Charles Clarke: A golden opportunity to build on our achievements

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The Independent Online

I believe that education should give every citizen in every nation the opportunity to face the future with confidence. It is the key to the economic success and future prosperity of any country. That is why I'm delighted that the UK is hosting the 15th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers, at which nations will be able to discuss and debate some of the most pressing issues that affect us in education today.

The theme of "Closing the Gap: Access, Inclusion and Achievement" will present us with a number of challenges, which I hope that we will be able to address meaningfully during the course of the week. There is an increasing recognition that adding an international element to learning in schools can dramatically improve the quality of education.

I am strongly committed to building this international dimension, not just in terms of learning, but also to help young people understand different cultures. Such an approach will strengthen their opportunities within today's fast-moving global economy.

The strength of the Commonwealth partnership lies in its unique ability to make a real difference to the lives of all its citizens. The countries represented share an enormous wealth of ideas, talent, giving us the opportunity to build on and develop new partnerships between schools, teachers, academics policy makers and, most importantly, young people themselves.

I am proud that I will be able to share some of the UK's recent successes with my Commonwealth colleagues, such as giving all three- to four-year-olds the right to nursery education to begin the Sure Start programme. We have also increased by 25 per cent the number of children entering secondary school who are able to read, write and count well. In fact, over half of all 16 year olds now get five good GCSEs, record numbers of adults are now going to university and nearly half a million adults have been helped to acquire the basic skills that they need.

Edinburgh is a golden opportunity to build on these sort of achievements in every country by encouraging collaboration across the Commonwealth.

We are all faced with many threats - poverty, disease, education, war, tyranny. These are problems none of use can afford to ignore, now more than ever. We are all part of the problem and the solution. We must work together to forge a shared understanding and responsibility for tackling the many threats facing today's world. This requires better lines of communication and more collaboration.

That is why I shall be inviting my Commonwealth colleagues to join the launch of Global Gateway, a new Internet portal that will support partnership working and the exchange of ideas and best practice throughout the Commonwealth, and beyond.

The Internet can provide schools with an unprecedented wealth of international resources thanks to its worldwide reach; Global Gateway will create a one-stop shop that will provide all of this valuable information from one source. It will help unite us with the Commonwealth and other key education partners such as Germany and France.

I look forward to a lively, informative and constructive conference. I would like to join my colleagues from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in welcoming the Commonwealth Conference to Edinburgh.

Together I hope we can make a real difference to the education of every single child in the Commonwealth.

The Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP is Secretary of State for Education and Skills

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