Author: (Speech by Janice Panton) | Date: 04 November 2015
Mr President of the General Conference, Madam Director General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I express sincere thanks on behalf of the Government and people of Montserrat and especially convey the gratitude of the Honourable Premier, Mr Donaldson Romeo and His Deputy and Honourable Minister of Education, Mrs Delmaude Ryan, (who regrettably could not be here) for embracing the vision last year, in becoming an Associate Member of UNESCO , and today that vision has come to life.
The activities of UNESCO, now age 70 are woven into the fabric of national governments as the organization is seen as an essential resource bank, providing policy guidance on education and science and promoting cultural diversity. The longevity and the status of the organization says much for its relevance in an ever-changing world.
The objectives of UNESCO, peace and equitable sustainable development, are the objectives of both large and small countries and the method of implementation has the potential to impact on every child in the universe.
Its inclusive mandate provides small Territories like Montserrat the opportunity to share policy guidelines and good practices first hand.
Montserrat is a United Kingdom Territory, a small island situated in the Eastern Caribbean. The Montserrat flag reflects its status as a British Territory but the observant will notice that the flag includes an emblem showing a lady with a harp. The lady is Erin, from Ireland; the Irish were first to settle on Montserrat under British rule in the late 17th century. The names of persons and places in Montserrat reflect this Irish heritage. Africans became the major ethnic group a few decades later providing a rich cultural heritage, reflected in music song and dance - Montserrat gave the world the Soca anthem, Hot Hot Hot, composed and song by Arrow (Alphonso Cassell). The development of culture falls under the now fully functional Montserrat Arts Council.
Historically Montserrat’s population fluctuated between 10,000 to14,000. Today it is approximately 5,000 and, that includes a high percentage of recent migrants from within the region including those from Spanish speaking countries. This reduction in population is a result of volcanic eruption which started in 1995, and which made two thirds of this 40 sq. miles island uninhabitable and caused mass off-island evacuation.
The impact of this crisis has been huge. Montserrat lost its core middle and senior management workers and their offsprings. Previous boast of being in the top educational league in the region is no longer true as standards have dropped due to inability to recruit and retain qualified teachers, and there is now a need to look afresh at our education system.
Over the last twenty years, sustained volcanic activity has had, and continues to have, a devastating effect on the island’s economy, which had just barely recovered following damaging effects of category Hurricane Hugo in 1989, even though activity is now at a very low level. Today Montserrat is in receipt of budgetary aid.
The volcanic eruption had other effects. Montserrat now has a volcano observatory, which continues to bring world-class volcanologists and geologists to our shores. The recent winner of one of the most prestigious awards in science, the Vetlesen Prize, considered to be the earth sciences equivalent of the Nobel Prize, is the British volcanologist, Professor Stephen Sparks, once a household name on the island, as were the names of other scientists, as lives depended on this. His work and that of others has been an inspiration to budding scientists and Montserrat now has at least two homegrown earth scientists.
Another effect of the volcanic eruption is the opportunity it has given Montserrat to turn from fossil fuel to geothermal energy. With aid from the UK Department for International Development we have commenced drilling and discovered enough geothermal energy resource to meet current needs. This energy resource will provide cleaner and cheaper energy and should boost the economy. Its implementation will call for an educated workforce and skills not currently employed or available on the island.
Montserrat does do not want to be a bystander as technology develops around us. The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals or global Goals require that each individual have a responsibility to contribute towards fulfilling these. As an Associate Member of UNESCO, our mandate would be to facilitate this where possible.
In Montserrat we have also seen the negative effect of the volcano in sustaining terrestrial and marine life. During the last twenty years there has been a lack of homegrown fruits and vegetable and our reefs have been affected by volcanic material deposited in the sea during the eruption. More, importantly however, there has been a lack of capacity building due to the small workforce, around 2000.
In small communities it is taken as given that education is a driver for individual upward mobility and more often than not, the success of an educated son or daughter trickles down to other members of the family. In Montserrat, we are looking, as an Associate Member of UNESCO, for benefits to include the tools to build an educated community - not just an educated individual, but a whole community of educated individuals who, working together can learn and act on the experiences and policies of UNESCO and its members. We benefit from the UK in this respect, and we can only imagine the effect of learning from over 190 other UNESCO members would have on our development.
About ten years ago, a review was undertaken to find out what are the factors that would encourage Montserratians who settled in the UK to return to safe northern part of Montserrat, not surprising education was a major factor together then with available housing and jobs. Unfortunately, we have not yet reached that level of development and this is still be a major consideration for the second generation living in the UK and elsewhere.
The Government of Montserrat has recently reviewed its policy and agenda, and has prioritized three of the Sustainable Development Goals: SDG, 4, 7 and 8.
In Montserrat, Goal 4 (SDG 4) – to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all - can act as a motor for sustainable development through the provision of qualified teachers and a curriculum that would equip our children to aim for a bright and sustainable future.
In Montserrat, we will in the near future play a part in the world carbon reduction whilst at the same time provide to our energy consumers cheaper energy, using geothermal and fulfilling Goal 7 of the SPD : to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable energy for all.
In Montserrat our economic policy is based on Sustainable Development Goal 8: to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
We are committed to UNESCO’s mandate, which we see as vital for the betterment of our people.
In closing, the Government of Montserrat would like to thank the United Kingdom Government for its support in its application and also for the support given with the process. In this regard we would also to thank UNESCO for affording Montserrat the opportunity to participate in this august Organisation. This is a landmark occasion for the people of Montserrat and we look forward to playing our part as Associate Member of UNESCO.