“Education and health must be considered basic rights. They give people hope and opportunity to participate in the community. This can help lead to a peaceful, stronger ASEAN Community towards 2015,” said Dr Surin Pitsuwan, the Secretary-General of ASEAN, today during the 72nd Anniversary Celebration of Pondok Bantan-Prateeepsasana Islamic School in IMPACT Muang Thong Thani, Thailand. ”As the region integrates, there will be access to a much bigger market. In Thailand, for example, this translates to nearly 10 folds. However, with this opportunity comes greater competition. How do we prepare to compete with the 600 million competitors? Education must play a part,” Dr Surin told a jamboree of 5,000 private sector, religious leaders, teachers, media, civil society, and government officials.

The celebration focused on health and education in the region, and the ASEAN Community. In the morning, a Panel Discussion on “Good Health for a Strong Community” was conducted, followed by a Special Royal Lecture on the “Pondok Education Under Royal Patronage” by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. A Gala Dinner will be held, where Tun Dr Mahathir will address the “Challenges of Modernity and Globalization to the ASEAN Community in 2015,” followed by a Power Dialogue session with Dr Mahathir and Dr Surin. The dinner will be concluded by cultural performances.

There was further a wide ranging exposition with over 50 representations from Islamic business, social, and diplomatic sectors. The ASEAN Secretariat also took part and received enthusiastic attention from children and adults alike.

Dr Surin visited Krabi and Phuket last month, ahead of the Pondok Bantan’s 72nd Anniversary, as part of his continued efforts to help bridge the Muslim Thais to the rest of Thailand and towards the ASEAN community.