The Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) is the most important forum for deliberation on the Commonwealth education and learning agenda and its relationship with other sustainable development priorities.
The CCEM is the second largest meeting organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
CCEMs have been taking place roughly every three years since 1959, when the first meeting was held in Oxford and where the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP), an intra-Commonwealth network of post-graduate study opportunities that boasts an alumni in excess of 25,000 citizens – including several Heads of Government.
The series of conferences, previously known as Commonwealth Education Conferences (CEC) was restyled as the Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) on the 25th anniversary in 1984 on the occasion of the 9th Conference in Cyprus.
Venues and dates of the CECs/CCEMs:
The Government of Kenya in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat will convene the 21st Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (21CCEM). The theme for the conference will be Re-thinking education for Innovation, Work and Sustainability: Learning for Life (dates to be confirmed).
The 20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers was held in Nadi, Fiji from 19-23 February, around the theme of ‘Sustainability and Resilience: Can Education Deliver?’
The 19th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers took place on 22-26 June 2015 in Nassau in the Bahamas. The theme for this conference was ‘Quality Education for Equitable Development: Performance, Paths and Productivity’. The 19CCEM officially included a special forum for small states. As 31 Commonwealth Nations are small states, this forum was a positive addition to ensure small states are included in active discussions and heard on the world stage.
The 18th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers was held in Port Louis, Mauritius from 28-31 August 2012. Delegations from 39 Commonwealth countries convened to engage with the theme of ‘Education in the Commonwealth: Bridging the Gap as we accelerate towards achieving Internationally Agreed Goals (IAGs)’.
The 50th anniversary of the 1st CCEM and the 17th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 15-18 June 2009. Representatives from 40 Commonwealth countries attended the Conference to explore the theme of ‘Education in the Commonwealth: Towards and Beyond Global Goals and Targets’.
The 16th triennial Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers was held in Cape Town, South Africa from 11-14 December 2006. Delegations from 36 Commonwealth countries convened to engage with the main theme, “Access to Quality Education: For the Good of All”. A parallel forum – Teachers, Youth, and Stakeholders – took place at the same time – it was the first forum for teachers held at a CCEM. The inaugural winners of the Commonwealth Education Good Practice Awards, launched in 2005 and adjudicated prior to the conference, were announced at the closing ceremony on December 14, 2006.
Education Ministers and representatives from forty-eight Commonwealth countries met in Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom from 27-30 October 2003 for the 15th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (15CCEM). The participants reviewed progress in education across the Commonwealth in the context of the main theme of the conference, ‘Closing the Gap: Access, Inclusion and Achievement’.
Delegations from 45 Commonwealth countries attended the 14th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada from 26-30 November 2000. The main theme for the conference was ‘Education in a Global Era: Challenges to Equity, Opportunities for Diversity’ with five subthemes of accessibility, social and economic development, enhancing cultural integrity, strengthening quality and promoting mobility.
The 13th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers was held in Gaborone, Botswana from 28 July – 1 August 1997 on the theme of ‘Education and technology: meeting the challenges of the 21st century’.
The 12th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers was held in Islamabad, Pakistan from 27 November – 1 December 1994 and delegates discussed the theme of ‘The Changing role of the state in education’.
Delegations from 44 countries, of which 35 were led by Ministers, attended the Conference. There were 16 Commonwealth, international and regional organisations present as observers. The Commonwealth of Learning was also represented.
The 11th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers was held in Bridgetown, Barbados from 19 October – 2 November 1990.
The conference took as its principal theme ‘Improving the Quality of Basic Education’. Ministers also devoted particular attention to the proposal for the establishment of the Commonwealth Higher Education Support Scheme whose purpose was to help raise the quality of universities and colleges in member countries.
The 10th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers was held in Nairobi, Kenya from 20 – 24 July 1987.
The conference took as its principal theme the ‘Vocational orientation of education’. It also devoted particular attention to further proposals for the development of Commonwealth student mobility and higher education co-operation, and to distance education co-operation.
The 9th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers was held in Nicosia, Cyrpus from 23 – 26 July 1984 and the theme for this conference was ‘Education and youth unemployment.’
The Conference focused its attention on three subjects: resources for education and their cost-effective use; education and youth unemployment; and student mobility and the proposed Commonwealth Higher Education Programme. Ministers also considered the future work programme of the Commonwealth Secretariat in education.
Statement on student mobility
The 8th Commonwealth Education Conference was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 5 – 13 August 1980 and the theme was ‘Education and the development of human resources.’
