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Remarks by Education & Information Minister

In fact, our hosting of this event is testament to the essential work of the Caricom Secretariat and the regional body of Directors of Statistics, and a profound desire to make our own tangible contribution to supporting these efforts, and advancing the significance of statistics.  

I also express warm welcome to the visiting delegates and their support staff to the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.   I trust that between your discussions and deliberations, you may find the time to discover the beauty and friendliness of our Federation- “Two Islands – One Paradise.”

Our Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas, minister with jurisdiction over matters pertaining to statistics, wanted very much to be with you today – first, to welcome you to our Federation, and then to express to you his recognition of the extremely important role that statisticians play, throughout the Caribbean and throughout the world.

I believe that he would speak from firsthand experience that without the demanding and important work that you do, policy makers would certainly be left adrift as we attempt to formulate policies that are grounded in reality and that are solutions-oriented.  And our ability to ensure that there is a commensurate relationship between resources allocated, and a wide range of complex and competing factors, would indeed be compromised without the useful resource of statistics.

The Prime Minister, however, is unable to be with us today and has asked that I express his apologies and extend his best wishes for a productive and memorable conference.

This year, as we know, marks the 40th Anniversary of CARICOM.

This year, interestingly, has also been designated  International Year of Statistics.  

And this year, St. Kitts- Nevis celebrated its 30th anniversary as an independent nation.

All of these milestones give our gathering here today a special significance and resonance because it is a fact that neither CARICOM, over the past forty years, nor St. Kitts-Nevis over the past thirty, could have achieved much without the data, the trend lines, the projections  – the reality that is put before us on a daily basis, all grounded in statistics, and on which we depend.

Indeed, as you know better than any, it is not only Governments that rely on the work that you do.  So do organizations, large and small, with no ties to government whatsoever.  The media…students…scientists…artists…and the public, all depend on the insights and frames of reference that are made possible directly or indirectly – and whether the practitioners involved realize it at a conscious level or not – by statistics.

With (i) this being the International year of Statistics, (ii) our agreement that the proper collection and analysis of statistical data is key to sound decision-making and management, and (iii) this being a truly independent Caribbean Community – mean that we must develop an ever stronger cadre of Caribbean professionals in all fields of operational endeavor. It is incumbent upon us all, Ladies and Gentlemen, that we increase public awareness of the power and impact of statistics on all aspects of society; to imaginatively encourage the embrace of study of Statistics as a profession in our region; and to highlight the creativity, intrigue, and indeed fascination that can often be associated with the field that the vast majority of this audience has chosen.  

Our challenge as practitioners, educators, and policy-makers, is (i) to de-mystify the field to the students of the Caribbean, (ii) to find imaginative ways to expose them to all that is intriguing and fascinating about the careers that the statisticians in this room have chosen, and, (iii) in the process, ensure that we have, within the borders of our Caribbean region, Caribbean statisticians providing the data and analyses that are so key to the effective and efficient functioning of Caribbean progress and stability.

And this, as we can see, is appropriately encapsulated in today’s theme – “Statistics in Everyday Life – Let us Educate and Appreciate.”  

The vast majority of the world’s population have no idea how many areas of their lives are influenced and governed by the work of professional statisticians:  The funding that is allocated to Region B as opposed to Region C;  the availability of social programs for one group as opposed to another;  the erection of a bridge over one river when another waterway remains impassable; and the list goes on.  But if these decisions are to be made in an optimal manner, there must be the availability of reliable statistics.  Trends in a country’s inflation rates are directly tied to decisions about wages and pensions.  Economic growth trajectories influence what commitments Government are – and are not – able to make.  Past and projected revenue flows have a direct bearing of whether or not special stimulus programs are required;  population trends determine whether – and where – banks and other private sector entities open branches;  job-seeker status influence what modifications, if any, are to be made in employment programs, and so on and so forth. And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, for the many contributions that statisticians make to the smooth running of our nation, the region, and the world, we thank you.  

In many more areas of our lives than we realize, sound decision-making, in the personal, every-day realm, is indeed governed by one aspect or another of statistical data collection and analysis.

What I would really like to focus on, however, is the second part of today’s theme – “Let us educate and appreciate”.  For this is really key.

We must find ways to increase the general public’s awareness of the importance of statistics in public and private life, and then we must strive to increase their comfort level with the subject matter.  

