Minister Cannon T.D. opening speech at the Global Partnership for Education Reception
Speech06 December 2018
Julia, Minister Thiam and members of the GPE Board
Ministers of Education
Alice and GPE secretariat staff
Friends and colleagues from Ireland and abroad
I am delighted to welcome you here tonight.
You have had a quite intensive day of discussions. I hope that this evening will provide some welcome respite before you face into another day of deliberations and decisions tomorrow.
It is appropriate that we meet here in the EPIC museum, which tells the story of the Irish diaspora. Migration has been part of the Irish education story.
Ireland was a sanctuary of learning during Europe’s dark ages, bringing the light of education to Europe at a time when literacy was in retreat. The debt was later repaid, when Irish educators were trained at Irish Colleges across Europe, bringing their knowledge back home following the closing of the great monastic schools, such as those at Clonard and Clonmacnois.
The Celtic bardic tradition too ensured that education was not an elite thing. The thirst for hunger saw parents defy the law and bring their children to hedge schools during the 17th century. Compulsory primary education came to Ireland in 1831, fifty years before it came to England with whom this island was then in a political union. Schools founded by religious order schools set strong foundations during the 19th century – indeed, many went to export their model in the developing world. Today, we continue to evolve our education system, determined that it is one of the best in the world.
Today Ireland continues to contribute to global education. Many Irish teachers work across the world. Missionary orders and non-governmental organisations continue to work to build and maintain schools, as well in the provision of education services in very remote areas and to the most disadvantaged children - often in situations of conflict or crisis.
Education interventions are at the heart of Ireland’s international development cooperation programme.
We have determined that education will remain a priority in Ireland’s development cooperation, as we launch our new international development next month. Already we have made a commitment to scale up education financing with a pledge to invest at least €250 million over the next five years to improve access for those children who are currently denied an education, and to ensure a better quality of education.
That is in addition to our pledge in Senegal to double our contribution to the Global Partnership for Education. This morning I announced a further disbursement by the Irish Government of [€6.5 million] in respect of our pledge at Senegal, bringing Ireland’s total contribution to the Global Partnership to €10.5 million this year.
In our new policy on international development, we will place particular emphasis on interventions to support girls’ education, in particular in situations of conflict and fragility.
The benefits of educating girls are well established, and the World Bank’s report released earlier this year provides a stark reminder of the economic costs of not educating girls, to the order of 15-30 trillion US dollars.
We have seen progress is reducing the gender gap in enrolment, but girls in low income countries, from poorer households and in situations of conflict and fragility are still more likely to be out of school than boys. In addition, gender discrimination and bias are still embedded in education curricula and systems.
Of course this is not news to you, who I know are all champions of girls’ education. The challenge for all of us is to translate our words into actions and work together to overcome the barriers that continue to keep girls from participating in 12 years of quality education.
The 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report puts a timely spotlight on the impact of migration and displacement on education, and of education on migration and displacement, as well as on the important role of education in building tolerance, understanding and facilitating integration. I would like to welcome Manos Antoninis, Director of the Global Education Monitoring Report, who is also with us this evening.
As I mentioned earlier, migration is a feature of Irish life and society. In the 19th century roughly half of the people born in Ireland emigrated, in part the consequence of famine. Uniquely in Europe, the population of this island remains lower than it was in 1800.
While the drivers of that migration - persecution, famine and economic need - were largely negative, there have been positive longer-term outcomes both for Ireland and the countries where Irish migrants settled.
As Minister of State for the Diaspora I am keenly aware of the contribution that Irish emigrants and their descendants have and continue to make globally, as well as the huge benefits that Ireland has gained from its diaspora.
Ireland also benefits from inward migration. Immigrants, many now naturalised citizens, make significant contributions to Ireland’s social, cultural and economic life. Around 18% of our population were born elsewhere, greatly enriching the tapestry of Irish life through their presence.
The Government recognises this. The Migrant Integration Strategy published last year aims to ensure that migrants are enabled to play a full role in Irish society. It also calls on the whole of Government, Irish society and migrants to work together to promote their integration without them having to relinquish their own cultural identity.
I am very pleased that the Global Education Monitoring report has recognised Ireland’s efforts both through the Migration Integration Strategy and the Department of Education’s Intercultural Education Strategy to ensure that migrant children are fully included in an Irish education system that values their cultural heritage.
However, the report also reminds us that much more needs to be done to meet the right to education for migrant, displaced and stateless children across the globe.
Ireland has a responsibility not only to meet the education needs of migrant children resident here, but also to support other countries, especially low income countries, that host a huge proportion of the world’s displaced. We need to support them to include migrant and displaced children in their national education system. And we need to also support the work of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations to provide quality education services in humanitarian responses.
As a chapter in the UNHCR’s recent report on refugee education in crisis put it: “It is everyone’s business to educate refugees.”
That report also describes how technology can support education and create new opportunities. As a passionate advocate for digital literacy, and the role of technology in education, I was particularly moved by the story of Remy. Only fifteen years old, Remy was orphaned and fled Burundi to Malawi. There, he had the opportunity to study computer programming. Ten years later he is teaching students to code and develop computer apps. He has also recently started a Girls’ Smart Code club to encourage more refugee women and girls to join.
In its report ‘Full Force’, the Malala Fund highlights the importance of digital skills, as well as cross disciplinary skills like problem solving, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration – all key “21st Century Skills”. They estimate that almost 1 billion girls are not being provided with the opportunity and support to develop these skills, thereby limiting their future employment options and economic opportunities.
Last year, I launched Africa Code Week in Tanzania and it was encouraging to witness this and other initiatives that are increasing digital literacy. However, to fully realise the opportunities of the digital economy, digital and 21st century skills need to be fully integrated into national education systems.
Ireland has taken that step with the development of a Digital Learning Framework for primary and post primary schools and the piloting of computer science as an exam subject at secondary level. I hope that we will be able to share our experiences in this with other countries.
This brings me back again to our venue here tonight. I hope many of you participated in the tour this evening to witness the moving and unforgettable stories of those who left the island of Ireland, and how they influenced and shaped the world. The museum embraces the past and the future with 1,500 years of Irish history and culture housed in its atmospheric vaults.
The museum is the the world’s first fully digital museum and provides an excellent example of how technology can be harnessed to support learning.
I hope that you have enjoyed your experience of the museum, learned a little more about Ireland and its people.
For those of you visiting for just a short period, I hope that you are enjoying your time in Ireland and will return again soon.
For colleagues lucky enough to live here, I look forward to further conversations on how Ireland can support the achievement of SDG 4 – the goal of inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.