DAWN BEACH, Sint Maarten – His Excellency Governor Eugene Holiday addressed a cross section of society who attended the Governor’s Symposium which was held at Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa on Monday, June 30, 2014. Here is the Governor’s address.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the third annual Governor's Symposium with the theme "Education for Democracy". A theme inspired by the bicentenary celebrations of the democratic achievements of the Kingdom of the Netherlands' and grounded in my mission to foster and encourage excellence in governance as a practice to advance the well-being of the people of Sint Maarten in all its facets.
In pursuing my mission it is my conviction that governance that results in sustainable democratic development is the highest calling of leadership. As a result, I shall in the next few minutes share my thoughts with you on the topic "Education for Democracy – Challenge and Opportunity".
Since its inception, the overall objective of the Governor's symposia is to promote good governance by highlighting pertinent societal issues through the exchange of information and ideas. My life's journey has taught me that information channels interest which is fertile ground for development and progress. Interest fuels knowledge, knowledge drives freedom, freedom nourishes initiative and initiative feeds development and progress. The purpose of this year's symposium on education for democracy therefore is to generate greater interest about developments, ideas and thinking that affect our lives and to fertilize the minds of our people and leaders towards more decisions, policies and actions which dictate best practices required to sustain a stable and democratic society.
Blessed with natural beauty and friendly and resilient people, our small island nation St. Maarten has over the years been characterized by stability and growth. As a people we attach immeasurable value to that achievement. This is articulated in the preamble to our constitution with the words:, "We the people of Sint Maarten declare that we are a people that believe in the principle of democracy, the rule of law, the principle of the separation of powers, the dignity and values of the individual, and the entitlement of all individuals to the fundamental rights and freedoms".
To live by and sustain our democratic convictions we must support them with real and continued action that maintains and strengthens the realization of our ideals for our society. Such real action should be anchored in the understanding that a stable and democratic society is not possible without a certain level of literacy and a common set of shared values among our people. This implies that education, considering the role it plays in literacy and in enhancing the possibilities to communicate shared values, is the foundation to maintain and sustain our democratic way of life.
The former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan stated it as follows and I Quote:
"EDUCATION IS A HUMAN RIGHT WITH IMMENSE POWER TO TRANSFORM. ON ITS FOUNDATION RESTS THE CORNERSTONES OF FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY AND SUSTAINABLE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT". Unquote
It is thus essential that we, like every country should, examine and place achievements in and challenges to education in this broader democratic perspective.
A quick scan of the developments in education on Sint Maarten reveals a history of some 163 years of formal education, starting with the establishment of the Oranje School as a public primary school in 1851 followed by the Catholic St. Joseph School in 1890. Since then a lot has transpired institutionally to the point that only last week a new public school, the Drs. Alma Fleming-Rogers Educational Care Centre was officially opened. The opening of that school adds to the array of Public, Catholic, Non Catholic Christian and Private Schools offering primary, secondary and tertiary education.
Modelled initially after the Dutch education system our school system has been influenced by major reforms in education in the Netherlands, such as by the Dutch Mamoet law of 1968 and the Dutch Foundation Based Education Law of 1993. At the same other educational ideas – Caribbean, American and Canadian – have found a place in our education system. It is thus safe to say that our education system is one of diversity. As a result discussions regarding the Sint Maarten education system has abound for years taking on various forms. These discussions often concentrate on among others the following challenges/issues:
- First, this system is superior to that system;
- Second, the high level of drop outs;
- Third, the curricular is foreign to the realities of Sint Maarten;
- Fourth, the curricular does not meet the needs of the job market;
- And fifth and most notably, should our mother tongue be the language of instruction or not – English versus Dutch.
Listening to these discussions it seems that we view our education system from a perspective of the glass is half empty. This view is cause for concern given that education is the cornerstone for our democracy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Parallel with the developments in education, Sint Maarten has evolved constitutionally from an "invisible" dependency in the nineteen century to an autonomous country since 2010. As a result we, like no generation before us, have the opportunity and constitutional authority, to shape the socio-economic, educational, cultural and environmental construct of our beloved island. How we address this challenge and approach this opportunity in regard to the construct of our education system, will determine our success in the discharge of our responsibilities; that is towards maintaining a sustainable democracy based on our convictions as stated in our constitution.
It is with a view of this challenge and opportunity in mind that I organize this symposium.
At this symposium speakers will address you from national and regional perspectives on education for democracy. In doing so they shall address relevant issues, such as, the state of St. Maarten's education, education for social capital, principles and practices of democratic citizenship, and the relationship between education and democracy. It is my hope that their messages will stimulate greater interest for and contribute to the promotion of national dialogue and policy making on education towards the sustainable democratic development of our nation.
Taking the discussions about education into account I wish to leave you with the following thought. Let us, given our geo-political reality, cease the opportunities before us to direct our education system based on our shared values anchored in common standards of excellence. And in so doing guarantee quality education for a stable, safe, fair and democratic Sint Maarten society.
In short excellence in our school benches equals excellence in our Parliament benches and thus in the governance of our country.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
With that I hereby declare this symposium on "EDUCATION FOR DEMOCRACY" OFFICIALLY OPEN and wish you an enjoyable and fruitful symposium.