The conference confirmed the continued value of Commonwealth consultation, especially over issues which touch the heart of the Commonwealth association, and the importance of such dialogue in the appreciation of mutual problems.
At Colombo, ministers discussed the theme ‘Education and the Development of Human Resources’ against the stern backdrop of shrinking world economies. They welcomed with special pleasure the opportunity for consultation which their private session provided and agreed that the issues which they discussed, no less than the formal programme of the Conference, were a clear justification, if any were needed, for their meetings. With regard to the difficult question of overseas students’ fees they agreed that a special process of consultation should be initiated and asked the Secretariat to set up a Commonwealth Consultative Group to examine ways by which student mobility between Commonwealth countries could ne fostered and maintained. They also recognised the need for member countries to gear education more effectively to the major priorities of national development policies if education is to fulfil its essential contribution in the economic and social fields.
The conference endorsed a programme of continuing educational cooperation in many areas such as science, mathematics, technical education, higher education, universal, primary and teacher education, book development and educational media. In addition, it recommended initiatives in new areas such as non-formal and special education and the education of women and girls. As an essential strategy for determining priorities for action in such a broad spectrum, ministers outlined criteria including programmes which break important new ground, activities designed to strengthen regional approaches, programmes in the dissemination of educational information, and activities in support of Commonwealth associations in the field of education.
Recognising the importance of science, mathematics, technical and vocational education to the development of both the individual and our societies, as well as the mutual affinity between these areas of education, the conference recommended that the next pan-Commonwealth specialist conference should be devoted to the subject of science and technical education. This with a view to assisting young people in their personal development and in the preparation for the world of work.
The 7th Commonwealth Education Conference was held in Accra, Ghana from 9 – 18 March 1977 and the theme was ‘Economics of Education.’
The 6th Commonwealth Education Conference was held in Kingston, Jamaica from 10 – 22 June 1974 and focused on the theme of ‘Management of Education’.
The 5th Commonwealth Education Conference was held in Canberra, Australia from 3 – 17 February 1971.
The fifth Commonwealth Education Conference which met at Canberra during February 1971 was called upon to consider a number of new areas of activity already suggested by the Commonwealth Heads of Government at their Singapore meeting one month before. A new dimension in Commonwealth educational co-operation seemed to be promised by a scheme for a multi-lateral Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-Operation, intended not only to support the provision of experts and consultants in a wide variety of fields, but also to meet the cost of training personnel from one developing country in another. The scheme could be expected to provide an important addition to existing training facilities, whether in the professional, technical or vocational fields. Yet, more important still, was an intention to make much more effective use of training facilities in developing countries themselves. The result might be to draw developing countries together in some closer relationship, perhaps along regional lines, and also to break down the psychological barrier which still divided ‘donor’ front ‘recipient’ countries.
Another new topic, also discussed by the Heads of Government at the Singapore meeting, was the need to give much closer attention to the problems of youth, in face of rising world unemployment and a drift from the countryside into the towns. It seemed that the work of the Secretariat Education Division, and the discussions of future Commonwealth Education Conferences, would be increasingly concerned with a range of youth activities, outside the scope of formal education.
Finally, the Canberra Conference was required to turn its attention to a matter of a very different kind, in examining the progress of the Special Commonwealth Programme for Assisting the Education of Rhodesian Africans. The Programme was motivated more by political than by educational considerations, having been established by the Heads of Government Conference at Lagos in 1966, called to take measures against an assumption of independence by the white minority in Southern Rhodesia. Two separate schemes of assistance were arranged at Lagos. The first was an immediate plan for scholarships available to those qualified Rhodesian Africans already outside Rhodesia who were not receiving assistance. During the years which followed several hundred applicants were placed in institutions of special technical and professional courses for Rhodesian Africans once the dispute had ended. Each meant an additional burden of educational activity, both for the Secretariat, and for the particular Commonwealth governments concerned.
Despite so many new ventures, it would seem that the Canberra Conference was seen by many delegates as marking the end of a phase of educational development, and as providing an appropriate opportunity to take stock of what had been accomplished over the previous decade or so. There was clearly much cause for satisfaction. The two main programmes inaugurated at the Oxford Conference the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan and schemes for the supply of teachers and educational experts had been maintained in operation, with only minor modifications judged necessary in the light of experience. The Commonwealth Education Liaison Committee and the Secretariat Education Division had emerged as a nucleus, capable of taking on an increasing variety of specialist functions. Finally, the Education Conference itself, having met successively in Commonwealth capitals in all five continents, had already established a tradition of informed discussion and easy give-and-take, such as was rarely equalled by other international gatherings, whether within the Commonwealth or outside.
