Tanoa International Hotel, Nadi, Fiji

11 to 12 October 2017



delivered by
Shiu Raj, Director Programmes & Initiatives,
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.


Mr Iowane Tiko, Permanent Secretary for Education, Heritage, and Arts

Ms Nisha, Director of Office and UNESCO Representative to the Pacific States

Heads of Education Systems from the Pacific Region

Representatives of Regional Agencies and Development Partners

Ladies and Gentlemen

Yesterday marked Fiji’s 47th anniversary of independence. I hope that those of you who had arrived early were able to participate in some of the events as Nadi was the centre of the Fiji Day celebrations this year. Let me take this opportunity to wish all Fijians a belated happy Fiji Day, and also thank those who worked on the public holiday to prepare for the meetings today and tomorrow. We appreciate your sacrifice and your hospitality as the host.

It is my privilege to convey to you the warm greetings from The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dame Meg Taylor. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat is pleased to be associated with the Government of Fiji and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for this 22nd Consultation Meeting of the Pacific Heads of Education Systems (PHES).


Education Frameworks

Education is the most important investment a nation can make in its people. The Forum Secretariat has been directly involved in the convening of the high level regional education meetings since the beginning of this century. The first Forum Education Ministers Meeting was convened in 2001, and very significant progress has been made since. We need to build on these achievements.

Over the years, the Secretariat has worked with Members to coordinate the implementation of regional education frameworks such as the Forum Basic Education Action Plan (FBEAP) and the Pacific Education Development Framework (PEDF) in partnership with relevant technical agencies. Based on the lessons from the past, we have already embarked on supporting the development of the Regional Education Framework (REF), through a well engaged process directed by the PHES Small Working Group. I wish to congratulate the PHES for taking a very practical approach towards the development of REF, which we will discuss at length in the coming days. The time is now right for us to relook at regional education coordination and its architecture. We now have much stronger technical institutions to support development of education that is relevant to the region. We appreciate the support received from entities such as the GPE, ADB, SPC, UNESCO, USP and the Governments of Australia and New Zealand.


Sustainable Development Goals

Our efforts in boosting investments in the education sector needs to also take into account relevant global frameworks. The 2030 Agenda and the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the UN General Assembly provides a monumental challenge to small island states in the Pacific. But it is also an opportunity to focus on where the weaknesses are in our education systems. Pacific states have signed up to the SDGs, and accordingly we will need to work towards those goals. Forum Leaders have endorsed the Pacific Roadmap for Sustainable Development as formulated collectively by the regional SDGs Taskforce. Early next month, the SDGs Implementation Plan for the region will also be finalised.

The fourth SDG is about ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. The Pacific region has identified eight headline indicators related to SDG4 which are a mix of Tiers I, II and III categories. This implies that some countries will need to make an extra effort in ensuring that data collection is prioritised for the education sector to effectively monitor progress on how we perform against SDG4.

Primary education, in particular, has been recognised as a catalyst to meeting many of the most important development challenges that exist today. Unfortunately, the recent results of the numeracy and literacy assessments for the region suggests that we are falling behind and therefore it is critical that we build our capacity in laying strong foundations for education. The 2015 MDG Tracking Reports produced by the Forum Secretariat and presented to Leaders at their annual meeting indicate that some of our countries in the Pacific are still struggling with achieving universal access to primary education. It only makes sense then that at the outset, the SDG work for us in the Pacific, will need to consider the unfinished business from the MDGs.

Supporting our region to achieve the SDGs should be an important imperative of the new regional education framework. Strong collaboration amongst the regional organisations is key in implementing the new regional education framework to provide support to national efforts.


Regionalism Priorities

In recent years, there has been reemphasis on the Forum Secretariat’s role as the premium regional policy agency to formulate and drive regionalism solutions for collective benefit of the Pacific islands.

Forum Leaders have endorsed the operationalisation of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism (FPR), a public policy process which allows for an inclusive process through which Leaders eventually consider and decide on priorities for regionalism for collective gains. Two rounds of submissions have been processed since 2014 and a third round of calls for submission is expected to be launched in 2017.

The current regionalism priorities include efforts to address the impacts of climate change and support resilient development; improved returns from the fisheries sector; focus on investments in information and communications technology (ICT); address health issues such as cervical cancer; implementation of the Pacific Framework on Disability; facilitate the harmonisation of business processes and improved mobility; and raising the concerns relating to human rights issues in West Papua.

For instance, the regionalism priority on mobility is also linked to labour mobility, one of the five priorities captured in the Smaller Island States (SIS) Regional Strategy. Many of our Members, including most SIS, suffer from high levels of unemployment and especially youth unemployment.  Why is it that while many of our Members have high unemployment, they don’t necessarily have unemployed skilled or semi-skilled workers who can be easily marketed to foreign employers? While labour mobility is a key tool which can help address the employment needs, strategic investment in education sector is of utmost importance.

Investments in the education sector directly contributes to other development goals such as addressing poverty reduction and inequalities, health and nutrition, economic growth and labor market opportunities, as well as peacebuilding and the promotion of democratic institutions. And the education sector in itself is a significant business opportunity that we all need to be alert about. Our community and religious groups also have a very important role in providing education facilities. We also need to invest in new technologies and methods of teaching, including upskilling of our teachers. It is important that governments create a conducive environment that allows for such engagements to happen.

Let me conclude by saying that the SDGs and the FPR priorities, for instance, require attention from the education sector so that as a region we have a common understanding on what we are trying to achieve collectively. There is strength in unity, and unity is needed at all levels. We need to invest in our young people on regionalism priorities and the knowledge about sustainable development goals. Remember that we are looking at multiyear commitments for FPR priorities, including goals that have an outlook to 2030. I would strongly encourage that the education systems consider integrating these elements in the curriculum as appropriate, either formally or informally.

I wish to thank once again the co- organisers of this meeting. On those few notes, let me wish you well in your deliberations and I look forward to be part of the discussions.

Thank you.

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