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Dr Davidson Hepburn Ends Presidency of 36th General Conference of UNESCO

PARIS, France - Dr. Davidson Hepburn gave his closing address to the 36th General Session of UNESCO by performing a rendition of Frank Sinatra's famed song, "I Did it My Way", recounting his efforts to lobby for greater participation of small island states in UNESCO's affairs, education for all and gender parity for all citizens of the world.

It was evident by the resounding applause that he received, that the Bahamian statesman had captured the respect of the international community during his two-year term as the President of the 35th General Conference of UNESCO.

Dr Hepburn told the delegates attending the opening ceremony including Minister of Education the Hon. T. Desmond Bannister, that under his leadership he sought to move away from treating the business of UNESCO, as business as usual and make it meaningful for all involved.  

He lauded UNESCO for hosting its Experts Meeting on Climate Change in The Bahamas in September 2011, and said he anticipated that the outcomes of the meeting will greatly benefit small island states in adapting to natural disasters.

President of the Executive Board of UNESCO, Ms Eleonora Mitrofanova told the Conference that the organisation is operating against a backdrop of unprecedented natural crises, uncertainty of the world economy and instability in the Middle East. 

She admonished members of the Executive Board to react quickly to a changing world.   Ms. Mitrofanova also appealed for UNESCO to be more ambitious in its "Education for All" goal, which she noted will not be achieved by the targeted date of 2015, since all boys and girls are not receiving a primary education.

She urged government leaders to incorporate humanitarian development in their education policies.

Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, in her address expressed condolences to the people of Saudi Arabia on the death of the Crown Prince, Sultan bin Adul Aziz- Al Saud and to the people of Turkey for the deadly earthquake that recently impacted them.

The Director General further told delegates that they must advance together or they will not advance at all. She said, "We all dream of peace and development and everyone wants high quality teachers in their schools."  

She said the global economic crisis has hit the most vulnerable countries the hardest.  Ms Bokova noted that half of the world's population is under the age of 25 and we must invest in their dignity. 

During the opening session, the former Netherland Antilles Caribbean territories of Curacao and St Maarten were admitted into UNESCO as Associate Members.

Minister Bannister addressed the Conference on the "State of Education in The Bahamas".   The Minister also discussed Quality in Education and Effectiveness of Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean with Ministers of Education from Latin America the Caribbean and South Africa.

MINISTER BANNISTER TELLS UNESCO BAHAMAS AHEAD IN ACHIEVING EDUCATION GOALS

Minister of Education, the Honourable T. Desmond Bannister during his address to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) 36th General Session on Friday, 28th October, 2011 told delegates from over 194 countries and non-governmental organisations that with less than two and half years away from the close of the United Nations Decade for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), The Bahamas has worked steadily towards the achievement of the goals to which this period subscribes.

 "Every child in the Bahamas now has access to free primary school education and free high school education in their community.  Having achieved these access goals, we have now focused on educational reform to ensure that education in The Bahamas remains relevant to the needs of our society.  At the same time we have initiated a number of programmes to uplift boys, since on a national scale as boys lag behind girls in academic achievement," Minister Bannister stated.

The Minister also noted that ongoing reform encompassed pre-school to tertiary education and that the Government has continued to establish more standalone pre-school units, and to incorporate more preschool units in our primary schools, thereby providing greater access to free public preschool education.

He affirmed that this move solidified the belief that, "if a solid educational foundation is provided for the youngest children; we will be investing in a brighter future for all."

Minister Bannister also revealed to the conference chaired by newly-elected President of the 36th General Conference of UNESCO, Her Excellency Katalin Bogyay, that The Bahamas is mindful that students with special needs require quality education also and a very important component of its reform plan is focused directly on this population.  He also spoke about the drive to integrate special needs units and autistic units into preschools and primary schools; and prevocational units for special needs students into high schools.

The Minister also used the international forum to laud the Centre for the Deaf and its incorporation of the production of straw craft into the curriculum.  "The quality of the work that is produced by these students is exceptional, and affords them the opportunity to be self employed in this multi-million dollar industry."

Minister Bannister during his six minute presentation also stated that the newly built Straw Market incorporated legislation which permits only indigenous goods to be sold in the $15million structure. This stance was aligned with UNESCO's belief that the local handicraft industry can eradicate poverty and produces employment for the youth and marginalised in a society.

During the conference, the Minister also met with the Director General of UNESCO where he discussed The Bahamas' participation in the World Heritage Movement. The Minister told the Director General that The Bahamas has many historical sites that could be included in the registry of World Heritage sites and that he would be looking to advance this cause further on his return home.