Opening Remarks by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education, Singapore, and SEAMEO Council President at the 51st SEAMEO Council Conference

Published Date: 17 June 2021 04:00 PM

News Speeches

Dr Radzi Jidin, Senior Minister for Education, Malaysia, and immediate Past President of the SEAMEO Council

Dr Ethel Valenzuela, SEAMEO Secretariat Director

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

1 A very warm welcome to everyone gathered this morning. This is our 51st edition of the SEAMEO Council Conference, and the first to be held online. I am heartened that the pandemic has not stopped us from coming together to keep up our longstanding cooperation with one another, especially during this challenging time.

2 I am particularly honoured to be elected President of the SEAMEO Council. Together with my fellow newly-elected Vice-President, Secretary Briones from the Philippines, I look forward to learning from and working with all of you to chart the way forward for SEAMEO and our respective countries. Let me once again also express our appreciation to colleagues from Malaysia, led by Dr Radzi and his predecessor Dr Maszlee Malik, for your excellent efforts in stewarding SEAMEO's agenda over the last two years.

Our COVID-19 Crisis Response

3 COVID-19 has fundamentally disrupted education around the world. Since the pandemic started, schools have been closed and academic calendars altered. Remote learning has become normalised. While our specific circumstances and responses may differ, our immediate priorities are the same, which is to keep our schools safe, and to keep learning going.

4 As a region, we have responded well to the crisis. There have been many silver linings that we can be proud of, which will impact education for the better. Let me briefly mention two of them.

5 First, we have all stepped up efforts in digital learning. We have accelerated our investments in this area – from infrastructure enhancements, to device provisions, to e-learning resource development. More teachers are now using educational technology to provide quality learning for students. This has planted the seed for us to reap longer-term benefits beyond COVID, through a blended learning approach – where we can combine the best of technology with face-to-face interactions.

6 Second, the crisis has brought the education fraternity closer together, and closer to our stakeholders. With home-based learning, teachers worked with parents and students to transit to the new arrangements. Many parents have come to better appreciate the dedication and professionalism of our teachers. Private companies and non-profit organisations have stepped forward to work with schools, making sure disadvantaged students do not lag behind their peers. Our education professionals have collaborated even more closely, both within and across borders, as we jointly seek solutions to the new challenges that have arisen.

Beyond Our Crisis Response: New Education Imperatives in a Post-Covid Era

7 More than a year on, COVID-19 has not blown over. We continue to be confronted with new developments, such as more virulent virus strains, that test our ability to keep schools safe, and open for learning. We do not yet know when the pandemic will end. So even as we deal with the immediate crisis before us, we will need new perspectives and ideas on how to prepare our young for a more complex and uncertain future.

8 To deal with the new normal, we may need new norms. We have thus adopted for our Presidency, the theme "New Education Imperatives in a Post-COVID Era". I am looking forward personally to discussing this issue in greater depth with colleagues during the Strategic Dialogue later this afternoon.

9 As we examine new frontiers, we also affirm the fundamentals that are captured in the new SEAMEO Strategic Plan, which Singapore supports. Education must continue to be inclusive and accessible for all. No child should be deprived of learning opportunities because of circumstance. And our students must continue to be nurtured with sound values and equipped to be good contributing members of society. We are happy to see the Plan come to fruition today, after many rounds of consultation since Malaysia's Presidency.

Keeping Connected as a Region

10 Last but not least, let us keep our connections going beyond this event. As part of our Presidency, Singapore hopes to support this in two ways:

  1. First, by facilitating more exchanges between education professionals through joint seminars and workshops, to strengthen networks for collaboration.
  2. Second, by encouraging more exchanges between our students, to give them opportunities to build friendships with each other and become more familiar with the world at large.

11 The virtual medium has opened up new ways for our students, teachers and schools to connect with one another, without the need for travel. Cross-border joint classroom activities, or virtual musical ensembles across different locations are no longer far-fetched ideas. The possibilities for collaboration are limited only by our imagination and can help bring our communities closer.

Conclusion

12 56 years since its founding in November 1965, SEAMEO continues to be an important regional platform for us to pool our collective wisdom to tackle common challenges together. We are all part of the Southeast Asian region, and part of the globally connected world. We face similar challenges that spur us to keep improving our education systems and I believe that the pandemic has only strengthened our resolve to work in partnership. There is much that we can do together, to take the new initiatives in education forward as we grapple with the challenges that are posed to us.

13 I would like to thank the SEAMEO Secretariat, as well as the SEAMEO Centres for working tirelessly to keep SEAMEO's activities relevant and impactful during this period. I look forward to working closely with all of you in the coming months and I am confident that our existing SEAMEO network will grow from strength to strength.

14 Thank you very much.

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