WITH the creation of four new regional centers to improve education in the region, the 45th Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (Sea-meo) Council Conference ended on a high note yesterday.

Department of Education Secretary Jesli Lapus was elected president of the organization, replacing Thailand’s Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat.

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“The conference discussed and approved policies charting new directions for Seameo and its regional centers,” said Lapus in a press conference yesterday.

The Seameo Regional Centers are special institutions that “will undertake training and research programs in various fields of education, science and culture.”

For its 45th conference, Seameo members saw to the establishment of one regional center that will focus on special education (Sped) and three others on the quality of teachers in the fields of language, mathematics and science.

The Sped center will be set up in Malaysia, while the three quality improvement centers will be in Indonesia.

Aside from establishing new regional centers, Lapus said the conference looked into policy reforms and further learning opportunities for teachers in the region. Regional training opportunities and scholarships for member-nations of Seameo will be offered.

“We are also looking into the mother tongue and multilingual education, (projects) which will be funded by the World Bank,” said Lapus.

A “teachers’ guide to climate change” will be developed by Seameo and given to teachers, for its incorporation in the member-countries’ education system.

“This is a responsive action of Seameo to climate change. The project will be implemented by seven Seameo Regional Centers,” said Lapus.

Stressing the importance of early childhood education, Seameo will likewise conduct a regional study on early childhood education in Southeast Asia.

In the case of the Philippines, Lapus said that Seameo affiliate New Zealand has been a vital force in improving the reading competencies of Filipino schoolchildren and teachers.

“Likewise, recognizing the importance of foreign language and with the world growing smaller, Spain and France have broken ground in the Philippines,” said Lapus. Both Spanish and French are slowly being introduced into the local school system.

Lapus was likewise hopeful that eventually all schools in the country will gain access to the Internet, after hearing reports that all schools in Vietnam were connected through the help of one telecommunication company.

“How we wish that a telecom company would step forward and do the same,” admitted Lapus.

Roughly 4,000 public high schools in the Philippines are connected to the Internet, with 2,000 of these connected through the help of the Gearing up Internet Literacy Access for Students (Gilas) Project of Ayala Foundation Inc.

Lapus noted that Vietnam’s private sector is very involved in the education system, even in the policy-making among universities and colleges. In the Philippines, said Lapus, the private sector is crucial in helping students prepare for the job market.

Aside from asking for assistance, Lapus said Thailand has been “very impressed” by the special education program of the Philippines and its multigrade system.

“The Thai minister was totally impressed. He was impressed by the passion of the teachers,” said Lapus.

Among the projects being considered is an exchange of modules, with the Philippines sharing its arts programs with Singapore, in exchange for modules on mathematics.

With the continued conflict in Mindanao, Lapus said the Philippines is also asking for help from Malaysia in improving the Madrasah or Islamic schools.

High school students and teachers will be able to study in Malaysia and experience a Madrasah system that is mainstream.

The education department hopes students who study in Madrasah schools may be able to transfer to other schools, without having to worry about any transitional problems.