Discussions were framed by the COVID-19 conditions and the debilitating effect on the education system. In spite of that effect, though, the resilience of the OECS education system was highlighted with evidence of some of the success to the response to COVID-19 in education. Some interventions by Ministries of Education included food programmes for vulnerable students, sanitization kits, print packages for home learning, and the provision of more than 15 000 devices across the region for students and teachers to connect with online learning.
The meeting had a novel feature this year. A youth forum was held on January 28, 2021 where young people from all OECS Member States, including the Associate Member States of Martinique and Guadeloupe, voiced their concerns with the education system and proposed recommendations. Rahym Joseph of Saint Lucia was chosen to represent the forum to deliver the youth recommendations to the Ministers. These recommendations included the need to modernize OECS classrooms, incorporate digital literacies and endorse youth groups and councils of the OECS.
One key decision from the meeting was the approval for the development of a new OECS Harmonized Curriculum that will focus on the skills and concepts of tomorrow that children require today. That curriculum for primary schools of the OECS will use an interdisciplinary approach that connects core curriculum components with other critical life skills such as civics, creative arts, critical thinking, problem-solving and digital literacies. Ministers committed to supporting a collaborative approach to developing a curriculum that is world-class and that will help transform teaching and learning that spotlights the child and their learning.
The UWI Five Islands Campus proposed to Ministers an agile approach to tertiary education that prepares OECS citizens for the present and anticipated technological revolutions. That vision underscores the importance of research for new technological development connected to economies of the OECS and the use of artificial intelligence in the technological shift of the region as creators and not mere consumers of technology. It is expected that the vision and plan from the Five Islands Campus will be connected to the Education Research Centre soon to be established by the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill School of Education, which serves as the secretariat to the Eastern Caribbean Joint Board of Teacher Education. Ministers celebrated teachers and praised the industrious and innovative response from many of them to the challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another highlight of the meeting was a presentation by and dialogue with Ms. Alice Albright, the Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education. The GPE is the largest global fund solely dedicated to transforming education in lower-income countries. It is a unique, multi-stakeholder partnership to empower boys and girls through quality education to give them hope, agency, and opportunities. In her remarks, Ms. Albright lauded the contribution of the OECS to the work of the GPE and reiterated the partnership’s commitment to supporting education in developing countries.
The OECS Ministers expressed their deep appreciation for the technical and financial support received from the GPE totaling USD 5.3 million to date and agreed to individually and collectively add their voices to the GPE’s “Raise Your Hand” pledging appeal for increased funding for education by donor partners
Selected Key Decisions from the OECS 6th Council of Ministers: Education:
- Renew and strengthen efforts to align education in the region through a Regional Education Group (REG) that will help guide education development of the OECS. That REG will comprise representatives from Ministries of Education, regional and international partner agencies and civil society organizations.
- New OECS Harmonized Primary Curriculum to commence later this year with anticipated funding from the Global Partnership for Education.
- Leverage economies of scale to procure goods and services for digital transformation initiatives in the sector.
- Engage industry leaders to provide realistic pathways for student innovation and next generation careers.
- Commission a regional committee to establish a mechanism to support the capturing of real time data in the OECS.