Criticisms were by no means lacking. It was suggested that delegates to the Conference had all been nominated by governments, and were therefore easily amenable to carrying out the policities of their political masters. That the same projects and ideas had been trotted out at Conference after Conference without any substantial increase in financial support. That with the exception of plans put before the Lagos Conference by the Indian delegation and never carried into effect there had been no attempt to measure up the educational needs of Commonwealth countries as a whole, and to devise a master plan. The first of these criticisms obviously varied in justification from country to country, as governments differed in their attitude to the inclusion of independent experts in delegations which were sent overseas at public expense; no doubt the financial difficulties of the late 1960s forced many of them to be less generous than they would otherwise have wished. Moreover, in any case, the Sydney Conference was notable in that observers were present, for the first time, from such kindred organisations as U.N.E.S.C.O., the Association of Commonwealth Universities, and the Commonwealth Foundation.
However, the two further criticisms struck deep at the bases of Commonwealth co-operation, not only in education, but in many other fields as well. The Commonwealth had never developed a centralised administrative structure, capable of providing a comprehensive service of planning and direction for member countries. It had invariably functioned through a series of bilateral arrangements, designed to make no interference with the full enjoyment of national rights of sovereignty and independence. All that Commonwealth Education Conferences could be expected to do, therefore, was to make the most effective use of these arrangements as they found them. To have attempted more might well have threatened the informal relationship on which developed and developing countries found it possible to do business together.
The 4th Commonwealth Education Conference was held in Lagos, Nigeria from 26 February – 9 March 1968.
Two main themes, the importance of which was emphasised again and again at meetings of the whole Conference and of its committees, dominated the proceedings at Lagos. First was a growing realisation that qualitative aspects of educational development had perhaps received too little attention in the past, in the face of urgent demands for quantitative expansion in virtually every country of the Commonwealth. The choice between quality and quantity could scarcely fail to produce difficult and indeed heart-rending problems for both educational planners and political leaders alike. They had to ask themselves how far they were prepared to support the legitimate educational aspirations of large sections of their people, at the expense of a more effective use of resources of human talent in the national interest. Understandably enough, the Lagos Conference did not attempt to lay down any firm principles for the solution of such a delicate question. But it was agreed that education programmes must be closely related to manpower planning and considerations of social and economical development, if they were to be used to the greatest possible effect.
A second theme was developed around the urgent necessity of organising well balanced programmes of agricultural education and of extending educational facilities among rural communities. Delegates were clearly of the opinion that both these matters must receive careful consideration in their own right, if future economic development were to move along smooth and uninhibited lines. Even more important, however, were the repeated attempts made at the Lagos Conference to re-emphasise the role of education as an instrument of human development.
Suggestions put forward by delegates called for more strenuous efforts in such fields as the expansion of training facilities, the provision of a Commonwealth book production scheme, and the study of curriculum development, adult education and literacy, including the use of new techniques suited to the needs of mass education.
The 3rd Commonwealth Education Conference was held in Ottawa, Canada from 21 August to 4 September 1964.
Social education and the education of rural communities both figured prominently in the deliberations of 3rd Commonwealth Education Conference, which met, at Ottawa during August and September 1964. Delegates were forced to accept, albeit with considerable regret, that more extensive research was necessary before a series of operating principles could finally be produced. Yet special attention was given, apparently for the first time, to the problems of adult illiteracy, a matter which was seen, not so much as an end in itself, as an essential feature of any wider programme of community developments. Moreover, in selecting another new topic for discussion, the use of mass media in education, the Conference attempted to draw greater attention to the potentialities of audio-visual equipment which were not, as yet, being exploited to the best possible effect in many Commonwealth countries. The effect of these discussions was to give the Ottawa Conference a special significance as an indication of a movement to look more and more widely beyond the confines of formal education alone. It was becoming increasingly necessary to plan programmes of educational development, not through a series of contingency arrangements to meet particular areas of need, but against the background of the world situation as a whole. Future targets in the fields of primary, secondary and higher education would have to be carefully balanced against a variety of social and economic considerations affecting each of the communities concerned. However, no less important was a theme, running consistently through the Conference’s discussions, that greater progress must be achieved in making developing countries masters of their own educational destinies. While expatriate teachers and experts would undoubtedly be needed in considerable numbers for a long time to come, more must be done to recruit suitable persons into key positions, where they could increase the capacity of developing countries to generate their own teacher supply. The Conference also gave close attention to ways of evolving new types of secondary education specially suited to the needs of developing countries, notably in the construction of new curricula and the provision of special text-books. Finally, in an attempt to get away from a situation in which the balance of educational assistance was heavily weighted on the side of the more developed countries of the Commonwealth, the delegates at Ottawa looked on to a new kind of international co-operation, based on a more reciprocal relationship. The developed countries could, it was considered, make much more extensive use of the facilities for research and specialised training which many developing countries had to offer.
