Education is the most lasting foundation for dialogue, reconciliation and peace, and teachers are its champions, affirmed the Director-General Irina Bokova, during a public forum organized at the South Asian Centre for Teacher Development (SACTD) under UNESCO’s auspices, in Meepe, Sri Lanka, on 17 August, 2016.
The event was held in the presence of the Minister of Education, the Honorable Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Professor Maithree Wickremesinghe, from the University of Kelaniya, and Dr Jayanthi Gunasekara, Director-General of the National Institute of Education, which houses the Center established in 2014.
“I know the importance Sri Lanka attributes to education – this has deep roots in Sri Lankan society, and the country holds a leading place in education across South Asia,” said Ms Bokova. “All this is essential for inclusive and sustainable development, for social resilience – it is crucial to advance dialogue and respect, reconciliation and peace.”
She highlighted the key role of teachers in education. “Nothing can substitute for a good teacher. No new technology, no books. Teachers hold the key to quality education. Putting education first means putting teachers first.” She encouraged the South Asian Centre for Teacher Development to bolster support to teachers, including through professional development, capacity building, the piloting of inclusive education models and ICT competencies.
Affirming that education has a vital role to play in shaping social, cultural and political life and fostering social cohesion and positive attitudes towards diversity, Minister Kariyaswasam recalled Sri Lanka’s long history of provision. The main challenge is to act on shortcomings in education quality, he said, outlining current sector-wide reforms. His Ministry is introducing changes to extend compulsory education to 13 years, to establish “innovation-based schools,” and to tackle quality issues.
“The main driver of school achievement is the quality of teachers, and we need to develop their quality and efficiency. Our goal is not to send any untrained teacher to the classroom.”
In her richly documented presentation, Professor Maithree Wickremesinghe emphasized the need to develop teacher capacity for gender mainstreaming in education, ranging from training and pedagogies to curriculum, learning materials, study choice and school health and safety issues.
“We need to ask some hard questions on education when talking about gender. The South Asian Centre for Teacher Development could become a niche by championing the cause of gender mainstreaming in Asia, including through conducting training of trainers.”
Sharing her experience with setting up a Standing Committee for Universities on Gender Equality and Equity to influence policies in higher education, she noted the importance of a holistic approach, learning from experience, while warning about backlash because “at the core of gender mainstreaming is changing mindsets.”
The Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Mr W. Bandusena, explained that before the end of 2016, the South Asian Centre for Teacher Development will establish its Board and prepare an action plan to take its mandate forward.
During a separate meeting with the Hon. Lakshman Kiriella, Minister for Higher Education and Highways, the Director-General discussed cooperation on quality assurance in higher education, the diversification of systems to cater to rising demand, as well as efforts to ensure safe and conducive learning environments for students.