Keynote Address at the University of the West Indies—Educating and Innovating in a Connected World
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Wednesday, May 2, 2012
It is a pleasure to join you here today to speak about our two countries’ shared commitment to education.
Like many Canadians, I have a deep love of learning. William Osler, Canada’s most renowned physician and a founder of the modern medical school, once said:
“The hardest conviction to get into the mind of a beginner is that the education upon which he is engaged is not a college course, not a medical course, but a life course.”
Canadians strongly believe in the power of education to change lives for the better.
In fact, I believe in this so strongly that I have spent the bulk of my life in school, as a student, educator and, most recently, as a university administrator for almost 27 years.
During that time, we have seen an increasing desire for quality education. Many countries have focused on funding and overhauling their education system to bolster their countries’ fortunes. I have seen this in Asia and Brazil and right here in Trinidad and Tobago. I have even seen this in Canada. It is difficult to overstate the significance of education.
Education is the primary means by which we can increase our choices and thrive as human beings. In Canada, we have worked together throughout our history to build a strong public education system, understanding that education is the great social and economic equalizer.
Education and human development are inexorably linked. In the 21st century, the well-being of whole societies will be determined by their ability to learn and innovate, as well as to share the knowledge they have gathered.
This type of sharing results in what I like to call the diplomacy of knowledge.
Permit me to explain. I am a big believer in collaboration. As such, I define the diplomacy of knowledge as our ability and willingness to work together and to share our learning across disciplines and borders. When people achieve the right mixture of creativity, communication and co-operation, remarkable things can happen.
Trinidad and Tobago and Canada both know the importance of working together in a globalized world. More importantly, individuals realize this.
It has been said that success in today’s world depends above all on the strength of our connection to global networks, rather than our hierarchical position in comparison to others. The Internet offers the clearest illustration of this principle, and we have seen how the Web provides individuals and small groups with a powerful new mechanism with which to engage the world.
Thanks to advances in communications technologies, we have the ability to reach out as never before.
One of the implications of technological connection can be felt in Trinidad and Tobago’s eConnect and Learn program in secondary schools.
The goal of providing a laptop with Internet access for each student, free of charge, is an amazing initiative that serves not only students, but also their whole families. In addition, the connectivity allows students to discover their country like never before, to connect with students across the region, and even to learn with other young people around the world.
What’s vital here is that laptops are not replacing traditional learning in the classroom, but enhancing it, joining textbooks and interaction with classmates. This is an important distinction, as technology can never replace one of our most cherished resources: a dedicated teacher.
This innovative program combines technology and education to create the next generation of global citizens.
The second consequence of a connected world rests in the area of social media. In the last decade, the Internet has connected all parts of the world instantaneously, and increasingly this is becoming more and more affordable. As a result, the last few years has seen a meteoric rise in popularity of sites such as Facebook and Twitter for disseminating information.
In Trinidad and Tobago, you have embraced this new way of communicating to great effect, encouraging people to become involved in the decision-making process and to share their views.
In Canada as well, people are flocking to social media sites. I myself have both a Facebook and a Twitter account. And, I should add, my BlackBerry is always on my hip.
The uses of social media are still being explored, and as such, we must also be aware of the pitfalls associated with its rapid rise in popularity. Just as social media can be used for good in the right hands, so, too, can it be abused. But people everywhere are embracing it for its potential for good and for change.
Non-profit organizations mobilize their volunteers and donors through social media, something unheard of even five years ago. Governments are using social media to deliver the latest information to the public and to gauge opinion of their plans and policies. And who could forget such events as the Arab Spring, spurred by people posting to Twitter.
In Canada, one bright young woman, Hélène Campbell, is using Twitter to encourage others to become organ donors. She herself was in need of a lung transplant—and it delights me to say that she received her new lungs earlier this month—but her time was spent not looking for herself; rather, she was telling others of the importance of becoming an organ donor, of saving lives. Not long after her campaign began, the Province of Ontario saw a sharp upswing in the number of registered donors. This is the potential power of social media when used by smart and caring people.
The third implication of communications technology is that in the 21st century, we need not be in the great population centres to contribute, to form partnerships and to thrive.
This opinion was shared by Harold Innis, one of Canada’s most influential thinkers and a pioneer in communications theory. Innis suggested that new ideas are more likely to take root in smaller or more peripheral regions, where the status quo is sometimes less entrenched.
Trinidad and Tobago is in an enviable position to become a central player in the global economy because of its size, location and commitment to fostering learning and innovation.
Indeed, history is full of examples of the powerful impact of smaller communities and clusters of innovation. Think of the influence of the comparatively small city of Renaissance Florence on the future course of Western civilization. Or, in present-day Canada, consider the evolution of the small city of Waterloo, Ontario, into a thriving hub of technological innovation.
Today’s innovation can happen anywhere. And the sharing of innovation, through the diplomacy of knowledge, happens primarily between people at the community level and even between universities.
In fact, partnerships between nations and universities are common. In my travels and during my time at universities in Canada, I have seen the diplomacy of knowledge at work. Universities, academics, researchers and students are ideal ambassadors for our countries. The exchanges of people and of knowledge have led to amazing experiences and innovations.
Indeed, I don’t need to look farther than the University of the West Indies to confirm this.
