PHILIPSBURG (DCOMM):--- Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports (MECYS) Hon. Rodolphe Samuel delivered his feature address at the Third Ministerial Forum on School Safety in the Caribbean hosted by Sint Maarten.
“As Minister of Education of St. Maarten, I am honored to take on the chairmanship of the Caribbean Safe School Initiative and thank my predecessors for leading the charge. St. Maarten has been actively working on school safety initiatives since 2018 after the devastating impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
“In 2018 The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth & Sport established the Safety and Emergency Management Committee (SEMC). The SEMC was commissioned to adapt the Comprehensive School Safety Framework at the national level; set up plans and strategies for safety and emergency management; continuous disaster preparedness and maintenance; and crisis management for the sectors Education, Culture, Youth & Sport,” Minister Samuel stated in his address.
“We began the Education in Emergencies process and also the consultations towards the St. Maarten Roadmap in that same year.
“After signing on to the Caribbean Safe School Initiative in 2019, we were further energized by the work being done regionally and this led to the appointment of Mrs. Mussington-Service as School Safety Focal Point as the Student Support Services Division is tasked with school safety implementation from 2018. We have made many strides in St. Maarten but there is still a lot to be done.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the urgency to address disaster risk and build resilience, to improve community's ability to maintain and restore vital services including education at multiple levels and across different sectors, ranging from the school curriculum, school staff training up to the Local National Disaster Offices/Departments and Ministries of Education.
“We all take note that the human and financial cost of disasters is rapidly rising, trapping countries in a continuous cycle of emergency response, curtailing governments in their capacity to grow and develop, and impacting the right and access to education for all.”
Minister Samuel during his address pointed out the perspective, goals, and strategic long-term vision that all stakeholders needed to adhere to: “The Caribbean Safe School Initiative is five years old and even in the midst of disaster, we were able to think and re-imagine the impact that CSSI can make in our region. After 5 years of the Caribbean Safe School Initiative, we have been able to achieve much. But just to name a few,
- We were able to create awareness of the importance of school safety
- At the school level, a lot of work has been put into safety plans, procedures, and drills
- Much more research and thought have gone into systemic approach issues and interconnectedness of our society as evidenced by COVID-19.
“We need to keep in perspective the goals of the Comprehensive school Safety Framework, which calls us to take a participatory risk-informed approach to
1. Protect learners, educators, and staff from death, injury, violence, and harm in schools and other learning spaces.
2. Plan for education and protection continuity, and limit disruptions to learning in the face of shocks, stresses, hazards, and threats of all kinds.
3. Promote knowledge and skills of learners and duty-bearers, to contribute to risk education, resilience building, and sustainable development.
“We need to keep in perspective the short-term goal of protecting students, teachers, and staff from loss of life and injuries in schools. We should also keep in mind the long-term perspectives for example the World Bank report pertaining to losses to GDP that come from school closures. We can impact the economic losses for our country by ensuring that our children are able to complete schooling in a way that they are sufficiently prepared to move on with their lives professionally as adults and can contribute to the development of their country. If we do not prepare our schools and the education sector, we run the risk of interrupting that development and in so doing trumping the development of each individual country.
“This strategic long-term vision is extremely important as it helps us to continue to advocate for school safety. I mention this because we tend to concentrate on short-term gains and at times lose sight of the long-term impact.
“My vision for this Ministerial forum is that it: Cements the commitment of all Ministers of Education and their representatives to gather all of their knowledge & wisdom of needs and realities and reflect that in priority setting for school safety at the national level in the next three years.
“And that we pay keen attention to the voice of the youth and the important contribution of School Safety Focal Points in advancing the school safety agenda.
“As Chair of the CSSI, St. Maarten plans to take an active role especially as it pertains to championing the involvement of youth, and we look forward to their contributions to this process during the Youth Dialogue session.
“As chair, I would also like to receive midterm progress feedback on the roadmap implementation and take advantage of this being a regional initiative spearheaded by CDEMA in the monitoring of implementation. This is important as the CSSI makes a critical contribution to the implementation of the Comprehensive Disaster Management framework and we cannot wait until the next forum for progress updates.
“As chair of the CSSI, I would also like to see increased collaboration and communication among Ministers of Education and not wait for us to come together at the Ministerial Forums. I also call on my colleague ministers to support experts in the field of implementing school safety by creating the right environment and conditions for them to implement the commitment made by us as ministers. I am glad that for the first time ever, we have dedicated space for the School Safety Focal Points to discuss and be involved in this process. I am ecstatic that we are including a youth dialogue because we believe that the voice of youth is instrumental and their seat at the table is critical as we advance school safety.
“This is a critical forum as the declaration is being revised. We are also updating the roadmap and as such, we need to cement school safety more in policy and secure regular funding for school safety. We also need to create more synergies among us by working closely with other sectors and with each other.”
During his address, Minister Samuel recognized the hard work done by the Organizing Committee comprising Focal Point for St. Vincent & the Grenadines, CDEMA, UNDRR, UNICEF Latin American and the Caribbean, UNESCO Caribbean Cluster Office, under the leadership of Olga Mussington-Service School Safety Focal Point St. Maarten and all others who have contributed to the planning of the forum.
Minister Rodolphe Samuel ended his address to attendees with the following words of Former US President John F. Kennedy. And I quote: “We must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
The forum was attended by Caribbean Ministers of Education, high-level Ministry of Education officials, school safety focal points, youth representatives, and agencies supporting school safety.
Sint Maarten’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sports (MECYS) hosted the Forum from June 28 – 30.