The Ministers for Education of ASEAN Member Countries gathered in Bangkok in an informal retreat on 19 August 2005. The retreat was attended by Ministers for Education of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam and their Senior Officials responsible for Education. The Secretary General of ASEAN and the Director of SEAMEO Secretariat were also in attendance.

We took the opportunity to discuss the important role of education in ASEAN’s social and economic development and its supporting function in building a strong ASEAN Community. We strongly believed that education lies at the core of our development process, and contributes to the enhancement of ASEAN competitiveness. We also exchanged views on better instilling in our citizens a deeper understanding and awareness of the richness of our region’s history, languages, cultures and common values.

We noted that countries in the ASEAN region are now facing new challenges for education, while ongoing joint initiatives are also gaining momentum.  To build a stronger ASEAN Community through education, we agreed to chart the course for regional cooperation in education, with a focus on the areas that follow.

First, we agreed to focus ongoing efforts in education development to contribute to a solid ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community and promote ASEANness among our citizens, particularly the youth. We agreed that ways to achieve the aims should include developing strength in cultural diversity, while promoting multi-cultural and multi-religious understanding to enhance peace and stability.  They should also focus on building a learning society for a knowledge economy, and working towards realizing “Education for all” in ASEAN, so as to narrow development gaps.

Second, we discussed strategies for strengthening ASEAN identity through education. Some of these strategies include utilizing education to foster better understanding among people in ASEAN; identifying ASEAN’s niche and enriching the ASEAN brand for education; maintaining an ASEAN identity while ensuring that our peoples are prepared for globalization and technological advancement; and promoting ASEAN studies, especially by developing ASEAN source books and websites and strengthening centres for ASEAN studies.

Third, we agreed that approaches to capacity-building of ASEAN human resources in the field of education should include exchanges among teachers, staff and students; enhancing teacher training and professional development in English, mathematics and science; promoting the use of ICT to expand access and raise quality in education; preparing ASEAN citizens to deal with challenges of technological advancement and the free flow of information; and developing training programmes for talented students.

Fourth, we affirmed our commitment to further strengthening the existing network of learning universities and institutions of higher learning under the framework of the ASEAN University Network with a view to ultimately establishing the ASEAN University. The ASEAN University Network would work to promote mutual recognition of academic degrees and qualifications, and expand the existing web-based ASEAN Studies Programmes to more students.

Fifth, to ensure that education issues and priorities are surfaced to the ASEAN Summit, we agreed to establish an ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Education. This Ministerial Meeting would meet back-to-back with the annual meeting of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO).  We recognized the significant contributions of the SEAMEO to enhance human resource development in the region since its establishment in 1965. We agreed that regional coordination mechanisms for education collaboration through the ASEAN and SEAMEO forums should be synergized to work with countries beyond the Southeast Asian region and with other regional and international organisations on education.

The Meeting asked the Senior Officials responsible for Education to work out the next steps in realizing the Ministers’ commitment to building a stronger ASEAN Community through education.