Arrindell highlights language policy and compulsory education at UNESCO conference

POSTED: 10/31/11 12:36 PM

PARIS – Languages and their impact on learning and the implementation of compulsory education were core elements of St. Maarten’s national statement to the 36th General Conference of the United Nations Education Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO). The statement was delivered on Saturday by Minister of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs, Dr. Rhoda Arrindell, who led the country’s delegation to the meeting.
“Education is the key to the success of the new nation we are trying to build on the foundation of a virile, resilient, and dynamic culture. The language issue on St. Martin has been at the heart of our education reform process. We are a multi-lingual society, but despite being a half-Dutch, half-French condominium, English is the mother-tongue of our people, while Spanish is the second most spoken language,” Arrindell said
“Cognizant of the role language plays in our education system, as well as in the development of our nation, my government is pursuing a policy of linguistic versatility, which seeks to make each student who completes secondary education proficient in at least three to four languages — English, Dutch, French, and Spanish. This, we believe, is the way to go for the new Caribbean man and woman,” the minister added.

Arrindell told the conference that implementing compulsory education is challenging because of the presence of undocumented immigrants, but assured that the government has separated education from immigration and allowed for all children to go to school.
“Compulsory education in St. Martin, however, is still a work in progress. We will be calling on UNESCO to assist us where necessary so that, hopefully, we could soon report that the process has been completed,” Dr. Arrindell said.

Turning to culture, the Minister stated, “Culture, Madame President, is inseparable from identity, and identity is not only about who we are, but also about who we want to be. St. Martiners are a resilient people who know that true peace is not only the absence of war, but rather an indispensable condition for all of us, big and small, rich and poor, to pursue happiness and live in harmony with one another and with our environment.”
She’d add, “That peace starts and must grow and flourish in the minds of every man and woman, indeed of every child and teenager. If there is a message a small Caribbean island like St. Martin can offer the world, it is that we must focus on what unites us as a human family rather than on what divides us. There is no other way to create a culture of peace.”
Arrindell also assured that St. Maarten will not be approaching the multilateral organization with “a shopping list” of desires.
“Culture is work and work is what we are here to do. We hope to benefit from the experience and expertise UNESCO can offer us, specifically in the areas of tangible and intangible heritage,” Arrindell said.

Several heads of delegations congratulated the minister on what one colleague called “a magnificent speech.” Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to UNESCO Robert Zeldenrust was among those who listened to Dr. Arrindell and congratulated her on a “very good speech.”
Arrindell capped her very busy week at the UNESCO headquarters with a courtesy call on the Director – General, Irina Bokova, who once again, congratulated her personally for St. Martin’s admission as an associate member and offered her all the assistance the island might require from the organization.

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