1. Education Ministers (hereinafter referred to as “the Ministers”) and senior education officials from Southeast Asian countries gathered in Singapore on 21 – 23 March 2006 for the 1st ASEAN Education Ministers Meeting (ASED) and the 41st Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) Council Conference.
2. The ASED was institutionalised as a regular ASEAN Meeting by the ASEAN Leaders at the 11th ASEAN Summit held in Malaysia in December 2005. The ASEAN Education Ministers had earlier agreed, during their informal retreat held in Thailand in August 2005, that the ASED would be held back-to-back with the annual meeting of the SEAMEO Council Conference.
3. The 41st SEAMEO Council Conference was officially opened by His Excellency Professor S Jayakumar, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Law, Singapore. SEAMEO is pleased to admit the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste as the 11th Member Country and welcome them to the conference.
4. Apart from the Education Ministers from the Southeast Asian countries, the ASEAN Secretary General, SEAMEO Secretariat Director, senior education officials from the Associate Member Countries of SEAMEO, namely Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand and Norway, partner organisations and observers also attended the Conference. The meetings were supported by the ASEAN Secretariat and SEAMEO Secretariat.
5. In addition to reviewing the plans and programmes of SEAMEO units and exchanging views on education issues, the Ministers also attended the Art and Design Exhibition and visited schools and education institutions in Singapore. The Art and Design Exhibition “Colours of Southeast Asia” was held in conjunction with the 1st ASED and 41st SEAMEO Council Conference, and showcases the rich culture and heritage of the region through art and design works from the different Southeast Asian countries.
PROMOTION OF ASEAN IDENTITY AND SOCIO-CULTURAL COMMUNITY – BUILDING ON THE STRENGTHS OF OUR MULTI-ETHNIC SOCIETIES
6. Recognising that ASEAN identity is made up of the different socio-cultural identities of the ASEAN Member Countries, the Ministers at the 1st ASED agreed that ASEAN can draw lessons and opportunities from the experiences of the Member Countries in managing cultural and racial diversity. The Ministers re-affirmed that education plays an important role in the promotion of regional identity and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. The Ministers emphasized the critical role that education has to play in fostering greater inter-cultural, inter-religious and inter-racial understanding within and between societies in the region.
7. The Ministers also noted that there are currently many activities and programmes that enhance interactions and exchanges among students and educationists in the region on a bilateral or ASEAN wide basis. The Ministers shared the view that in order to strengthen awareness and understanding of ASEAN amongst the young, these existing interactions and exchanges should be deepened, as well as expanded to include more Member Countries.
8. To realise the vision of a cohesive and outward-looking ASEAN Community, the ASEAN Education Ministers agreed on the following initiatives:-
a. Strengthen educational resources available to each member country in the area of ASEAN studies. This can be done through the use of ICT in developing and updating information among the ASEAN countries. The ASEAN Secretariat will work with the Member Countries and the SEAMEO Secretariat to compile source books on ASEAN, which will serve as useful resource materials for schools in ASEAN.
b. Strengthen activities that bring ASEAN students and teachers together through more ASEAN studies to engender the ASEAN consciousness; and through more people-to-people interactions to strengthen the bonds and foster the ASEAN identity.
c. Initiate and support a parallel collaborative process among researchers and academics of ASEAN Member Countries on the role of education in addressing the challenges and opportunities of multi-ethnic societies and the diverse ASEAN community. This aims to generate useful and relevant outputs to inform ASEAN’s education policy-makers. To this end, the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies of Singapore will facilitate a collaborative study and the organisation of a conference to discuss the findings of the study. Recommendations from the study will be reported to the Ministers at the 2nd ASED.
QUALITY IN EDUCATION – RESPONDING TO NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PRIORITIES
9. At the Policy Forum of the 41st SEAMEO Council Conference, Singapore gave a briefing on the evolution of Singapore’s education system – “The Role of Education in National Development”. Participants noted the changing priorities and policies in response to the changing developmental and socio-economic needs of the country over the decades since independence.
10. The SEAMEO Ministers also shared and discussed their respective national education experiences and priorities. The Ministers agreed to strengthen collaborations in 3 key areas :-
a. Language Education. Noting the challenges in the teaching of mother tongue, national language and English, the Ministers agreed on the need to share and learn from one another’s experiences, including use of IT in language education.
b. Vocational/Technical Education. The Ministers recognised the important role of vocational and technical education in supporting the economic development of a country, and agreed to study ways to facilitate deeper sharing of experiences and best practices among member countries in the area of vocational and technical education.
c. School Leadership. School leadership is key to enhancement of education in schools. The Ministers therefore agreed that special focus should be accorded to the selection and training of school leaders. In this respect, the Ministers noted, with appreciation, the sponsorship offer by Singapore for two school leaders from each Southeast Asian country to attend the International Leaders in Education Programme (iLEP) at the National Institute of Education, Singapore in September 2006. Through the iLEP, school leaders from the region will have the opportunity to engage in deliberations on educational leadership and exchange views on leading and promoting innovation in schools. At the same time, the iLEP will facilitate the building of a learning and sharing network among school leaders from SEAMEO Member Countries.
11. The Ministers tasked the Senior Officials responsible for Education to follow up and coordinate the implementation and study of the ideas and initiatives raised at the 1st ASED and 41st SEAMEO Council Conference. The Ministers also requested that their initiatives on promoting regional identity be highlighted to the ASEAN Leaders at the 12th ASEAN Summit to be held in the Philippines in December 2006.
12. The Ministers expressed their appreciation to Singapore for her hospitality as host of the 1st ASED and 41st SEAMEO Council Conference. The 2nd ASED and 42nd SEAMEO Council Conference will be held in Indonesia in 2007.