Throughout the world, education is being reconsidered, restructured and re-planned in an effort to increase the effectiveness, quality and relevance of education systems. The Commonwealth is home to one third of the world’s population, nearly two thirds of whom are under the age of 30. Given the demographic challenges posed by a burgeoning youth population, the achievement of the Education Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4 – to ensure 'inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all') is a high priority for Commonwealth countries. Ultimately, the education of Commonwealth citizens is paramount to a prosperous, sustainable, secure and fair future – to ensure no one is left behind. But the challenge remains that millions of Commonwealth young people are out of school, face gender discrimination or struggle to successfully transition to the world of work by finding a job. No social progress is possible without education and providing young people with the necessary support to further their aspirational and professional goals, as valued citizens of the Commonwealth, is crucial.
The depth and breadth of Commonwealth infrastructure in education has brought great comparative advantage and has been called ‘the jewel in the Commonwealth crown’ (SG Sir Shridath Ramphal). Educational co-operation and advocacy efforts in the Commonwealth are carried forward collaboratively by a range of partners (some pre-dating the institutional development of the modern Commonwealth), particularly by education sector Commonwealth-accredited organisations.
At the inter-governmental level, the Education Unit within the Commonwealth Secretariat convenes the Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) triennially. This is the largest of the Commonwealth ministerial gatherings, and includes key education stakeholder groups: teachers, civil society, business, higher education and youth. The 20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers was held in Fiji with the theme ‘Sustainability and Resilience: can education deliver?’ This provided a platform for stakeholders to network and exchange ideas and to meet and engage with ministers and education policy makers to make recommendations. The Commonwealth Secretariat aims to support decision and policy makers to achieve long-term outcomes and to tackle complexities at the local, national, regional and global levels, including through development of policy tool-kits and frameworks. The Commonwealth Curriculum Framework for the Sustainable Development Goals (2017) is an example. Current educational programmes include Faith in the Commonwealth, a global citizenship education programme to promote interfaith and intercultural respect and understanding.
The Youth Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat delivers informal education and youth development work through the Commonwealth Youth Programme. It works to create an enabling environment for young people and to strengthen the youth work sector by promoting the professionalisation of youth work in member countries and supporting the development of the Commonwealth Alliance of Youth Work Associations (CAYWA). Support is also provided to the Commonwealth Students Association which seeks to strengthen the voice and role of students in governance in the tertiary sector.
The Commonwealth of Learning (COL), which is headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, is an intergovernmental organisation that helps Commonwealth member states and institutions in strengthening education policies and programmes. It prioritises the promotion of learning for sustainable development and works with partners to achieve the targets of SDG 4 in education and skills, with gender as a crosscutting theme. Its work includes secondary schooling, teacher education, higher education and technical and vocational skills development. COL is an acknowledged world leader in open educational resources and innovation in educational technology and supports the Virtual University for Small States in the Commonwealth. COL is helping developing nations to improve their access to quality education and training by providing valuable resources and technologies.
The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU)is the champion and voice of higher education, acting as a bridge between the higher education sector and Commonwealth governments. With over 500 member universities across the globe, it believes in the power of higher education to drive sustainable development. As the world’s first international university network, the ACU combines the delivery of value to its members with engaging constructively to foster a supportive and informed policy environment for higher education domestically and internationally. It promotes and supports excellence in higher education by connecting and convening member institutions and developing long-term partnerships. The ACU supports the exchange of knowledge and skills through innovative higher education programmes and managing international scholarship schemes.
The Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP) is an international programme under which Commonwealth countries offer scholarships and fellowships to scholars of other member states. Since its inception by Commonwealth Education Ministers at their first meeting in 1959, it has become one of the most prestigious and best-known international scholarship schemes. Over 35,000 scholars have benefited and there is a strong Alumni association. Each Commonwealth country or host institution decides whether to offer scholarships and what type. In order to increase the number of Commonwealth scholarships offered Commonwealth-wide, in low and middle income countries, the CSFP endowment fund was established in 2009 on the 50th anniversary of the CSFP and will become the Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships from 2019, managed by the ACU. All Commonwealth members are being asked to actively support the expansion of the Endowment Fund, with the UK pledging £5 million in support via Prince Harry’s announcement of new scholarships during the April 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
The Commonwealth Education Trust (CET) is an Associated Organisation of the Commonwealth, with charitable status. CET is built on the premise that education is the foundation for development. Its purpose is to advance primary and secondary education across the Commonwealth with a strong focus on teacher professional development because good teachers and starting in the classroom, are key to achieving the SDGs. Through its involvement in international Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) over a number of years, including its Foundations of Teaching for Learning course, CET has harnessed its expertise in pedagogy and teacher training to create its Teach2030 programme. This is currently being piloted in South Africa and aims to support classroom teaching. CET has also made an important contribution to promoting poetry and writing including River of Stories: Tales and Poems from Across the Commonwealth, a beautiful collection showcasing the vibrant storytelling traditions of each of the countries of the Commonwealth, illustrated by award-winning children’s illustrator Jan Pienkowski.
The Council for Education in the Commonwealth (CEC), established in 1959, is a parliament based NGO that aims to create an informed public opinion on the salient issues concerning education and training in the Commonwealth and to identify appropriate ways in which the UK can best contribute to their development. The CEC provides a forum where members of Parliament and others with an interest in education in the Commonwealth, can exchange information and views and initiate action to foster greater educational co-operation and the sharing of experience among the countries and governments of the Commonwealth. The CEC regularly convenes forums and panel discussions for educationalists, organises the annual Gladwyn Lecture and holds conferences with higher education partners overseas, including most recently Namibia. The CEC serves on the ministerial steering group for convening the Commonwealth Conference of Education Ministers and also convenes the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan Support Group.
The Commonwealth Consortium for Education (CCfE) was established by a group of Commonwealth NGOs to help co-ordinate their efforts, on behalf of Commonwealth education, to stimulate more coherence in their work and to provide a collective mechanism for interaction with ministries and the official Commonwealth inter-governmental organisations. CCfE lobbies to keep education high on the agenda of the Commonwealth and publishes various policy briefs, directories and a useful Commonwealth education events calendar.
The Commonwealth Girls Education Fund (CGEF), established in 1925, sponsors girls of ability through their secondary schooling where, without financial assistance from the fund, they would be unable to continue their education. An education charity, it has been sponsoring the education of girls for 50 years, and proactively raises funds.
Commonwealth Day provides an annual educational opportunity to celebrate the links between Commonwealth communities and young people, its values and common challenges. It takes place on the second Monday of March, a day when most of the children of the Commonwealth are in school and able to celebrate and observe with their peers. Commonwealth Day 2019 will take place on Monday 11th March. Schools and youth groups around the Commonwealth are encouraged to participate. Educational resources are available from the Commonwealth Secretariat, the RCS and the British Council.
At The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS), we have a long and rich history of contributing to education about the Commonwealth and nurturing the creative talents of young people. We also collaborate on research to influence policy makers and highlight issues of Commonwealth concern, such as the role of education in preventing early child marriage. Our dedicated Youth and Education team endeavour to promote active global citizenship through a programme of model Commonwealth Summits (Youth CHOGM), an engaging simulation of a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. We aim to contribute to literacy, expression and creativity among young people by celebrating excellence, imagination and critical thinking: each year, the RCS invites all young Commonwealth citizens aged 18 and under to take part in the world’s oldest schools’ international creative writing competition, The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition. This offers Commonwealth young people the opportunity to express their hopes for the future, opinions of the present, and thoughts on the past, through the written word. The 2018 theme, ‘Towards a Common Future’ and its topics asked young writers to explore how the Commonwealth can address global challenges and work to create a better future. The results are now announced here.