WITH education and stronger regional ties on the agenda, the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (Seameo) Council Conference opened yesterday with all 11 member-countries and eight affiliate countries in attendance.

Education ministers and top country officials are in Cebu to discuss current education trends, issues and possible policy reforms or changes in education in the region.

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“This meeting is a testament to the region’s commitment to education and the enduring partnerships we have here in Seameo and Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations),” said Department Education (DepEd) Secretary Jesli Lapus, the new Seameo president.

Help with peace

A highlight of the meeting was the focus placed on early childhood care and development in education, or educating children even before they step into school.

With Lapus at the helm of the organization this year, he said he will also focus on the peace process and its inclusion in education in the Philippines.

“We will be asking for help from Malaysia in our peace process in ARMM (the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao),” said Lapus.

Scholarships and “learning opportunities” will be given to teachers on the integration and promotion of peace in the local curriculum.

Lapus explained that Malaysia has been a vital force in helping address insurgencies, and their help will be useful to the country.

In her speech delivered by Executive Secretary Educardo Ermita, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo lauded the efforts of Seameo and the various local efforts of the DepEd.

She said the people-to-people cooperation between Seameo member-countries saw to the integration of foreign languages in the local public schools. Likewise, through Seameo, foreign assistance provided by the New Zealand Government paid for improvements in the reading competencies of Filipino schoolchildren.

“It is to the credit of the leaders of Seameo over the past 45 years that the highest level of excellence has been achieved in the areas of language, math, science, culture, fine arts, archaeology, history, tradition, vocational/technical education, tropical medicine and agricultural research, or the full cycle of education system from basic to higher education, including early care and learning and special education. All of these are implemented following basic principles of innovative and technology-based teaching and learning,” said Arroyo.

Solution

She challenged DepEd and other stakeholders to improve the quality of education of Muslim children and indigenous people, whether in private or public schools.

Arroyo likewise challenged the Seameo to become “part of the solution” in attaining the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Lapus said the Philippines is on its way to accomplishing the goal of “education for all.”

“We are complying with certain criteria, like gender equality. We are seeing more girls in school than boys. In other Asian countries, only few girls can go to school,” said Lapus.

He added the country has been strong in its early childhood care program, with over one million children attending kindergarten classes.

“We have improved over the years,” said Lapus.

As bilateral and multilateral meetings between ministers continue today, the officials are expected to discuss various education policy issues.