The Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (19CCEM): Civil Society Forum (CSF), was held on 20-21 June 2017 in Nassau, Bahamas. It was the second largest gathering of Ministers in the Commonwealth calendar, affording a wide range of stakeholders the opportunity to input into ministerial processes related to education policy. The resulting Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was unprecedented in recognising the role and need for civic engagement through the Civil Society Forum.
Commonwealth Foundation Director, Vijay Krishnarayan stressed how the Commonwealth as an entity was signalling its emphasis on the involvement of civil society in Commonwealth political processes.
This CSF brought together 40 Civil Society representatives from Small States and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) under the theme, ‘Education and Sustainable Development in Small States: The Quality Imperative’. Three specific areas of focus were considered – (i) Consolidating Basic Education looking at Quality and Equity; (ii) Financing and partnerships and (iii) Further and higher education. The forum included a roundtable discussion for civil society and decision makers with a view to present and discuss key policy options. This was critical given that the 19CCEM took place only months before the September 2015 meeting of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), where Heads of State were scheduled to adopt the new global framework.
“The 19CCEM provides us with an excellent opportunity to advance the Post 2015 Global Education Agenda on the heels of the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All (EFA) Goals.” Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, The Bahamas
This was validated by the Keynote from H.E. Marie-Pierre Lloyd, Seychelles High Commissioner, maintains that it is “crucial” for civil society to work together with governments to have a say in policy decisions. H.C. Lloyd drew on her background in both government and civil society to highlight that both must work together if societies are to improve the livelihoods and quality of life of the people they represent.
With her experience in both sectors, the High Commissioner noted that by their nature government institutions tend to work in silos, with their own departments and budgets, which can lead to siloed thinking. If civil society can work together with governments in these frameworks, then better solutions can result.
Following two days of discussions, civil society delegates submitted a statement of 12 key requests to education ministers, while offering their own commitments in support.
The statement was submitted to the participants of the Small States Forum as a clear ‘Call to Action’ to take forward into the 19CCEM Small States Ministers Forum which took place on 22 June 2015, and other select sessions in the main Ministerial Programme as well as the Stakeholders Forum.
The communique from the Ministers Meeting – The Nassau Declaration – outlines the major topics and issues discussed at the 19CCEM, as well as the major remedial initiatives proposed.
Dame Pearlette Louisy, Governor General of St. Lucia, attended a ministerial roundtable session at the 19CCEM Civil Society Forum. In an interview with the Commonwealth Foundation, she insisted that, “sometimes civil society to do not realise the power they have to influence policy formulation, but also to influence the implementation of that policy”. She added, “So very often we have two monologues, two soliloquies – policy makers on one side and civil society on the other, but that dialogue is so important”.