My Commonwealth and the Importance of Education
Jasbir Dhesi - Principal & Chief Executive of Cheshire College South & West
It would be no surprise to learn that my earliest understanding of the Commonwealth was very much based upon the views and stories of my parents and grandparents. After all, we are all products of our genes and experiences. My family arrived in the UK from India, in the 60s, to help address the post war labour shortages and as such, I grew up as first generation born in England.
I can vividly recall my grandmother telling me of the painful and horrific experiences of being part of the mass displacement of 10 million people caused by the partition of India at independence in 1947, in which one million people died. It is probably understandable for people to question, given my family’s experience of Empire, why I am a Director of the Cheshire Commonwealth Association?
The answer is a very simple and obvious, the Commonwealth is not the British Empire.
There is clearly a connection between the British Empire and the Commonwealth in that most member countries were formally part of the British Empire. But for me, this is where the connection starts and finishes. Did you know that the last two countries to join the Commonwealth, Rwanda and Mozambique, have no historical ties to the British Empire?
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries. It is home to 2.4 billion people and includes both advanced economies and developing countries. Member countries work together to promote prosperity, democracy and peace, amplify the voice of small states, and protect the environment. The values and aspirations that unite the Commonwealth are enshrined within its Charter. I am proud to represent an organisation that promotes democracy, human rights, international peace and security, tolerance, respect and understanding and freedom of expression, gender equality, the rule of law, as well as the protection of the environment.
The Commonwealth arguably is more relevant and important now than it has ever been. Regardless of whether you were a Remainer or Brexiter, the fact is that Brexit means that we must look beyond the European Union. The Commonwealth provides us with a unique opportunity to reconnect with nations that are eager to connect with us. In short this is the purpose of Cheshire Commonwealth Association; we aim to facilitate increased opportunity for trade between Cheshire businesses and the 54 nations of the Commonwealth.
We also recognise that we have a role in education so that there is a better understanding of the Commonwealth. Did you know that:
the Commonwealth is home to almost one-third of the world's population?
the Queen is head of state in only 16 of the countries?
the Commonwealth makes up a quarter of the world's landmass?
1 in 3 young people between the ages of 15 and 29 live in Commonwealth countries?
bilateral costs between Commonwealth countries are on average 19% lower than between non-member countries?
half of the top 20 global emerging cities are in the Commonwealth?
many small and developing Commonwealth countries are among those with the lowest ecological footprints worldwide?
I know from experience how busy teachers are, the pandemic has only added to the pressures and pace of the job. At Cheshire Commonwealth we have partnered with teachers to produce learning resources for both primary and secondary age groups. The resources have been piloted in both schools and voluntary settings with fantastic feedback on how easy they are to use and how smoothly they link to so many different subject areas.
The Commonwealth may have originated from a shared history, but it is the shared values that is the true strength of the Commonwealth. An organisation for positive change, peace and prosperity.