Firstly, in our outreach to the public, we must avoid even terms like “Statistical Literacy” which only serves to place yet another wall between the field of statistics and the public.  We must modify our language so that it becomes human and understandable.

Expressions like “Statistics and You!”;  “Statistics in Everyday Life!”;  “Statistics – More Fun Than You Think”;  and “Statistics Made Easy” are far more likely to stir the public’s curiosity and cause our citizens to explore this important field more than abstract, theoretical terminology, which  – though quite routine and familiar to professional statisticians – is off-putting and unappealing to the general public.

It has been said that statistics give us information “by providing a description of the present, a profile of the past and an estimate of the future”.

We must find varied and imaginative ways to help the public to understand this.  Because, it is by doing so that we will help the public to understand the interconnection between statistics and their lives.  It is only by doing so that we will help them to realize that statistics is a tool – and a powerful one at that – which, properly used, can yield great benefit in their own lives.

The traditional roles of many statistical agencies have been to collect, compile, analyze and disseminate information regarding the State.  Some say that the word “statistics” was derived from the Italian word for state, and that the birth of statistics occurred somewhere around mid 17th century when a Londoner John Graunt began reviewing the church information on births and deaths, and began putting the information in a format that everyone could understand because of the link between reliable health data and sound health policy.  There are many other views as to when data gathering and analysis began – some point to Noah and his tracking of various creatures, others point to the building of the pyramids and the colossal logistical undertaking that that was.  Whatever the origins, the point remains that the field that you have chosen, Ladies and Gentlemen, is key to informed and strategic decision-making in all cultures, in all fields, and at all times.

So I very much look forward, in the years ahead, to seeing various public outreach efforts via which your field will be attempting to educate – and indeed, seduce – the public into the fascinating and all-important field of endeavor in which you have developed so great an expertise.  

Some seventy or more years ago, writer, H.G Wells noted that “Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.” In my view, it is one of the literacies pivotal to the continued development of our Caribbean civilization.

This is the day that he predicted.  

It is the responsibility of every individual to understand why statistical  information is needed; how it is collected; what the basic metrics such as mean, mode, median, standard deviation all mean in their own lives and in the affairs of their country; and how to interpret charts and graphs. These basic skills must begin at schools, we agree, but real world  practitioners must also find ways to make this subject matter seem less theoretical and arcane.  Practitioners must find a way to make their fascination with and excitement about the field contagious.

Our development and advancement as a people depend on it.

There must be outreach to the schools…to the media…to the private sector…to NGO’s.  

Your message, in other words, must be heard.

You have learnt today that at school, I was a Mathematics major, and currently my ministerial portfolio includes Education.  It is therefore no secret that I have great personal respect, admiration and appreciation for all that you do.  Your contributions to our region have been invaluable.  You are important role models for our young people.  And I hope that in the months and years ahead, you will join forces with policy makers, teachers, the private sector, the media and others to ensure that the public develops a greater understanding of, appreciation for, and fascination with all that you do.

As we celebrate 40 years of CARICOM, I wish to recognize the pivotal role that the Caricom Secretariat has played in advancing the regional integration agenda – moving us from the Caribbean Common Market (CCM) to the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), which envisages the free movement of people, capital, and goods and services within the region. These developments are neither coincidental nor coerced, but are the purposeful efforts of Caricom to promote the sustainable growth and development of the region, improve the standard of living and work of our people, and enhance regional integration.

Statistics are at the core of the socio-economic development and deepening of the integration process. The Secretariat through its Regional Statistical Work Programme (RSWP) has been playing a major role in the development and harmonization of economic, socio-demographic, and environmental statistics across member and associate member states. More specifically, the Secretariat, with the support of various other organizations has played a vital role in securing and funding technical expertise to assist member countries in developing good and relevant statistical data sets.  

Key organizations that support the work of the Secretariat- some of which are represented here today- include the European Union, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC), United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Statistics Canada, and various agencies within the UN System. I use this opportunity to express sincere thanks for the unwavering commitment and support of these organizations to the development of the Community. 

I offer on behalf of the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis sincerest congratulations to CARICOM on its fortieth Anniversary.

It is now my distinct pleasure and honour to declare this conference open.

Thank you.

 

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