Heads plan to make knowledge a common goal

November 19, 1999

DURBAN

The THES reports on two conferences with one agenda - global learning

More than a dozen Commonwealth education and training organisations pledged to work together to place education at the heart of the 54-country body's future agenda at last weekend's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

They are keen to push for

an "education charter" of principles and objectives to be drawn

up and signed by countries

at the next heads of government meeting in Australia and to create a formal Education Council to co-

ordinate commonwealth education efforts.

They pointed out that while

people-centred development has emerged as a key goal of the

Commonwealth in the new millennium, the critical role of education in development is being marginalised, and Commonwealth education efforts crippled, by a lack

of cash.

In the publication Civil Society Speaks: Voices from the Commonwealth, the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, a non-governmental body that promotes cooperation and education values, says that despite good infrastructure, collaborative education efforts are floundering because of meagre resources.

One casualty has been the Commonwealth scholarship and fellowship plan, a multilateral exchange and support programme that has shrunk "instead of expanding towards the 2000-award target set for the new millennium".

The CEC adds that the plan "has been thwarted by the failure of developing countries to implement scholarships. Even though nearly every member country has a university, only eight or nine of the 54 countries give awards".

At a discussion hosted by the CEC on Saturday, Commonwealth agencies and non-governmental organisations agreed

to jointly push for a high

education profile and greater

support for pan-Commonwealth

education efforts.

They will work to enhance

the role of NGOs in Commonwealth education by, for instance, compiling a directory of education groups and setting up a website that will publicise, link and encourage collaboration between NGOs. Other possibilities include joint funding applications, projects, seminars and joint publications and submissions to Commonwealth meetings.

Prime minister Tony Blair stressed Britain's commitment

to education in the Commonwealth, but such pronouncements do not always translate into

support for pan-Commonwealth education activities or recognition of the critical role of NGOs

and civil society in human development.

This year's "people's Commonwealth", an exhibition of Commonwealth civil society groups working at the coal-face of

development, was a great success but was largely ignored

by the heads of governments.

All bar four of the Commonwealth's members are developing countries and 85 per cent of Commonwealth "citizens" are poor. CEC's Peter Williams said that although they spend large chunks of their budgets on education,

thisdoesnotseemtotranslate into improved education delivery.

The infrastructure for Commonwealth cooperation includes

triennial conferences of education ministers, the scholarship and

fellowship plan, secretariat,

foundation, fund for technical cooperation, learning and higher education management service.

The problem of under-use

does not appear to impair the effectiveness of these bodies, which are repeatedly lauded

for their excellent work, Mr Williams said. "But governments have not matched fine words with financial commitment. All of them are suffering from declining resources."

There is great scope, he added, for Commonwealth education non-governmental organisations - such as the Association of Commonwealth Universities, with its 485 member institutions -to support official programmes in

a variety of ways.

They could, for instance, be used as partners in joint projects; agents and contractors in executing collaborative projects; sounding boards for professional proposals; and "conduits to identify consultants from the professional community".

The work of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), which uses distance education to support education services, was praised by government heads and its funding has been extended for three years.

However, its chief executive, Raj Dhanarajan, said: "Like

all international facilities, there

is a fatigue that sets in when

you depend on donor agencies. Our funding has been eroded over the years, undermining our work."

It was suggested that the CEC meet the secretariat to discuss future modes of collaboration

and enhanced support for

education efforts.

It will also look into cooperation with the British Council, which has increased its involvement in the Commonwealth.

Martin Kenyon, CEC parliamentary liaison officer, said

that to aid such efforts

the Commonwealth needs an

education council to grow out of the next heads of government meeting in the same way that a business council emerged in Durban following discussions.

"Next year's Halifax meeting will be a crucial staging post en route to creating a council," Mr Kenyon said. "We need to begin lobbying right now."

Aside from working towards

an education charter and council as well as a directory and website, the meeting agreed to put together statements, guidelines and strategies for future collaboration, and to look for a grant to kick-start

collaboration.

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