Keynote Address at Barbados Community College
Saint Michael, Barbados, Monday, April 30, 2012
Thank you for your warm welcome.
As governor general of Canada, and as someone who has spent much of his life in the world of post-secondary education, I am truly delighted to be here today.
In fact, I was fortunate to visit Barbados three times in my former capacity as principal of McGill University, which proudly operates the Bellairs Research Institute in Holetown. It is wonderful to return in this new role and to speak with you today on behalf of all Canadians.
We have much to discuss and be proud of. The people of our two nations enjoy positive relations in many respects, including, not least, higher education and training. We enjoy a true learning exchange, in which Barbadian students and professors collaborate with Canadian universities and colleges through scholarships and exchange programs, and Canadian students and researchers come to Barbados for an experience unlike any in Canada.
Allow me to name just a few of our successful partnerships. They include programs between Barbadian institutions and Canadian universities and colleges under the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program, the Canadian Caricom Virtual University Scholarship Program, and the International Council for Canadian Studies.
Also, the Canadian International Development Agency has launched a $20 million, 5-year initiative called the CARICOM Education for Employment Program to build skills for employment in 12 countries across the Caribbean, including Barbados. This program, along with other existing Canadian scholarship programs, will enhance the skills sets of people in the Caribbean, help to address regional labour shortages, and strengthen the links between post-secondary institutions here and in Canada.
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 Barbados Community College, and to see such a range of students, academics and community members here with us today. Your presence is a reminder of the important role this college plays in the life of Barbados and the Caribbean, and Canadians are delighted to work with you on a range of educational matters including workforce training, certification and occupational standards.
Together, we can support youth employment and labour force development, while building more fair and productive workplaces.
I want to talk for a moment about what makes Canada such a great partner in education for Barbados.
Simply put, Canadians strongly believe in the power of education to change lives for the better. As I alluded to earlier, I have happily spent the bulk of my years in school, as a student, educator and, most recently, as a university president for almost 27 years.
During that time, we have seen steady growth in the importance of education, to the point where it is now difficult to overstate its significance. Education is now 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.
The learning never ends—and nor should it.
There is an abundance of data to reinforce the link between education and human development, and likewise we see that, in the 21st century, the well-being of whole societies will be determined by their ability to learn, to gather and share knowledge, and to innovate.
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 lever 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 this is that, in the 21st century, we need not be in the great population centres to contribute, to form partnerships and to thrive.
In fact, I believe that smaller communities and nations such as Barbados have a central role to play in fostering learning and innovation, precisely because of their size and location. 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.
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.
Today, we need to develop new clusters of learning and innovation, and the education community is leading the way for Barbados. The partnerships that exist in education and training between institutions in this country and in Canada are cause for celebration.
And we can do more.
In fact, we can amplify our learning through a broad focus on education, innovation and trade. Through education, we become more innovative and enterprising, more outward-looking and attractive to the international community. And in turn, we are better able to increase the depth and reach of our teaching and learning, which strengthens our society in so many ways.
Through learning, we can address economic and social challenges and build more equitable, sustainable societies.
Learning is a fundamental Canadian value, one of the pillars of our smart and caring nation. People in Barbados likewise see education as central to their well-being, as your long-standing embrace of Canadian institutions has demonstrated.
Knowing that international education is an important part of our learning equation today, it is my sincere hope that Canadians and Barbadians will continue to collaborate and extend our wonderful partnerships in future.
Let us study and work together in common cause.