COMMENT|Education and peace: You’re the voice

BY Amanda Gorely/Australian Ambassador to the Philippines

THE FOUNDATIONS of peace will only be strengthened if rooted in the bedrock of quality education.

In Mindanao, where the situation is constantly evolving and our attention is drawn in multiple directions, it can sometimes be easy to forget this simple truth. While we all strive for long lasting, sustainable peace in the region, it won’t be sustainable unless the next generation receives a high quality education.

The peace process is complex, but it can often be distilled down to a simple story at the individual level. For example, imagine you are a parent who never finished your elementary education. You weren’t able to go to school because conflict in your area made it unsafe. You never had the opportunity to learn to read or write.

Now imagine being asked to do something as important as vote. Or to fill in a form that will help you access services. Or to write down information to help enrol your child in the local school.

This is a very real challenge for many people that I learned about recently when I visited activities Australia is supporting in parts of Mindanao. Australia contributes to the Mindanao Trust Fund, which assists men and women in exactly this situation to learn the basics of reading and writing. It is critical to the peace process to give people every opportunity to be included, to have their voice heard, and this can often start with something as simple as being able to write their name.

A basic education is a necessary component that forms the foundation for peace. And an even better way to tackle this is to ensure all children receive a quality education from the outset.

Today, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, is in Davao to announce Australia’s next phase of support for education in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The Education Pathways to Peace program will work in partnership with  DepED-ARMM to build on the strengths of the existing education system, and help increase the chance of the region’s children getting the right start in life.

We will be working with DepED-ARMM to focus on the early school years, but also developing critical systems of data, curriculum contextualisation and teacher quality to ensure children get the best start they can.

Australia’s support to education in ARMM over the next nine years, valued at over 3 billion pesos, is just part of the work Australia does in Mindanao to assist our close neighbour and friend, the Philippines. With development programs across agriculture, the peace process, economic inclusion, institutional strengthening and education, Australia is keen to see Mindanao develop to its full potential and prosper.

Australia will continue to put priority on education as a foundation of peace. By recognizing that education and peace go hand in hand, we will be providing opportunities to the next generations that so many of their predecessors did not have. It might be as simple as being able to stand proud, write your name, and have your voice heard. But this is also the first step on the path to empowerment, reconciliation and hope.

 (Ms Gorely is a senior career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Most recently she was Corporate Counsel and head of the Corporate Legal Branch, a position she held since 2012. She has previously served overseas as Deputy High Commissioner at the Australian High Commission in Wellington and Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, with earlier postings in Stockholm and Copenhagen. In Canberra, Ms Gorely has served also as Assistant Secretary, WTO Trade Law Branch; Director, International Law Section; and Director, Human Rights and Indigenous Issues Section.)

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