“Education key to new nation we are trying to build,” Minister Rhoda Arrindell tells UNESCO General

"Education is the key to the success of the new nation we are trying to build on the foundation of a virile, resilient, and dynamic culture," Minister of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs, Dr. Rhoda Arrindell told the

36th General Conference of UNESCO on Saturday, October 29, 2011 while presenting St. Martin’s National Statement to the world body.


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Dr. Arrindell focused on the issue of language as it impacts learning, as well as the implementation of compulsory education, an area she said the island would tap into the experience and expertise of UNESCO if needed.

"The language issue on St. Martin has been at the heart of our education reform process," the Minister said. "We are a multi-lingual society, but despite being a half-Dutch, half-French condominium, English is the mother-tongue of our people, while Spanish is the second most spoken language."

She continued: "Cognizant of the role language plays in our education system, as well as in the development of our nation, my government is pursuing a policy of linguistic versatility, which seeks to make each student who completes secondary education proficient in at least three to four languages — English, Dutch, French, and Spanish. This, we believe, is the way to go for the new Caribbean man and woman."

"The implementation of compulsory education has been complicated by the issue of undocumented immigrants," she went on. "However, my government has separated the two issues thus facilitating the integration of children of undocumented immigrants into our educational system."

"Compulsory education in St. Martin, however, is still a work in progress. We will be calling on UNESCO to assist us where necessary so that, hopefully, we could soon report that the process has been completed," Dr. Arrindell said.

Turning to culture, the Minister stated: "Culture, Madame President, is inseparable from identity, and identity is not only about who we are, but also about who we want to be. St. Martiners are a resilient people who know that true peace is not only the absence of war, but rather an indispensable condition for all of us, big and small, rich and poor, to pursue happiness and live in harmony with one another and with our environment.

"That peace," Dr. Arrindell stressed, "starts and must grow and flourish in the minds of every man and woman, indeed of every child and teenager. If there is a message a small Caribbean island like St. Martin can offer the world, it is that we must focus on what unites us as a human family rather than on what divides us. There is no other way to create a culture of peace."

"Culture," as St. Martin’s foremost poet sings, "is work", she said, "and work is what we are here to do. We hope to benefit from the experience and expertise UNESCO can offer us, specifically in the areas of tangible and intangible heritage."

Several heads of delegations congratulated her on what one minister called "a magnificent speech." Among those who came to hear Dr. Arrindell speak was the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to UNESCO, His Excellency Robert Zeldenrust. He also congratulated the Minister for a "very good speech."

Dr. Arrindell capped a very busy week at the UNESCO headquarters with a courtesy call on the Director – General, Ms. Irina Bokova, who once again, congratulated her personally for St. Martin’s admission as an associate member and offered her all the assistance the island might require from the organization.