Greenland sees education as key to independence
AFP - 1 hour 52 minutes ago
NUUK, Greenland (AFP) - - Although Greenland only just received voters' approval for self-rule, the island's leaders long ago set their sights on full independence from Denmark and are prioritising education as the key to achieving that goal.
"Education is the key to ... our independence," says Jonathan Motzfeldt, the father of the semi-autonomy status Greenland obtained in 1979 and who headed the local government for 17 years.
In a referendum on November 25, Greenland's voters overwhelmingly approved a proposal on self-rule. The new status will take effect in June 2009.
But authorities have long looked beyond self-rule to independence, and have focused efforts on developing a highly-educated population that can take over the daily running of the territory from the Danes, who still hold leading positions in public administration and as doctors, engineers and so on.
During almost three decades of semi-autonomy, Greenlanders "have made enormous progress in education, even if society still suffers from problems" such as soaring levels of alcoholism, suicides and domestic violence, according to Motzfeldt.
He says the territory of 57,000 residents is "no longer an island inhabited solely by Inuit hunters and fishermen."
"There are a growing number of educated people, not just schooled in Denmark but also in other countries like the United States and Canada as well as at Nuuk's own colleges and university," he says, referring to the capital of Greenland.
The island's education and culture ministry has a budget of 484 million kroner (65 million euros, 82 million dollars), or eight percent of the local government's total budget for this year. About 293 million kroner are earmarked for schools and higher learning institutes.
"There is no doubt the semi-autonomy regime has made great efforts in the field of education," says Thorkild Kjaergaard, chairman of the history faculty at Nuuk's ultra-modern university.
The existing schools have been modernised, and three secondary schools and one university with 150 students in fields ranging from theology to public administration have been created, he said.
Nuuk also has schools specialised in journalism, nursing, social work and teaching.
The progress is the direct result of the continuity of successive governments, which in various constellations over the past 30 years have been headed by the social democratic Siumut party that has made education a cornerstone of its policy to achieve independence.
A French professor of history and politics at Nuuk University, Jean-Charles Larsonneur, says it is obvious that "education is a priority" in Greenland.
"You see it clearly, with the new school buildings, with the policy of inviting an increasing number of guest professors from abroad, and with the growing number of university students," he said.
But despite the progress, the overall education level "remains very low", insists Lise Lyck, a Greenland specialist at the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark.
She is sceptical about Greenland's ability to manage its own independence, an opinion echoed by Johannes Mathiassen, the head of Greenland public radio KNR's news division.
He says the island "is still not ready for wider autonomy".
"More than half of Greenlanders have little or no education beyond primary and middle school," he laments, noting that many students drop out of school because their Danish language skills are not strong enough to get them through secondary school.
"As long as this problem is not fixed, it's illusory to speak of independence," he stresses.
Aqqaluk Lynge, the head of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference organisation in Greenland, remains pragmatic after last week's referendum.
He has called on the island's leaders "to not get too carried away in the euphoria of the 'yes' vote and to take a clear look at reality."
"First we need to build the economic foundations to enable us to support our dreams of independence," he says, adding that fulfilling the ambitious education goals is "an essential condition for taking the reins of the country".
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