This university has its origins in London and Jamaica, and is based on the idea that a quality education and the sharing of knowledge and skills are vital for the future of the region. As it expanded to other countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, it brought with it a high level of knowledge that it has passed on to many students over the years—diplomacy of knowledge in action.
This university is truly global in nature. In 1963, Canada Hall opened—a lasting connection between this university, this country and Canada.
But this is not the extent of our partnerships!
The University of the West Indies has many agreements with universities and colleges in Canada that allow for student, staff and research exchanges, as do other institutions here. In fact, nearly 700 students from this country studied in Canada in 2010, and more than 100 scholarships have been distributed since 2009.
And I can’t fail to mention that the principal here, Clement Sankat, has direct ties to Canada, having studied at the University of Guelph and Université Laval.
Let me give you one more example of our successful partnerships that again clearly illustrates the diplomacy of knowledge.
The University of New Brunswick and ROYTEC—the UWI School of Business and Applied Studies Limited—offer a wonderful program that allows students here to gain a valuable education experience in the financial services sector. Most importantly, it gives students a chance to study in Canada. More than 1 000 students have graduated from this program since it began and more than 200 students are currently enrolled in the stream that will allow them to gain a UNB BBA degree. The sharing between students and professors is a prime example of the diplomacy of knowledge.
This country—and especially its people—have a great determination to succeed in the sharing of knowledge, in education and in innovation.
As governor general of Canada, I have outlined a set of pillars that are essential in creating a smart and caring nation.
One of these pillars—that of strengthening learning and innovation—directly ties into the goals set out by Trinidad and Tobago’s Medium-Term Policy Framework.
In particular, the Framework says that “The foundational element in building human capital is education.”
The very fact that this country is so heavily focused on education, that it has set out concrete benchmarks—such as a target rate of 60% enrolment in post-secondary education and universal early childhood education by 2015—is an indication of the future success of Trinidad and Tobago. Education, in any country, is a vital part of economic growth, job creation, competitiveness, and especially innovation.
Let me return to my own pillar of learning and innovation, both of which work in concert to build communities and countries.
As I said before, we cannot overstate the importance of education in our society. Trinidad and Tobago understands this and has worked hard, using innovative ideas and programs, to overcome obstacles to access to education. “Education for all” is a mantra that I have heard here. These three words mean everything to a young man or woman who dreams of building a better tomorrow.
GATE is one such program that recognizes the importance of postsecondary education. By providing opportunities for everyone to go to school, to learn, you are strengthening society.
It is an innovative idea that presents challenges in measuring the return on the investment. Yet, its originality and its focus cannot be disputed. I will leave the discussion of the program’s effectiveness to others, but let me just say that this is the sort of thinking that shows Trinidad and Tobago’s interest in creating a knowledge society and a learning culture and that will lead the country into the future.
This is why I hope to encourage further ties between our two countries, ties that can begin right here. Although enrollment of Trinidadians in postsecondary institutions outside of this country has gone down, there are still remarkable opportunities for students to gain international experience and bring that home. Canada especially has many exciting options for study, and some of those institutions have ties to this very university.
Just last week, I addressed the Conference of the Americas on International Education in Brazil to speak about the great opportunities available in Canada and the importance of studying abroad.
I myself was an international student. My experiences in the United States and England helped me to grow as a person and to gain a global perspective that has served me throughout my life.
I want to emphasize the important role that all universities and colleges play in contributing to our shared well-being, whether at home or abroad. In fact, all levels of schooling—from early childhood education all the way through to post-graduate studies and lifelong learning—are so important. Each stage of our education forms an essential part of the whole, and to neglect one is to imperil the others.
We must always strive to see things whole, and act accordingly to strengthen our learning at every turn. That is why I am so pleased to visit Trinidad and Tobago. In looking towards the future, this country is embracing the concept of seeing all aspects of a great nation, identifying both the strengths and weaknesses in society and taking action to improve the well-being of its people as a whole.
And it all starts with education.
The Minister of Education, the Honourable Tim Gopeesingh, last year challenged teachers, and I quote: “. . . to make your learning environment one that encourages creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and decision-making, thus developing students capable of finding their place in a technologically-driven, skills-based economy.”
Let me further this challenge by opening it up to all of us. What can we do to create the optimal learning environment?
As much as policies dictate how education is treated, it is the people—teachers, students and administrators—who will truly say whether we are given a quality learning experience.
This is an auspicious year for Trinidad and Tobago as you celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence. This year also marks 50 years of official diplomatic ties between our two nations, although we have been trading partners dating back to the 1800s.
In this milestone year, what can both of our nations do to strengthen our relationship? Already, our government, trade and education ties are growing. But what gifts can we give the world?
I spoke earlier about a smart and caring nation, built on a solid foundation supported by pillars. A smart and caring world is also within our reach if only we can encourage each other, as friends, to do more for future generations. They will be the leaders who will build the world that is based on collaboration and innovation.
Trinidad and Tobago’s motto—together we aspire, together we achieve—could not be more poignant as we enter this new age of co-operation and progress. Let us use the diplomacy of knowledge in particular to create the lasting ties that will see us through well beyond this 50-year occasion into the next century.
I look forward to answering some of your questions and to hearing your ideas about how best to create a smarter, more caring world.