ANNEX V. Opening address by Mr Antonio Silipo, Minister of Education of the Province of Ontario, Canada, and Chairman of the 43rd session of the International Conference on Education
Mr Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO,
Thank you for your kind introduction. Please accept my warmest personal greetings and welcome to this gathering. I feel deeply honoured to have been selected to chair this gathering of educators and politicians responsible for education.
The 43rd session of the ICE is taking place at a time when we are all deeply aware of the importance of cultural identity, cultural diversity, cultural conflict and cultural development in our lives. This session follows upon the 42nd Conference that dwelt upon literacy, and took place in the international year of literacy. We are still, in our various countries, working with the outcomes of that constructive meeting. Now we are at the mid-point of the World Decade for Cultural Development. It is a reminder to all of us about how important are the links between language, literacy and cultural development in education.
For the next week we will be working together to bring forward from our various perspectives a document addressing the very challenging topic of education and cultural development.
As educators, we are called upon to consider the topic not only as we see it, but as we serve the citizens in our respective jurisdictions. It is their world which will take shape from our efforts here, and it is for them and for the future that we strive to reach agreement among ourselves through this experience.
Young people in particular are always our inspiration and our main focus when we gather to deliberate on educational matters. We do our work, all around the world, on behalf of the millions of students who rely on their families, their teachers, and ultimately their governments to prepare them to live and work and make their contribution towards a better society.
Preparing for this Conference, I thought about my own childhood experience. With your indulgence, I would like to share some of my personal reflections because I believe that my experience has been repeated in the lives of many children in our contemporary world.
I was born in Italy and lived there with my family for my early years. For economic reasons, my parents decided to move us to Australia when I was nine. Subsequently, we moved again, to Canada, to the city of Toronto, where I continue to live and in fact have made my permanent home. By the age of 15 I had experienced three different education systems on three continents. I had learned two languages and been exposed to a third: my mother tongue, Italian, then English, and finally French.
There are children and young people in every part of the globe who are going through the experience of migration similar to my own. The experience which immigrants, men and women alike, have gone through represents one of the facets of the interaction between culture and education. This interaction can obviously also be seen in other circumstances. We are gathered here this week in order to look into these issues and, as we work together, we may be able to come up with some answers.
For example, we have to ask ourselves how an education system can succeed in transmitting the values and traditions of an age-old culture to young people who are exposed to other influences through the international media.
Some countries, like Canada, are taking steps in their institutions in a bid to help the autochthonous population to reassert its dignity, which is manifest within its own culture. In order to achieve this goal, it is necessary to make a commitment to applying the principle of justice, failing which the culture of these peoples is in danger of disappearing, with the resulting irreparable loss for humankind.
The question we have to ask is how our educational institutions can ensure the best possible backing for such moves.
From the standpoint of cultural development, education can offer people of all ages a host of opportunities for becoming conversant with the arts. It has to be asked how our educational institutions can ensure that those parts of the curricula devoted to culture do justice to the whole range of local traditions, while taking account of the traditions existing in the rest of the world and enabling the pupils to preserve an identity of their very own.
With the help of parents, both men and women teachers can discover pupils who display a special talent for the arts and can then nurture that talent in order to produce a new generation of artists in the visual or performing arts, or in writing and music. In doing this, how can we ensure that the pleasure of artistic performance or creation can be an experience enjoyed by a host of people rather than by only the privileged few?
The question is whether we want our men and women teachers to engage in a dialogue with their pupils on the arts and aesthetics and thereby stimulate their creativity and help them develop their critical sense and discernment. Moreover, we have to ask whether our teaching institutions encourage cultural dialogue with the different cultural communities surrounding them.
We are intent on ensuring that our primary and secondary schools and universities become places where music, dance, the visual arts and drama are the rule. There are countless young people whose first encounter with the arts or whose initial training in that field takes place at school. The arts and human sciences are key factors in the creative power of the human mind. We should ask ourselves whether our technocrats include them in the priorities they attach to the education of every individual young person.
When several cultures coexist in a society, it is incumbent on the educators and cultural leaders to find ways to achieve intercultural harmony. The challenge is great, we know, and conflicts are bound to arise.
In this regard, are our teachers and professors prepared to instil respect for other cultures and traditions among their students? Do they feel empowered to intervene when conflicts arise between students or groups of students based on racial or cultural differences?
How does what students learn help them understand the nature and origins of racism and ethnocultural prejudice, and how does it help them overcome such tendencies within themselves and among those around them?
The links between the school, the family and the community are essential when dealing with issues of culture, language and cultural development. We must ask how well we are forging the ties between these components. These are weighty questions. They offer real challenge to all of us at this Conference. They are thought-provoking, and not simple. Perhaps this will only be a beginning here.
I do not need to enumerate for this body the trouble spots of our world. We are all acutely conscious of the pain, suffering, and violence which is the daily experience of the population in those countries, and particularly the children. As educators, we must remain constantly alive to our responsibility to help, and to build for a world that will be better.
People are being displaced by war, by famine and by natural disasters. Their lives have been shattered. If they are not given access to education and training in order to rebuild, they will remain wounded throughout their lives.
We must dedicate ourselves to securing hope for the future through the most powerful means of all, through education. Education, culture and development convey a world of meaning in every society. We have all responded to this invitation to Geneva in order to deliberate these concepts at the highest level of professional activity.
We have at our disposal the necessary tools of communication. Through the planning and preparations made by the conference organisers, we will be able to have full and frank discussions on a wide range of themes. We will have the use of these excellent facilities and the assistance of officials to help us move forward on our agenda towards the desired end of a conference document which we can all support. The hours and the days ahead will challenge us to bring only our best efforts forward.
We shall be the exemplars of the theme, that learning and culture are inextricably related. We will be learning from each other, respectful of the cultures which we bring with us to the meeting rooms as we undertake our tasks.
In this hall the heads of each delegation will share the report submitted from their country. As colleagues, I thank you for setting aside time from your many duties at home to come and share with all of us the focus of your country's educational plans.
I believe we all agree that, in spite of all the other pressing issues of the day, and all the burdens of public policy which every delegate understands, education remains our collective priority.
I ask you, what can be a more effective use of time and energy than our conscientious endeavour here to find a path to a common understanding on the dynamics of culture and education?
In this global village in which we live are being drawn even closer together by the breaking of what seemed like impenetrable barriers, as we have witnessed in the recent past.We are here as citizens of this global village, linked by the bonds of understanding and respect which are common to all of us, irrespective of background or status or level of wealth. Let us continue to strengthen those bonds.
If we can achieve consensus here, the peoples of the world will ultimately benefit from the power of these ideas. They will be strengthened and enhanced in their own self-awareness, and in their respect for the cultures of others in our global village.
Through this means we can make our contribution, as educators, to the future.
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