The 2nd Commonwealth Education Conference was held in New Delhi, India from 11 – 25 January 1962.
Another significant decision by the 1CEC held in Oxford was to perpetuate its own deliberations, on the grounds that ‘education must, for the future, be accepted as a matter of common concern throughout the Commonwealth.’
The convening of the second Commonwealth Education Conference to New Delhi, during January 1962 was therefore an indication that regular consultations between member countries were to become a feature of Commonwealth educational co-operation in the future. Much of the programme at New Delhi was given over to providing opportunities for an assessment of progress on the recommendations of the Oxford Conference a productive exercise in itself since it revealed the capacity of Commonwealth countries to work closely together in complex programmes of educational development. There was evidence of greater confidence amongst delegates than three years before, notably in an eagerness to open up new areas of future activity. Attention was directed, for instance, to an acute shortage of text-books in nearly all developing countries, and to the need for an extension of existing arrangements such as the low-priced book scheme, under which Britain helped to provide university text-books in India.
A paper presented to the Conference by the Indian Government drew attention to a need for properly organised and directed programmes of social education, particularly in the developing countries. Though little tangible progress was achieved during the discussions which followed, at least there was general agreement that new principles of informal education for adult pupils would have to be devised, in an effort to make up some of the ground lost by generations who had not been to school, and to assist the advance towards higher standards of living. Much the same considerations applied to an attempt to establish new principles of rural education, a matter which concerned a very sizeable proportion of the inhabitants of the Commonwealth.
The very first Commonwealth Education Conference was held in Oxford, United Kingdom from 15 – 28 July 1959.
The Commonwealth Education Conference (CEC) was convened in recognition of “ the great importance of education and training as an indispensable condition of development. It is an objective of Commonwealth countries that their people should be able to share as widely as possible in the advantages of education of all kinds and at all levels”.
A conference held at Montreal during 1958, to consider ways of encouraging economic co-operation amongst the countries of the Commonwealth, agreed on the “great importance of education and training as an indispensable condition of development,” and expressed a resolution “to help one another as much as lies in our power within this field.” The most urgent requirements in any programme of educational development seemed to be the supply and training of teachers. The conference therefore agreed, in principle, to a proposal from the Canadian prime minister, John Diefenbaker, to establish a new scheme of Commonwealth scholarships and fellowships, and to hold a meeting early in the following year to work out arrangements for this and other forms of co-operation in education.
Such were the origins of the first Commonwealth Education Conference, which met at Oxford during July 1959.
At the opening plenary session, two main objectives were agreed upon as an essential part of the business to follow:
- to ‘work out arrangements for the scheme of Commonwealth scholarships and fellowships;’
- to ‘review existing arrangements for co-operation between the countries of the Commonwealth in education generally, and to recommend in what way these could be improved or expanded, particularly in regard to the supply and training of teachers.’
However, it was also agreed that the successful prosecution of these objectives depended in large measure on a common understanding of the significance of education in the contemporary world, particularly in so far as it concerned the Commonwealth association. With this in mind, delegates went on to attempt a statement of certain principles which seemed to be fundamental to any future programmes of educational co-operation.
The Commonwealth, it was affirmed, was a new experiment in human relationship, intended to achieve the ‘good life,’ material and spiritual, and the happiness of all its citizens: The good life and happiness can be attained only through education in the deeper and wider sense. Freedom from want demands the application of technical skills of ever-increasing complexity. The stability of our democratic way of life requires maturity of judgment in the citizen that can come only from a good general education. The increasing pace of development and the growing independence of modern society call for the highest intellectual and moral qualities. Above all it is through a balanced education that the individual must seek the fulfilment of his personality and the enrichment of his life. Education is thus fundamental to the strength and stability of the Commonwealth, and to social justice and human dignity which must be its inspiration. For this purpose the members of the Commonwealth must explore and develop their educational resources to the utmost extent. These resources naturally vary according to their economic and social development. The free association in the Commonwealth of countries which share a belief in the common principles of justice, a democratic way of life and personal freedom, affords a special opportunity for the pooling of resources. There is an obligation on those with more highly developed educational facilities to help their fellow members. But all races and peoples have made their characteristic contribution to the building up of knowledge, culture and values, and all have something to give. There are no frontiers to human knowledge; knowledge is not the exclusive prerogative of any nation or group of nations.
