THE Ninth Asean Education Ministers (ASED) meeting that concluded yesterday proved to be a fruitful one.
After two days of deliberations following months of discussions, the most notable achievement was the adoption of the Asean Work Plan on Education 2016-2020 by the ministers and their senior officials.
The Work Plan on Education 2016-2020 will guide cooperation in education over the next five years, and will unify all collaborative efforts on education between Asean dialogue partners and various international organisations, including entities that support Asean.
In essence, the Work Plan recognises that children are key stakeholders even as governments attempt to provide a better quality of life for all.
Much of the final details in the Work Plan on Education were hammered out in the two-day Third Asean Plus Three Education Ministers Meeting (3rd APT EMM) and the Third East Asia Summit Education Ministers Meeting (3rd EAS EMM) that took place on Monday and Tuesday, just hours before the ASED took place on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Work Plan on Education was mentioned as a strategic planning document as far back as Eighth ASED in Laos in 2014, where the various ministers noted the progress made under the Asean Cooperation in Education in support of its strategic planning document, which back then covered the period from 2011 to 2015.
The Ninth ASED was chaired by Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid, who took charge given Malaysia is the Asean Education Chairman from now until 2017. Chairmanship is rotated among the Asean member states every two years, with Malaysia last playing host in 2008. Laos was chair from 2014 until Malaysia took over this year.
This year’s meeting also saw 18 countries represented – 10 Asean Education Ministers, three Ministers from Japan, South Korea and China (Asean Plus Three) – and representatives from the five East Asia Summit members, namely the United States, India, New Zealand, Russia and Australia.
In a joint statement released yesterday, the ministers also declared they had adopted the theme Fostering Asean Community of Learners: Empowering Lives Through Education, which clearly recognises children and young people as the key stakeholders in education cooperation in Asean.
The theme affirms the important role of education in promoting a better quality of life for the young, and in providing them the opportunity to participate and to benefit from the realisation of a prosperous Asean Community 2025.
The Asean Work Plan on Education focuses on eight areas including heightening awareness of Asean through strengthening South-East Asian history and indigenous knowledge, ensuring quality and basic access to education for all, especially marginalised groups, using information and communications technology in education, TVET (technical and vocational education and training) and lifelong learning, education for Sustainable Development,higher education development and quality assurance mechanisms, university-industry partnerships, as well as capacity building for teachers and the education community.
Activities related to the eight areas mentioned above will be conducted in member states through collaborations with international agencies such as Unesco, Unicef, Seameo (South-East Asian Ministers of Education Organisation) from now until 2020.
Another notable achievement from this meeting is the approval of the Asean Declaration on Strengthening Education for Out-of-School Children (OOSC), and Out-of-School Youth (OOSY).
Credit goes to Thailand for sponsoring the formulation of the declaration.
This Declaration will be submitted to the Asean Coordinating Council for their consideration, and for submission to the 28th Asean Summit in Laos this September for adoption.
The promotion of academic and workforce mobility were also addressed, with the endorsement of the Asean Qualifications Reference Framework (AQRF) Governance and Structure as the first step to harmonise higher education as well as TVET.
In the statement, the Ministers “noted with appreciation the progress made on education cooperation under the Asean Framework and under the purview of Asean Senior Officials Meeting on Education (SOM-ED) particularly on higher education and TVET development, qualifications frameworks, quality assurance, student mobility, credit transfer, university collaboration, and people-to-people connectivity”.
The meeting concluded yesterday with the setting of the date and venue for the Fourth Asean Plus Three Education Ministers Meeting, with Myanmar slotted to be the 2018 host based on the principle of rotation.
According to Mahdzir, the grouping will enter a new phase with the end of the United Nations-sponsored Millennium Development Goals last year, which aims to provide everyone with a primary education, regardless of their station in life.
“As chair, Malaysia will pioneer new paths, and collaborate with Asean, Asean Plus Three, as well as East Asia Summit countries, and international agencies to monitor regional cooperation in education in a comprehensive manner,” he said at a press conference at the sidelines of the meeting.
For Education secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Madinah Mohamad, the successful adoption of the Work Plan for Education was highly fulfilling as her officials as well as their counterparts had put in many man hours to see it come to fruition.
The meeting here also drew the attendance of Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh and his deputy, Datuk Mary Yap.