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Education for All, with love

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Education chiefs of Southeast Asia meet to renew bonds and the commitment to provide education for all. 

The colours of a rainbow,
so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people
going by.
I see friends shaking hands, sayin',
"How do you do?"
They're really sayin' "I love you".

Education leaders of the 11 Seameo member states stand in unity to promote quality education for all Southeast Asians during the opening of the 45th Seameo Council Conference at Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort and Spa, Cebu, the Philippines, Jan 27 to 29. THANIT PROMSALEE

Louis Armstrong's 1968 rendition of Bob Thiele's (as George Douglas) and George David Weiss' What a Wonderful World echoed through during the opening ceremonies of the largest gathering of education leaders in the Asia-Pacific region.

The occasion was the 45th Seameo Council Conference and annual convention that was held in Cebu, the Philippines from Jan 27 to 29. The Seameo (Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation) conference highlighted the passion and the commitment of the regional education leaders to quality education in Southeast Asia.

The member states of Seameo are: Brunei Darussalam, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.

The 11 Seameo ministers of education manifested unity in diversity by forging important initiatives and collaborating on regional and country-specific education issues to improve the delivery of education services in the region.

Room for everyone

Love is infinite. It is for all. Providing quality education to those in need manifests this love. Under the "Education for All" movement, the 11 Southeast Asian nations, along with more than 100 other nations, agreed to "universalise primary education and massively reduce illiteracy".

Born in Thailand, the Education for All programme is a global movement that aims to meet the learning needs of all children, youths and adults.

The initiative was launched in 1990 at the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, in Chon Buri province. In 2000, the international community met again in Dakar, Senegal, and affirmed their commitment to achieving Education for All by the year 2015.

The attainment of Education for All is a Millennium Development Goal.

During the conference, the education leaders from the several countries reinforced their pledge to the cause of Education for All and voiced their support for early childhood care and education (ECCE).

The early childhood care and education programme is an effort to begin educating children even before they start formal (government-mandated) schooling. Studies have proven that 50 percent of a person's ability to learn is developed in the first four years of life.

These vital years build the foundation for the learning path children will take when they enter the formal education system. Mental stimulation is necessary for proper brain development in the early years. Inspired by this, the leaders will launch a regional project on policy research on ECCE.

Mindful of those learners who are in difficult circumstances, the Seameo education leaders agreed to strengthen existing initiatives to provide education to the underserved communities.

Underserved communities include segments of society such as those with disabilities, students at risk of dropping out, learners in difficult-to-reach places, very poor families in rural areas, stateless and undocumented children, learners affected or infected by HIV and Aids, and those learners in disaster-prone communities.

To ensure quality education of students, the Seameo education ministers endorsed: the integration of climate change in the school curriculum; maximising the use of language in teaching and learning; and integration of information and communications technology (ICT) in the classroom.

These collaborative projects are consistent with the Education for All goals, namely, to expand early childhood care and education, achieve universal primary education, improve the provision of learning and life skills, increase literacy rates, achieve gender equality in education, and advance the quality of education.

Thailand’s Minister of Education, Mr Chinnaworn Boonyakiat, left, transfers the leadership of Seameo to the newly-elected president of the organisation, Dr Jesli A. Lapus, Secretary of Education of the Philippines, during the 45th Seameo Council Conference. THANIT PROMSALEE

Keeping the love alive

For the last four decades since its inception in 1965, Seameo has been at the centre of Southeast Asia's efforts to promote cross-border cooperation in education, science and culture.

Moved by the passion to truly reach out to all Southeast Asian nationals through education, and leveraging on the spirit of cooperation, Seameo continues to advance in providing quality education for all, thus ensuring a better opportunity for the present and future generations of Southeast Asians.

In 2009, Thailand was at the helm of the Seameo leadership and prompted significant initiatives, such as the launch of the 10 collaborative projects to reach the unreached populations in Southeast Asia.

Thailand's Education Minister, Mr Chinnaworn Boonyakiat, reaffirmed this country's commitment to Seameo and offered further cooperation on Seameo initiatives. We share the belief that the provision of lifelong learning and achievement of the Education for All goals should remain our key priorities, he said.

During the 45th Seameo Council Conference, Thailand turned over the leadership of Seameo to the Philippines Secretary of Education, Dr Jesli A. Lapus.

Seameo has 19 specialist regional centres in Southeast Asia, and it collaborates with global organisations, such as Unesco, Unicef, UN-Habitat, the World Bank, and the Asean Secretariat.

It is also supported by its associate member countries. They are: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Spain. The International Council for Open and Distance Education and the University of Tsukuba, in the Ibaraki Prefecture in the Kanto region of Japan, are affiliate members.

Right at the beginning of a new decade, Seameo is faced with a myriad of exciting challenges and opportunities. These, along with the determination to move forward, will keep the Seameo legacy and its passion alive.

And just like the message of the song, What A Wonderful World, what lies within the very essence of the current and future plans of Seameo education leaders is an antidote to the misery of many Southeast Asians whose circumstances deprive them of their right to education, a better quality of life and a bountiful region with a lot to look forward to.

In Seameo, good deeds know no bounds, cooperation goes a long way and the accomplishments of all the proposed goals, including the Education for All initiative, is possible in the name of love.

- For more information about Seameo, visit http://www.seameo.org , or send an email to secretariat@seameo.org,  or call 02-391-0144.

Abigail Cuales Lancetais a programme officer in charge of information at the Seameo Secretariat in Bangkok. She has been a teacher and an education programme specialist working on various education development projects in the Department of Education of the Philippines. Contact her at abigail@seameo.org.

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