It was proposed to make a concerted effort at international co-operation to ensure that educational resources were in due course developed to the utmost possible extent.
‘The members of the Commonwealth,’ decided the Conference, ‘can do more together and through willing co-operation than any of them can achieve alone.’ Certain constructive recommendations were put forward, therefore, as a basis for further action in the future. First among these was an endorsement of the plans, already tentatively made by the Montreal Conference, for a Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship scheme. There were no grounds for anxiety on the extent of support from member countries, since a target set by the Montreal Conference for 1,000 awards current at any one time, had already been largely realised. Britain, for instance, had promised 500 awards, and Canada 250, and their example had been followed by a number of other countries. Nevertheless, there were important questions still to be answered concerning the qualifications to be demanded of candidates, the conditions under which their awards would be held, and the arrangements to be made between their own and receiving countries. After some discussion, it was recommended that the majority of awards to be termed Commonwealth Scholarships should be made to men and women of ‘high intellectual promise’ who might be expected to make a significant contribution to the life of their own countries after their return from study overseas. These awards were normally to be made available at the postgraduate level only. A much smaller number of awards to be known as Commonwealth Visiting Scholarships were to be offered to ‘senior scholars of established reputation and achievement’ for advanced study in their particular specialist fields. In the case of both categories, the final selection of candidates was to be made by the receiving country. Preferably on the recommendation of an independent agency set up to fulfil this function and to nominate candidates for the awards of other country. The scheme was once again in line with the main tradition of educational co-operation in the Commonwealth, which operated through a series of bilateral agreements within the framework of a wider international plan. It was intended to supplement, rather than to replace, any arrangements already in being. And it was sufficiently flexible in design to allow for any modifications which might prove necessary to fit the circumstances of individual countries. All these advantages were found to be of considerable value in dealing with a variety of problems which appeared, perhaps predictably enough, during the years which followed. Minor problems had to be resolved concerning time-tabling, since there was a tendency for individual countries to fix different closing dates for the receipt of applications. More serious considerations were raised by a shortage of candidates for scholarships offered by some of the newer Commonwealth countries; there was clearly a need for improved sources of information to ensure much wider understanding of the opportunities for research and study available in developing countries. At the same time, it became apparent that significant numbers of Commonwealth Scholars were anxious to read for the Ph.D. degree, thus requiring a longer period of study than the two years provided for under the terms of the scheme.
A second topic considered by the Commonwealth Education Conference of 1959 and one which had also been raised by the Montreal Conference of one year before concerned ways and means of increasing the supply of teachers. The problem was not merely one of numbers, though many more teachers were certainly needed at every level to meet the demands of expanding systems of education in virtually every Commonwealth country. There was a particularly acute shortage of teachers of science, mathematics and technical subjects, just those areas which were under-supplied in even the most advanced Commonwealth countries. Teachers of English as a second language as distinct from teachers of English as a mother tongue were also scarce, because of lack of facilities to provide them with the specialised training which they needed. Moreover, the shortage of all types of teacher was magnified considerably in the countries of Africa. Faced with difficulties on such a massive scale, delegates were realistic enough to accept the limitations of their position. `No recommendation of the conference,’ it was agreed, ‘could change the position overnight.’ Yet they believed that much could be done by moving along two main lines of approach. First, there should be assistance with programmes of teacher education, mainly through the award of places for advanced courses and the loan of training staff by the morc developed countries of the Commonwealth. Though, in the long run, all Commonwealth countries could be expected to satisfy their needs from their own resources alone, expatriate assistance must for the moment play the foremost part in building up programmes of training. An immediate example of the kind of action which the conference had in mind was provided by an offer from the Canadian Government to organise specialist teams for service abroad in training institutions.” During the year which followed, fourteen of these teams were deployed, with remarkable efficiency, in various parts of Africa, Asia and the West Indies. In the second place, it was proposed that certain ‘key posts’ should be delineated, according to the special needs of each country, the filling of which was to receive concentrated attention from donor countries. In this matter, too, the ultimate objective was a position in which each Commonwealth country would be able to meet its basic requirements from its own educational resources alone. Meanwhile, in order to encourage the recruitment of expatriate staff of suitable quality, the governments of older Commonwealth countries were urged to take steps to safeguard individual rights in such matters as promotion and superannuation, and re-settlement on completion of contract.