|Agenda Item 85(G): United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development Statement by Mr. R.K.W.Goonesekere, Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya and Member of Sri Lanka Delegation|
|Tuesday, 19 October 2004 00:00|
Education is a high priority in developing as well as developed countries and a considerable amount of resources are being spent in pursuit of that goal. In today’s context, where the world is becoming increasingly competitive and globalized, a highly educated and skilled work force could contribute much to develop economies of our countries. The effect of education on our societies will depend on how well we plan and execute an education policy that is in line with our developmental priorities. On a global scale, the importance of education to achieve sustainable development was reaffirmed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Importance of education is such, achieving universal primary education is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals. However, one need not emphasize the important role education has to play in achieving other MDGs.
Next year will mark the beginning of the UN decade for sustainable development and therefore our discussions at the current session of the UN General Assembly hold special importance. The main focus of education for sustainable development originally set in Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 has been expanded upon in the work programme of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development, reports of other major UN conferences such as the Conference on Women in Beijing, Conference on Population in Cairo and World Education Forum in Dakar. My delegation hopes that the UN decade will heighten the awareness in our societies about the pivotal role of education in achieving a sustainable development. For this purpose, not only school children but also every member of society must be made aware of their role in achieving sustainable development. We appreciate the work done so far by UNESCO as the lead agency for the UN Decade. UNESCO has helped the international community to clarify core education concepts, and convened international conferences and regional workshops to encourage innovative transfers between countries. We welcome the recommendations and guidelines contained in the International Implementation Scheme of UNESCO.
After the Rio Summit in 1992, Sri Lanka began to follow a more focussed and comprehensive policy towards sustainable development. The Government of Sri Lanka as well as the private sector and the civil society have looked towards the Agenda 21 as a guideline when formulating national policies. Agenda 21 includes programme areas concerning reorientation of education, increasing public awareness and training. Sri Lanka has accepted the recommendations of the Jomtien Conference in 1990. Accordingly, the targets have been achieved in the areas of primary schooling.
Given its per capita income, Sri Lanka has done considerably well in the education field in comparison to countries with similar income. The major contributory factor in achieving our goals is that the overwhelming majority of primary and secondary schools provide education free of charge. Moreover, there are programmes for providing free mid-day meal, free textbooks and free school uniform material and a scholarship scheme which ease the financial burden on poor families. These programmes have helped to increase enrolment figures and achieve a literacy rate of 92.5 for boys and 87.9 for girls. Given the increasing enrolment of girls over the years which has now surpassed boys, we are confident that the current gap between boys and girls will be considerably narrowed in the near future. In that process, Sri Lanka will reach the goal of the Dakar Framework for Action on Education for All by eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education. However, we have to admit that reduction of financial resources for education in the recent past due to the armed conflict in the North and East has resulted in lowering the budget allocation for education from about 15 percent to 10 per cent.
Our focus is on primary and secondary education bearing in mind the linkages with tertiary and vocational education systems. Non-formal education for ‘street children’ and economically depressed children is undertaken by organising programmes in schools to meet community skill needs. University education is highly competitive due to the limited places available in the universities. As in the case of primary and secondary level education, cost of university education is entirely borne by the State and university students from needy families are given financial assistance through a scholarship scheme. Since a high level of unemployed youth was a factor leading to the civil unrest in the early 1970s and late 1980s, there have been several programmes to integrate them to the work force. Changes have also been made to courses to make graduate studies more relevant to the development strategies of the government. We recognise that opportunities to obtain a sound education must be matched with opportunities to use that education for the good of self and society.
Education must not be limited for the children and youth but must be available for adults who wish to improve their lives. Consequently, life long education and opportunities for learning must be provided for all regardless of their occupations or circumstances. In Sri Lanka such educational facilities are provided through the Open University system. In time to come, our economies will depend a great deal on flexible workforces that can be retrained to meet advancing technologies and changes in the work place. Therefore our educational and specialised training facilities will also have to adapt to these new realities in order to achieve sustainable development. Our immediate goal should be to ensure that all boys and girls complete their primary education. While in that process, we have to develop strategies to surpass this basic goal. UNESCO being the lead agency of this decade will have an important role to play in achieving these objectives. Our hope is to see the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development making a valuable contribution towards the achievement of millennium development goals.