Strengthening the call to leave no one behind at 20CCEM | Interview with Waradas Thiyagaraja, 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 20CCEM to represent the diversity of our membership. Waradas Thiyagaraja, a Commonwealth Scholar studying at the University of Bath, UK, was a part of this delegation, representing students/youth views to ministers from across the Commonwealth. We spoke to Waradas to find out what it was like being a part of 20CCEM.

CCEM is a crucial event for Commonwealth countries. It is a forum for conversation and education ministers attend to discuss their commitment towards enhancing education across the Commonwealth – and I wanted the opportunity to be a part of these conversations! Also, the Integrated Partners Forum (IPF) represented an immense opportunity for Commonwealth scholars to demonstrate our progress and commitment to making a difference in our communities and beyond.

By taking part in the conversations at 20CCEM, I hoped to advocate for increased commitment to and enhanced resources for education. By representing the values and expectations of Commonwealth Scholars and Fellows, I also expected to contribute to the dialogue on equality in education in the IPF, and make sure we leave no one behind. In addition, I wanted to hear stories from other delegates and learn from their experience about how to advance the education agenda and make sure we leave no one behind and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – particularly number 4, which focuses on education.

Commonwealth Scholars and some of their student colleagues at 20CCEM

L to R: Howard Brown, West Indies Open Campus, Guild of Students; Kogo Fujiki-Mayo, Australian Student Delegate; Caitlyn McGeer, ACU Delegation, Commonwealth Scholar; Waradas Thiyagaraja, ACU Delegation, Commonwealth Scholar; Ahnivar Peralta, ACU Delegation, Commonwealth Scholar Alumni

I was delighted to speak at two sessions in the IPF at 20CCEM. The session on international mobility for capacity building was particularly important for me and the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission. This panel discussion focused on understanding the importance of international mobility in building the capacity of both individuals and organisations within the Commonwealth.

I presented along with Richard Middleton, Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK. This was a great opportunity for me to share my story of becoming a Commonwealth Scholar and how experiencing international mobility through a scholarship has enhanced my capacity to become an educationist and a voice for human rights and education rights. I also highlighted the fruitful nature of scholarships in developing future relationships between fellows and host institutions, through sharing my personal experience of post-scholarship research collaboration with my host institution.

The second panel discussion was about enhancing equity and fairness in which I presented along with other five panel members, including Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, to highlight that we should leave no LGBTIQ+ people behind in our education systems.

I was particularly impressed by the commitment and strong voice of the civil society organisations, which manifested at the session on who should pay for education. Not only the panellists, but also the audience agreed that at least 6% of Commonwealth governments' GDP should be spent on education. This was a striking and powerful call from Commonwealth civil society to their respective governments, which are often torn between neoliberal moves to privatise education and ensuring education as a human right. The session also developed the rationale for publicly financed state education to ensure we include everybody and leave no one behind.

The agreement signed between the ACU, Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth of Learning, pledging to work together to achieve the SDGs in the Commonwealth through education was a prime outcome of 20CCEM. This is a crucial initiative to cultivate enhanced collaboration between education organisations and strive towards achieving a common goal set by the global community. Now, the universities in the Commonwealth can work closely together towards achieving the SDGs through their education systems and practices. This will further strengthen the call for leaving no one behind in our education system.

It was indeed a rare opportunity to be part of a proactive delegation which worked tirelessly to achieve education goals through the summit. The network of individuals and organisations at the summit was not only an unforgettable experience, but also an opportunity to make long-lasting connections. The contacts and connections I made will be an immense support to enhance the work I do back in Sri Lanka, ensuring education rights of marginalised communities – in particular the LGBTIQ+ community. I had the opportunity to meet individuals working on gender and sexual equality in different parts of the Commonwealth, and those connections will continue to foster my work and aspirations for an international network for equality.

Waradas Thiyagaraja is a Commonwealth Phd Scholar at the University of Bath, UK, where he is researching sexual rightsWaradas Thiyagaraja movements in conflict affected countries.

He is also a lecturer in peace and conflict studies, at the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka, and has experience in negotiating conflicts in Sri Lanka and India.

Waradas is also a LGBTIQ rights and education rights activist, and has co-founded a grassroots organisation in Sri Lanka called the education renaissance programme and the queer fund for the LGBTIQ+ community. 

Currently he works on education reforms and LGBTIQ+ rights in Sri Lanka.

Last modified on 29/03/2018