Statement from President Doumbia-Henry on International Day of Education

On December 3rd, 2018, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring January 24th the International Day of Education, in celebration of the important role of education for the attainment of global peace and sustainable development. United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 – Quality Education - is across-cutting goal and a primary driver for the achievement of all 17 UNSDGs. Its primary aim is to ensure inclusive, equitable and high-quality education and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Education is a human right that contributes to individual and societal growth and prosperity and plays a key role in shaping the future of humanity and the planet. In the maritime context, education and training play a vital role for safe, secure and sustainable maritime development.

This year the International Day of Education is dedicated to the theme of “Recover and revitalize education for the Covid-19 generation”.  The Covid-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented disruption to global maritime education and training. In response to the pandemic, many seafarer education and training institutions were forced to quickly shift their educational offerings online to maintain their academic programmes, while others were forced to close their doors and cancel their academic schedules entirely. For those still in operation, key challenges to academic continuity have emerged, including regarding access to appropriate personal protective equipment, technological readiness, internet accessibility and connectivity issues, and difficulty for seafarers (cadets in particular) to join ships to complete their requisite onboard training due to health concerns, as well as travel and crew change restrictions. In addition, the pandemic has challenged the financial standing of many maritime education and training providers thereby putting at risk the sustainability of optimum seafarer education and training in many jurisdictions.

The impact of these challenges is likely to manifest in a reduced number of cadets graduating on time, exacerbating the shortage of qualified seafarers in the industry. An even more pervasive concern is that the current international humanitarian and safety crisis facing seafarers stranded on or unable to join ships will dissuade young people from choosing seafaring careers in the future and lead to higher attrition rates for those who are already employed in the industry.

It is abundantly clear that a post-Covid-19 recovery and regeneration of seafarer education and training will necessarily include an interrogation of alternative and more flexible ways to meet the requirements of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) 1978, as amended. The accelerated pace of changes in learning modalities in response to the pandemic shows that change is possible. However, embracing the technological evolution of seafarer education and training must go beyond making emergency measures and ad hoc solutions permanent. Instead, education stakeholders should seize the opportunity to harness that innovation and resourcefulness to reimagine and reshape the future of seafarer education and training. Most importantly, discussions on the future in this regard must support a humanistic approach, focusing on ways to reduce inequalities, such as the digital divide, to increase inclusivity in particular as regards the participation of women in seafaring, to protect seafarers’ rights and their wellbeing, and to prepare maritime stakeholders at all levels and all parts of the integrated maritime system to cope with future challenges.  In addition, education aimed at increasing the awareness of the role seafarers play in sustaining the maritime industry and in keeping global trade and essential global services going, should be considered essential.  A lack of such awareness - and the concomitant education to that end - has clearly been demonstrated by the actions and inactions of various States concerning the treatment of seafarers during the pandemic.

There is great potential for post-Covid-19 seafarer education and training to be transformational if policy-makers, educators and industry as well as government stakeholders work together with a strengthened commitment and shared vision of inclusive and equitable high-quality maritime education. The International Day of Education reminds us that global collaboration and solidarity are essential to achieving sustainable development in the maritime sector and that education is central to any such efforts whether it is for seafarers or for stakeholders in the wider maritime community.

As the world’s premier centre of excellence for maritime and oceans postgraduate education, research and capacity building, the World Maritime University (WMU) is committed to contributing to UN SDG 4 by educating future maritime leaders, policy-makers and stewards of maritime and ocean sustainable development. WMU is positioned and willing to assist and support, to the greatest extent possible, the capacity-building efforts of all relevant and well-meaning stakeholders through enhanced and life-long maritime/oceans education and training.

Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry
World Maritime University

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