INNOTECH, SEAMES meet to plan strategic dialogue among education ministers

Initial preparations are now underway for the conduct of a strategic dialogue among education ministers of SEAMEO member countries. The dialogue is set to take place in Lao PDR on 13 September 2014.

Dr. Sheldon Shaeffer, education expert and consultant for the Module 1 of SEAMEO College, led a two-day meeting in July 2014 to talk about a work plan on how to organize and implement the SDEM. Present during the meeting were key officials of SEAMEO INNOTECH, led by Center Director Dr. Ramon Bacani, and officials of the SEAMEO Secretariat, Ms. Abigail Lanceta and Ms. Marina Oro.

SEAMEO College is a flagship program of SEAMEO launched in 2013 that aims to provide a platform for discussions and exchange of ideas among education officials and stakeholders in SEAMEO member countries. SDEM is a module within the framework of SEAMEO College that envisions an informal and less structured discussion on current and emerging education issues that are important to the Southeast Asian region.

This year’s SDEM will focus on the post-2015 development agenda and the ASEAN economic integration.

Meanwhile, Dr. Shaeffer shared his thoughts with staff and officials of SEAMEO INNOTECH on the SDEM’s theme and its implications for the future of education. The year 2015, he said, is a real turning point because there will be a new EFA strategy, new sets of development goals and agenda, and in Southeast Asia, there is the administration of an integrated ASEAN economic community.

The former UNESCO Bangkok director believes that greater access to good quality early childhood development programs and pre-primary education should be given emphasis as these would lead to less poverty and higher future income. He raised a number of thought-provoking questions related to this assumption, foremost of which was why many governments and donor agencies, including SEAMEO, pay so little attention to ECCD programs.

Dr. Shaeffer said there is need for a change of mindset, particularly for school leaders to consider who they should really be accountable to, and a shift in focus for children who are not in school more than those who are already in school.

He said school leaders should think more of being accountable to the children and the children’s parents instead of the ministries of education. The school system should be actively seeking out children who are not in school and bringing them in to learn. Instead of making this happen, Dr. Shaeffer said that the more common scenario is where schools push out children who are not doing well.

For him, an education system of good quality should be child-centered, rights-based and equity-focused. It should be concerned always about inclusion, equality, and non-discrimination. In this age and time, inclusive education, he said, should not just be limited to those who have special needs; it should now cover those who are faced with other barriers to accessing quality education, like poverty, gender disparity, language barriers, health status, and geographic differences.

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