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Saturday, August 05, 2006 

Commonwealth's 'wealth' goes untapped

Saturday, August 5, 2006


* Angela Martins, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education

** Charles Quin, QC,Cayman's Honorary Representative for the Royal C'wealth Society

Cayman and Commonwealth associations ought to be a natural fit - what with the Islands' continuing with British Overseas Territory status and the resulting linkages - however, as one Cayman educator noted this does not appear to be the case.

"For the majority of students in Cayman, the Commonwealth does not carry the meaning it should," they said adding it is not among their first thoughts when seeking help with education or developing their lives.

According to Cayman's Honorary Representative for the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS), Charles Quin, QC, the Commonwealth has significantly helped the 1.975 billion people in the 53 Commonwealth countries around the world to "lead more fulfilling lives."

However, Mr Quin has also expressed regret that knowledge about the Commonwealth and, "all the avenues it opens up in the areas of education and development" are not more significant here.

Mention "the Commonwealth" to an education manager like Angela Martins, Deputy Permanent Secretary of Cayman's Ministry of Education, and for her, "professional development and support for learning activities" is what comes first to mind.

At the same time, she acknowledged that for a number of young people, and, for the majority of children still in school, these references for the Commonwealth do not come to mind.

The Commonwealth of Nations has produced Nobel Laureates in Literature and other fields, and, the place education holds in the Commonwealth of Nations is indisputable.

The Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan has been in existence for almost half a century and was designed for achieving students to study in Commonwealth countries other than their own.

It also arranges professional visiting fellowships for educators and researchers between Commonwealth countries and has involved students of all ages moving between the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many African, Caribbean and Oceanic nations.

Since inception the Plan has reportedly grown to be one of the most prestigious schemes for international study and professional development in the world, with many alumni going on to reach the very highest levels of their professions and governments.

Whereas some other privileges - such as the right to vote once resident in a Commonwealth country - are accorded in some countries and not in others, and, are not fixed items for in all territories, the Commonwealth Scholarship is fixed throughout.

"That is indicative of the kind of place education has in the Commonwealth," said one educator here, who expressed regret that more was not being done to promote Commonwealth opportunities here.

Taking advantage of the Commonwealth Scholarship affords the participant possible movement amongst a group of persons that compose 31 per cent of the world's population - which is one of the greatest possible learning experiences that includes large nations such as Canada, Australia and India.

The four largest economies are India, at US$2,600 billion, the United Kingdom at US$1,500 billion, Canada at US$930 billion and Australia at US$520 billion.

One educator here revealed that there are other academic and professional activities mounted regularly that give the Commonwealth a primary link to education, apart from the Commonwealth Scholarship.

She spoke about having received the invitation to direct entrants towards the currently running prestigious Commonwealth Vision Awards - dubbed "60 seconds to a Common Vision."
It encourages the making of short films on Commonwealth and international issues.

Broadcasters and independent filmmakers from across the five regions of the Commonwealth are invited to submit initial entries by providing a written scenario for a short film - 30-90 seconds in length under the 2006 theme "The Commonwealth - respecting difference, promoting understanding."

Highly grounded with requisite resources, there is a £1,000 allotment to each entrant to assist in the production of the finished film.

Judging of the short-listed films will take place in October and the awards announced and presented at a Gala Awards Ceremony in November.

The winner will receive £2,500 and a trophy, and other awards will be made.

The winning entries will, from January 2007, be broadcast Commonwealth-wide, particularly on Commonwealth Day in March.

Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Foundation, the British Council, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Board of Film Classification and the BBC World Service are the world-recognised bodies that have given their support to the initiative.

Mr Quin, made reference to yet another educational programme - the Commonwealth Art Expo 2007.

He said that with Uganda hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (COHGM) in 2007, the Commonwealth People's Association of Uganda (CPAUG) is organising the first ever Commonwealth Art Expo 2007 to be held during CHOGM 2007 in Kampala.

He said that artists from the Commonwealth are invited to participate and contact should be made with CPAUG by October 2006.

Apart from a list of other activities in the area of education and personal development, there is the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), through which many have achieved higher education accreditation.

Even with all this however, one teenager here gave a clear indication of the immediate, and only references, he had for the impact of the Commonwealth in his life.

He said, "I know the Commonwealth has something to do with the fact that we drive on the left-hand side of our roads, speak English and, that the British, and those from former colonies and Overseas Territories, like Cayman, love cricket and rugby."

With that said, this youngster revealed that he would soon be preparing to re-sit American G-MAT exams to gain entry to a North American University.

Asked what other options for tertiary education he had explored, he said, "None."
One resident here proposed that the absence of strong recognition for "things Commonwealth here is because Cayman isn't separately listed as a Commonwealth member. If we were an independent nation, we would have more obvious connections."

Head of the Governor's Office, Simon Tonge, speaking close to the 2005 Commonwealth Day celebrations here explained, "The recognition of the day is a de facto one. The Cayman Islands is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom and because of this, it is one of the days that is recognised in the United Kingdom that we also recognise here."

The Cayman Islands is not listed among Commonwealth Nations - which is a free association of independent sovereign States, most of which are former colonies once governed by the United Kingdom as part of the British Empire - but Commonwealth privileges are available here.

Mr Quin, acknowledged that there clearly was more vibrancy in relation to the Commonwealth "in countries like Kenya, Uganda and Malaysia," but said that an Independent status should affect how Cayman makes use of the opportunities.

He said that the islands' OT-status should be even more of an impetus to make consistent use of Commonwealth opportunities. He added that the RCS consistently works with the Ministry of Education to this end.

Mr Quin underscored the non-racial elements the "free association of countries spreading from Africa to Asia, from the Pacific to the Caribbean, from Europe to North America" and said that it forged incomparable educational, financial and developmental alliances.

He spoke about the prestige handed over to the Commonwealth and said, "In a time when world unions are having to justify their meaning and impact, one historian has said, "Those of us in this field will long debate the scope of the Commonwealth's contribution to the ending of apartheid in South Africa and the reintegration of that fascinating country into the international community."

The Commonwealth was once known as the British Commonwealth of Nations or British Commonwealth, and some still call it by that name - either for historical reasons or to distinguish it from the other commonwealths around the world.

The full name - Commonwealth of Nations - is sufficient to distinguish the Commonwealth from other commonwealths such as the Commonwealth of Independent States or the Commonwealth of Australia.

Queen Elizabeth II, who is the Head of State of the 16 Commonwealth Realms, is the Head of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth is not a political union, and does not allow the United Kingdom to exercise any power over the affairs of the organisation's other members.

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