – have a vested interested in what happens in our educational system. I wish to congratulate you, students, who by virtue of your exemplary academic performances have assured us all that the future of our region is in good hands. Vishaal Persaud, Hilier Emptage, Devon King, Daniel Ram, Catherina Gonsalves, Shellon Luke, and your compadres also being honoured here today, we are extremely proud of you.

To the teachers who, by dint of your dedication and commitment have distinguished yourselves, I offer sincere congratulations. It is a challenging time for our teachers and I know many of you grapple with the idea of leaving our Region. You who work in our schools have the important job of shaping and changing lives. Today, as we celebrate the tangible rewards of your effort, I can say without fear of contradiction that there can be few more important tasks.

I wish to thank the Ministry of Education for providing this forum for us to celebrate publicly, and to reinforce our commitment to support and nurture all of you to greater success. 

Although we bask in the exuberance of this moment, we must remain cognisant of the critical need to equip our human resources with the technical and human skills that will ensure the region’s effective representation and presence in the global arena. 

If I may therefore return to today’s theme, “Modernising Education, Strengthening Tolerance”, I like the fact that it points firmly in the direction of the future, and does not seek to dwell on our accomplishments to date. In the words of Goethe: ” I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” 

Yes, we must celebrate and be proud of the challenges overcome and the rough terrain covered to get us to this point, but we must also prepare ourselves to capably address evolving and new challenges that are constantly emerging in a changing global environment. Our capacity to deal with these complex challenges is dependent on the quality of our people. In Barbados, where I come from, we always say that our people are our greatest asset, when explaining our lack of natural resources. But this is no less true for a country blessed with the enormous natural resources such as Guyana. Our greatest resource can only be our people. The development of our human capital, therefore, is of critical importance.

Technological advances resonate throughout our daily lives. Some of you may have seen the donkey cart driver conversing on his cellular phone, and this is not an extreme example. We now use technology without thinking: the ATM machines at the bank, the pump at the gas station, the check-out counter at the supermarket. And I am sure you can come up with many more examples if you stop to think.

The primary industries in Guyana and the rest of the Region have had to adopt and implement new technologies in order to remain efficient, and workers who are unable or unwilling to equip themselves with the necessary skills may find themselves replaced by those who make the effort to adapt. This may seem unfair or even harsh, but we are playing ball on the same field as the more developed countries, and though we may match them in intellectual capacity, we have to be able to keep the game going and perhaps even turn it around in our favour, by matching their skills at maneuvering the ball which they have created and with which we are forced to play.

The Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government in 1997, in addressing the issue of preparing our people for the 21st century, agreed that appropriate emphasis must be given to the importance of science and technology and the advances of telecommunications as an all pervasive factor which must be effectively and appropriately used, and the application of these to the production of goods and services and the delivery of education. In this context, plans are in place to add Technology Education to the curriculum at the Primary and Lower Secondary levels in Member States, including Guyana.

In modernising our Education, we must also pay attention to the ways in which our Community has grown. We began with one common language. The Dutch speaking Republic of Suriname became a full member of CARICOM in 1995 and with the accession to full membership by Haiti in July 2002, CARICOM Member States now have three different languages, (although the official language of the Community is English). Additionally, we maintain close ties with Cuba, our Caribbean neighbour whose official language is Spanish and we are in close proximity to Latin America. In order to unify our position and break down psychological barriers that may exist, we must be able to understand and communicate with each other effectively.

In the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel, the success of the plan to build a tower reaching the heavens was foiled when the builders discovered that they were divided linguistically. We must not allow division by language to deter us from reaching the skies. Our ability to optimise the manner in which we engage our global partners and competitors is directly dependent on the ability to communicate in their languages. Trans-lingual and trans-cultural understanding are essential if we are to achieve international competitiveness. Consequently, improved language skills, is an important dimension to the modernisation of our educational system. 

At the regional level, emphasis is being placed on developing multi-lingual skills at an early age. CARICOM Heads of Government have agreed that as a matter of priority, there should be the introduction of programmes for achieving appropriate levels of competence in foreign languages, particularly Spanish and French among primary, secondary, and post-secondary graduates, and by the Community at large. More importantly, CARICOM Heads have agreed that in view of the Region’s geographic location relative to Central and South America, and the increasingly closer relations between CARICOM and Latin America, including the Free Trade Area of the Americas, Spanish should become the second official language of CARICOM and should be popularised throughout the Region.

I wish to underscore the fact that while it is necessary to modernise our education systems, we cannot fully enhance and optimise our overall competitiveness unless we strengthen our tolerance. Intolerance for perceived and real differences will cloud our judgment, causing us to mistrust and mistreat each other, thus dividing our house. It will jeopardise our ability to effectively engage those in the wider global arena, simply because we are unwilling or unable to see beyond our differences. We need to open our minds to the concept that though we may differ in outlook and opinion, as Albert Einstein said, “ in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population.”

Each individual has something different to bring to the table and there is much to be learnt from each other. In addition to honing our skills and mastering the rapidly changing technologies, therefore, it is imperative that we strengthen our tolerance for those who differ physically, culturally, religiously, philosophically, and in other ways, because in this new paradigm, everyone’s contribution is of value and must be respected. 

We live in a world of religious, racial and cultural diversity. Religious, cultural and other forms of intolerance have given rise to enmity and conflict. Every hour someone commits a crime of hate and intolerance and you are well aware of wars being fought worldwide. War, conflict and intolerance start in the hearts and minds of an individual; the fight against intolerance should therefore start in our hearts and minds. This fight starts with one person acting out of love; so let that person be you. In most of the world’s religions, the individual is taught to act with compassion in every facet of life. By practicing tolerance and respect for others and for our environment, we can make a solid contribution to the sustainability of our region and indeed, the entire world.

This is a time of rapid change around the world. Now more than ever, education is the key to most of the opportunities afforded us in life. Our need to learn will be determined by the fast changing job market and the fact that unskilled jobs are dwindling rapidly worldwide; how and what we learn will be changed by the rapid speed and the different types of communication. As you leave this room and go off to individual pursuits, I urge that you give pause to what you can do as an individual. The choices you make now will shape the course of your own future, the future of our Caribbean Community and, I dare say, the world.
 

 
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