Director-General addresses 43rd SEAMEO Council Conference during second official visit to Malaysia

On Thursday 13 March 2008, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, participated in the opening ceremony of the 43rd SEAMEO Council Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the beginning of a two-day visit to the country.

Also addressing the opening of the Conference were: Mr Tan Sri Dr Zulkurnain bin Haji Awang, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Education of Malaysia, who delivered a message on behalf of the Prime Minister of Malaysia; Mr Bambang Sudibyo, the Minister of Education of Indonesia and out-going President of the SEAMEO Council; and Dato’ Dr Zulkefli bin A Hassan, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Higher Education of Malaysia, representing the host country. At the time of the Director-General’s visit to Malaysia, the new Cabinet had yet to be formed following the general election of 8 March 2008.

Mr Matsuura focused his address on progress towards Education for All (EFA) within Southeast Asia. “Countries in Southeast Asia have much to be proud of. There have been significant advances, particularly with regard to expanding access to primary education and gender equality”, the Director-General stated, explaining that this progress in EFA has been “one of the driving forces” behind the rapid expansion of Southeast Asian economies.

Yet Mr Matsuura also drew attention to the significant challenges that still faced the sub-region, in particular in terms of inclusion, literacy, and education quality. Here, the Director-General referred to the importance of the national EFA assessments that countries had been leading, with the support of UNESCO and other development partners. These assessments focused on disadvantaged and marginalized groups. Mr Matsuura argued that the SEAMEO meeting provided “an ideal occasion to turn their results into concrete policy recommendations”. Noting that quality, equity and inclusion were global challenges, he said that the outcomes of the SEAMEO Council meeting would have important implications for the global policy discussions of the EFA High-Level Group. “The countries of Southeast Asia have the opportunity to show the way forward”, he stated.

The Director-General also drew attention to the fact that both UNESCO and SEAMEO shared broad and multifaceted mandates. “This breadth is a major asset at a time when interdisciplinarity is universally acknowledged as vital to meeting the complex challenges of a globalizing world”, he said. For example, Mr Matsuura referred to how both culture and science were important to EFA. “First: if education is to be inclusive and of quality, it must be grounded in cultural realities. The promotion of linguistic diversity is particularly important in the provision of quality education, the transmission of knowledge and values, and the fight against illiteracy. Second: if education is to be of quality, it must also be relevant to learner needs. Of growing importance today, is the need to learn to live sustainably. As lead agency for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, UNESCO is working to integrate the principles and practices of sustainability into all aspects of learning and education. Strengthening the quality of basic science education is one important aspect of this endeavour, another is enhancing the role of culture in environmental conservation”, the Director-General explained.

In conclusion, Mr Matsuura called on Ministers of Southeast Asia “to look again at the education systems for which they are responsible, and at how they need to be changed to reach those not yet reached. Southeast Asia has made important progress towards EFA. Let us make this progress for all.”

This hope was also echoed in the remarks of the Malaysian Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who called on SEAMEO Member States to reduce inequalities in education. “Education is the key to our development and to the enhancement of our competitiveness at a global level”, he said, arguing that “the varied approaches that each country takes individually offer an opportunity for all to learn from each other’s experiences and to adopt successful formulas”.

Following the opening ceremony, the Director-General signed an updated Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the new Director of SEAMEO, Dr Ahamad bin Sipon, from Malaysia. Mr Matsuura explained that this renewal of the first MoU, signed in 1975, aimed to better adapt UNESCO-SEAMEO collaboration to the changing needs in the sub-region, and would provide “a more structured framework for expanding our cooperation in education, science and culture across Southeast Asia”.

During his visit to Malaysia, the Director-General attended the opening of a concert held in the honour of His Majesty Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, King of Malaysia, before which he had the opportunity to greet the King. He held talks with Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, who has subsequently been reappointed Minister of Education; Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, former Minister of Higher Education and now Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry; and Dato’ Sri Dr Jamaludin Jarjis, former Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation. The Director-General also met with several Education Ministers from SEAMEO Member States who were attending the Conference.

On 13 March, in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Matsuura visited the Science and Technology Park, the Petrosains Discovery Centre, and the sky bridge between the Petronas Twin Towers.

On 14 March, the Director-General delivered a lecture at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre on the 2008 International Year of Planet Earth, at the invitation of the Malaysian Academy of Sciences. Before an audience of around 1000 scientists, academicians, civil society representatives and members of the general public, Mr Matsuura outlined the main goals of the International Year and what UNESCO was doing to promote them, in particular in Southeast Asia. Datuk Ir. Lee Chee Cheong, Special Advisor to the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation and former vice-president of the Academy of Sciences, and also provided a briefing on plans for the International Centre for South-South Cooperation in Science, Technology and Innovation, recently established by the Malaysia as a category 2 centre under the aegis of UNESCO (see Flash Info N° 006-2008).

In the afternoon of the same day, Mr Matsuura visited Malacca. He met with the Chief Minister of Malacca, Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam, to discuss the town’s candidature for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List, before touring the historic town centre by trishaw. Accompanied by the Mayor of Malacca City Council, Yusof Bin Hj Jantan, the Director-General visited the Jalan Tokong Indian Temple, the Kg. Keling Mosque, and the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, as well as the Baba Nyonya Museum.

In the evening, Mr Matsuura attended a dinner with members of the National Commission of Malaysia for UNESCO, where he met the new Secretary-General, Mohd Noor Rashid Mat Taharim. Referring to how the Malaysian National Commission has grown and been strengthened in recent years, the Director-General commended its role in the steadily increasing cooperation between UNESCO and Malaysia.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokeswoman
  • Source:Flash Info N° 034-2008
  • 17-03-2008
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