Education for rural people in the Caribbean

International attention turns towards the Caribbean region on the eve of a regional conference on education for rural people to take place in Saint Lucia on 18 and 19 May 2006.

© FAO/G. Bizzarri

12 May 2006, Rome – Representatives of ministries of agriculture, education and health, and international agencies, NGOs and the private sector will attend the meeting, which is part of a global partnership launched by FAO and UNESCO during the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Developmentf to eradicate poverty and hunger. A similar meeting for the African region took place last year in Addis Ababa.

“Participants will discuss a wide range of issues including food, nutrition, education, school gardens, HIV/AIDS and gender,” according to Marcela Villarreal, head of FAO’s Gender and Population Division.

“Education is essential for the rural poor, many of whom are women. It is also essential for rural children who lose their parents to AIDS. Field schools need to be developed to provide essential skills and knowledge to orphaned children. Educating the rural poor contributes to preventing the pandemic from expanding rapidly in rural areas,” Ms Villarreal says.

Worldwide, 100 million children are still being denied the opportunity to go to school. Without urgent action these children will remain in poverty and at far greater risk of HIV/AIDS infection, according to education experts.

Education challenges in the Caribbean

“In the Caribbean region, the impact of poverty, HIV/AIDS and educational deficits is acutely felt in the rural context,” according to an FAO paper to be presented at the Saifnt Lucia meeting.

The paper deplores that “significant percentages of the population of the Caribbean States are impacted by poverty,” and underlines the need to exert considerable efforts to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals in the region.

In the Caribbean, as in Latin America, poverty rates are higher in rural areas than in urban areas. In Jamaica, for example, the rural poverty rate is three times as high as the urban poverty rate, while in Guyana, almost the entire rural population is poor.

“The education system in the Caribbean evolved from a colonial historical legacy which was predicated on privilege. Education served as a primary device for social selection and class stratification. With the attainment of independence and the growth of nationalism, mass education became a socio-political priority,” according to the report.

The Saint Lucia conference on education for rural people will immediately follow a World Bank/CDB/OECS Caribbean Forum on Lifelong Learning to be held on 16 and 17 May. It is expected that Ministers and education officials from 15 countries attending this forum will join the conference.

By helping to fight poverty, hunger and illiteracy, FAO and UNESCO are working hand in hand towards achieving Millennium Development goals number one, two and three: eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achievement of universal primary education; and promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women. FAO has been assigned the responsibility of leading the education for rural people initiative.