Gaining insights into how Commonwealth countries can foster resilience through education at 20CCEM | Interview with Caitlyn McGeer, Commonwealth Scholar

Last month, the 20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (20CCEM) took place in Fiji - the ACU took a delegation of vice-chancellors and students, to represent our diverse membership. Caitlyn McGeer, a Commonwealth Scholar studying at the University of Oxford, UK was a part of this delegation, representing students/youth views. We spoke to Caitlyn to find out how attending 20CCEM has impacted on her.

I was motivated to attend the 20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (20CCEM) under the theme 'Sustainability and Resilience: Can Education Deliver?' to gain insight into how Commonwealth countries foster resilience through education. By stimulating learning and developing competencies premised on empowerment and awareness, education is at the crux of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through the development of individual, community, and societal resilience.

I anticipated learning from education leaders – such as, ministers, educators, students, and civil society actors – from across the Commonwealth who are using forward thinking to build capacity in their communities. I was specifically interested in increasing my knowledge on developing competencies within formal and informal education that seek to mitigate and adapt to current and future cultural, political, economic, and environmental conditions, and enable individuals, communities, and societies to implement local and global actions and policies.

My role within the ACU delegation was as a student representative at the Students' Forum, which took place in the Integrated Partners' Forum (IPF). I also presented to the Education Ministers on the value of the Commonwealth Scholarship.

Commonwealth Scholars and Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland

The Commonwealth Scholars (from L-R: Ahnivar Peralta (Belize), Waradas Thiyagaraja (Sri Lanka), and Caitlyn McGeer (Canada)) with Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Commonwealth Secretary-General, at a reception hosted by the Secretary-General.

Over the course of the conference, from the notable speakers and in forum discussions, it was clear that there was great consensus about the need to work together to create sustainable solutions and foster resiliency. During my presentation to the Ministers, I spoke about how the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP) is at the foundation of creating this collaboration, by fostering links between award recipients – and thereby between countries. By facilitating inter-Commonwealth student mobility and dialogue, the CSFP joins emerging leaders in a concrete way, uniting us to strive towards achieving the aims embedded in the SDGs both individually and collectively. The global community that the CSFP generates is transformative to scholars and fellows on a personal, professional, and academic level; this manifests in irrefutable benefits to award recipients' home and study countries. I, ultimately, highlighted how the CSFP nurtures cultural diplomacy and respect for diversity.

The Students' Forum exemplified the benefits of working collectively to foster resilience and achieve sustainable development. Participating in this forum was one of my highlights at 20CCEM. In the forum, I engaged in discussion and debate with other student leaders for the purpose of developing ideas to improve contributions to education across the Commonwealth. Our points were then combined with those from the parallel teachers' and civil society forums to form the recommendations that were fed into the ministerial meetings. This presented an amazing opportunity to gain insight into how different lived realities relate to educational priorities and/or challenges – for example, learning from representatives from Small Island and Developing States (SIDS) in relation to the pressures and impact of climate change.

I felt incredibly grateful to have attended the Students' Forum as I developed a strong partnership with colleagues across the Commonwealth who are also working to achieve the aims of the SDGs. The development of partnerships underscored one of the most important outcomes from 20CCEM: the signing of the historic Commonwealth Education Partnership agreement, which unites the Commonwealth Secretariat, the ACU and Commonwealth of Learning to work together and ensure that education can deliver at country and regional levels.

Another highlight was hearing Timoci Naulusala, a 12-year-old class seven student from Tailevu province in Fiji, deliver his speech during the opening ceremony of 20CCEM. His speech issues a call for urgent climate change action, inspiring much of the discussion that followed in the rest of the conference. Support for the need to build resilience to climate change through education was another important outcome from 20CCEM. In the Nadi Declaration, Ministers agreed to: 'to redouble their efforts to educate present and future generations about the critical issue of climate change'. In the years until the next CCEM, it will be crucial for educators, students, and civil society to hold Ministers accountable to this. We are, however, all involved and have a role to play in the fight against climate change.

As part of my commitment to contribute to this effort, I plan to engage with my student community. Education for sustainable development is a lifelong learning process, which extends beyond individual level processes into community ones. Student are emerging leaders who can multiply resilience-building education strategies from individual into community-level learning, acting to build social cohesion. Individual and community-level education processes coalesce to create a global citizen-minded society that is invested in responding to local and global challenges by taking active responsibility for outcomes. Fostering this will involve working collaboratively with the contacts I made during 20CCEM. As the Chair of the Commonwealth Students Association, Dr Maisha Reza from Singapore stated: 'We're all like little flames ourselves and when we come together, aligned towards a common vision, we become that fire of change that we want to see.'

Caitlyn McGeer is a Commonwealth Scholar from Canada. She is completing a DPhil in Criminology at the University of Oxford. Caitlyn's doctoral research focuses on analysing policing responses to modern slavery, as well as the influence of internet technologies. She is evaluating responses to sexually exploitative modern slavery, particularly of children and young people, and is conducting fieldwork in the UK and Nigeria.

Last modified on 29/03/2018
Tags: life-long learning, sustainable development, Asia