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I’m delighted to be here this morning to open the Integrated Partners’ Forum ahead of the 20th CCEM here in Nadi.

I would like to, in particular, welcome our visitors to Fiji, especially those who are here with us for the first time.

The outcomes of this forum, and the theme of this CCEM, can only be realised through a commitment to one another, as Commonwealth partners, and as women and men dedicated to the education of our citizens. Only together can we address the great challenges facing students and young people around the world, including engraining sustainable development and resilience in the delivery of high-quality education.

Every country stands at its own level of development, and every country has its own priorities, aspirations and game plans for the education of their students and young people. But for all of us, small island developing states, and for larger, industrialised economies, our progress in education hinges on our ability to pursue sustainable development, and realise the sustainable development goals. That is not a journey that can take place in silos, it has to be a journey we embark on together, with well-resources nations standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those with more limited resources. Because the theme of this year’s CCEM bears relevance for us all, “Sustainability and Resilience: Can Education Deliver?”

Here in Fiji, we are fully committed to our agenda for expanding access to high quality education. We’ve made education free for the first time in Fijian history, we are proving our students with free textbooks and subsidised transportation to school. And, recently, we’ve massively expanded access to merit-based scholarships and our affordable tertiary education loans scheme, and made those programmes more tailored to students’ needs. We are on the cutting edge of strategies for adaptation and climate resilience, of finding new ways to engage with development partners and those in the private sector to accelerate investment in sustainable development across every sector of our economy – including in education.

The mantra that has driven the education revolution in Fiji has been that we need to move away from a business-as-usual mentality. That includes our teachers, administrators, trade unions and curriculum experts. We in Fiji particularly have seen an issue with the ways, historically, that we’ve administered our education system and administered our teachers. We’ve also had to consider: how do we meet the challenges of modern technologies and expanded access to these technologies, including social media? And we’ve responded by finding new ways to engage with our education stakeholders and with the public to solve problems and find new ways to expand access to high quality education.

Abroad, we’ve also shown we are able and willing to lead on the great challenges facing sustainable development. As President of the COP23 negotiations in Bonn, Germany, we led the world to decisive action in implementing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and scored other major victories for small island developing nations, and every vulnerable nation on earth, in the global campaign to reduce harmful carbon emissions and adapt vulnerable economies to climate impacts.

During those negotiations, we brought with us our Fijian “Bula spirit” of inclusiveness and solidarity, along with the participatory and transparent dialogue process of Talanoa. Themes that should also guide our discussions at this forum, and during CCEM this week. Because the more freely we express ourselves and the deeper the connections we forge among one another, the higher the quality of our discussions will become. And that exchange of knowledge, as we’ve seen before, will have a direct impact on students and young people throughout the Commonwealth in obtaining a high-quality educations.

Those discussions must be had within the context of sustainable development. In that, everyone has a role to play. Students and young people, in particular, should be at the center of policy discussions, not only as beneficiaries of education but in recognition that they are among some of the most vulnerable members of society. We cannot allow them to be passive actors. They must be full members of the decision-making and planning that impacts their lives, be it as school leaders, members of student governing bodies, or members of student councils.

It's our responsibility to pass down the lessons of sustainable development to our children; when those lessons are lost, we risk repeating the same mistakes. We must break this cycle by instilling values, such as climate change awareness and advocacy, in our education system so we can raise the next generation of climate warriors. By doing so, we will secure a brighter future for every young person on earth.

Throughout our discussions, I hope that we remain committed to many of the same principles that have guided us in the past, and explore new ways of thinking, new strategies of cooperation and new ways to engage with our students and young people.

As always, civil society organizations must work in partnership with governments to build equitable and quality education systems and improve the accountability of the education systems in their countries.

Teachers also have an essential role in empowering and forging the minds of our students and young people. We want them to motivated, engaged, and well-qualified. We need them to be accountable in reaching out to the most disadvantaged to ensure all of our citizens get the access to education they deserve, including our young children and young people with special needs. We count on our teachers and educators to engage children and young people so they go on to become responsible and engaged citizens. More than that, so they can grow to become the next generation of leaders on whatever challenges the future holds.

We must continue to work alongside our higher education institutions as partners in sustainable development. These institutions often provide us with data that informs our policy-making and enables us to plan properly for the future. They also are critical in building bridges between students and businesses so that as many of our students as possible can go on to high-paying jobs and maximise their contribution to our economies.

All of this culminates in the need for us to come together in a learning and knowledge alliance to bridge major gaps in research needs, capacity development and policy implementation within our member states and best identify the most effective practices and recommendations that can help us attain the SDGs. Such an alliance calls for a much closer level of collaboration between policy-makers and academia on policy research. We need to know, in a quantifiable way, which strategies have worked and which haven’t. The strength of our partnerships in this regard will directly determine the rate of our socioeconomic growth, and accelerate innovation across the Commonwealth.

Finally, we need to do a better job at tapping the vast educational and research resources of Commonwealth countries for all of our benefit. By facilitating the transfer of knowledge between our countries, we can develop invaluable materials, such as research papers, analytical reports and other data that can assist leaders and policy makers in putting forward bold, inclusive and innovative policies in education. Policies tailored to their own education sectors, but that are based on wisdom, evidence and experiences collected from around the world.

If you are a policy maker, administrator, teacher, or student, and you have an idea, or have a growing need, you should all be able to see, very clearly, what other countries have tried, what issues they have identified and what success they have found. With that information available, we can think outside-of-the-box to develop and implement new and –sometimes – unconventional solutions, as groups, organisations, schools and individuals, and have immediate access to hard facts and real experiences from our fellow Commonwealth countries.

I’d like to again welcome many of you to Fiji, and wish you all well in your discussions. We very much look forward to the joint statement that will be delivered to the 20th CCEM following this forum.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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