Media Center



August 10, 2005 - Scarborough, Trinidad and Tobago

Honorable Prime Minister, Honorable Minister of Education – Senator the Honorable Hazel Manning, distinguished colleagues and guests, I am delighted to join you this evening to inaugurate the Fourth Meeting of Ministers of Education of the Americas, under the auspices of the OAS Inter-American Council of Integral Development.

Education is at the heart of each of our priorities in the OAS: democracy and governance, development, and security.

Our success as nations and as a hemisphere depends on our commitment to education. While we have made great strides in enrolling more of our nations’ children in school, we have a long way to go toward fulfilling our goal of providing a quality education to every child and young person.

Where do we stand as a hemisphere? The Summit of the Americas sets education goals that are consistent with, but somewhat more ambitious than, the goals of the Millennium Declaration. In brief, the Summit goals are:
- 100 percent completion of primary education by the year 2010;
- 75 percent of young people entering secondary education, with ever-increasing rates of secondary completion;
- Lifelong-learning opportunities for the population as a whole; and
- Gender equity in education.

In general, there have been important advances in education in the region over this period of time, particularly with respect to enrollment and coverage. But unless much greater efforts are made, according to data generated by a project that the Ministers of Education have begun, in only four countries will 95% or more of children of exit age have completed primary school in 2010. And in only three countries, out of 18 for which data are available, will at least 60 percent of 20- to 24-year olds have completed secondary education (in most of the 18, less than half will have done so). Other world regions have made greater strides than we have.

In addition, indicators of quality such as the levels of teacher preparation, investment, and student achievement show that the region is far from achieving its goals and lags behind many other world regions. Perhaps most troubling, enormous disparities continue to exist between more and less advantaged groups; for instance, rural vs. urban schools, low- versus moderate- and high-income families, indigenous groups vs. others. Gender parity is problematic in specific countries, with boys lagging behind on many indicators in the Caribbean and girls trailing in some countries, particularly those with large indigenous populations. These challenges, whose roots lie in questions of equity, are the ones that will determine whether we move forward in development, in democracy, and in security.

Notwithstanding, I wish to pay tribute to the tremendous efforts the CARICOM countries have made in strengthening and harmonizing their education system. A recent World Bank study makes reference to the universal primary enrollment attained by the English-speaking Caribbean by the 1970s and impressive levels of secondary education enrollment by the 1980s. The study noted that the “early emphasis on education is commendable.” Indeed, several countries, including our host Trinidad and Tobago, registered significant improvements in literacy levels during this period. But in the last decade, this trend has not continued, with the region falling behind in skill formation particularly in areas critical for development in the 21st Century and which, to some educators, has impacted the quality of education in the Caribbean. On the positive side, integration has also been at the core of the education system in the Caribbean. This is evidenced by the creation of the Caribbean Examination Council in 1972, to, among other things, conduct examinations and award certificates and diplomas for all secondary school students in the region. On the tertiary level, it is reinforced by the venerable University of the West Indies system, with campuses in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago and extra-mural departments, specialized colleges or schools in the other CARICOM member states.

This afternoon you were privileged to participate in a seminar on “Education for Democratic Citizenship in the Americas: An Agenda for Action,” jointly organized by the OAS and the Inter-American Development Bank. I understand the presentations were eye-opening. Nearly half of our citizens say they might be prepared to give up democracy for authoritarian rule if that government could deliver a better life for them and their families. And many of our young people are saying that they don’t trust their governments and they are skeptical about participating in the political process. As the Inter-American Democratic Charter recognizes, both education for all and education for democratic citizenship are fundamental to strengthening our democratic institutions.

For the most part, the policy decisions and investments that are required to overcome these challenges lie within countries. The international community can support, help shape, prod, and provide incentives for educational improvement. Only you can make the sometimes difficult decisions and only you know how complex educational reform and improvement are. This meeting is an opportunity for you, with your peers, to share your greatest challenges and most successful programs. We have so much to learn from one another.

The OAS serves as the Technical Secretariat for all Summit of the Americas initiatives in education. The OAS promotes policy dialogue, disseminates information, supports horizontal cooperation among member states with similar educational challenges, and monitors progress on initiatives of the Summit, the Ministerial Meetings, and the Inter-American Commission on Education. I am proud of the OAS role in promoting inter-American cooperation and dialogue in the field of education.

I have learned that this is the first time the Education Ministers of the hemisphere meet in the Caribbean. We could not have a more beautiful environment in which to hold this meeting than on this lovely island, and we could not have more gracious hosts. I am sure that you will find the discussions fruitful, and again, your deliberations and decisions could not be more timely or more important. With a high-quality education for every child and every young person, this hemisphere can realize its potential, unleashing all the creativity, innovation, and energy for which the peoples of the Americas are known.

As the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Most Honorable P.J. Patterson, stated recently on the occasion of his country’s 43 Anniversary of Independence, “…education is the most effective means of shaping values, attitudes, behaviors and skills. Education is the key driver of economic transformation.”

Thank you all very much.