The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) participated in the SEAMEO Congress 2021 organized by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) in collaboration with the Malaysian Ministry of Education and the Thai Ministry of Education on 28-29 April 2021. The event brought together diverse education actors and stakeholders to craft common pathways to achieve and improve the quality of learning for the alpha generation that responds to the global needs and wider access to education with no one left behind as envisioned under United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Director, served as an Overall Moderator for the Market Place Session A: Partner Presentations, while Mr. Joselito G. Florendo, SEARCA Deputy Director for Administration, served as moderator of the Teaching and Learning Innovation and Research segment of Session D: Innovation and Research in Language Teaching.
“As the world transitions to virtual and digital modalities brought about by the health crisis, Southeast Asia moves towards digitalization. With this, SEAMEO is now in reset mode. After this pandemic experience where schools and teachers were challenged by COVID-19, we need to redefine the way forward,” said Dr. Ethel Agnes P. Valenzuela, SEAMEO Secretariat (SEAMES) Director.
She added that since 2001, the SEAMEO Congress has been one of the biggest platforms in the region for intellectual discussions as well as practical exchanges of wisdom, knowledge, and experience.
“This gives us more reason to revisit our continuous legacy in building a consensus framework of actions reflecting and concretizing transformational educational programs and actions towards the development synergy of strengths, strategies, and standards for Southeast Asia,” Dr. Valenzuela said.
The congress comprised six keynote addresses from global experts, 26 SEAMEO centers and networks, six plenary sessions, and four parallel sessions with more than 100 invited speakers and almost as many paper and e-poster presenters.
Giving the compass to a new breed of learners
The first day of the congress tackled learner-centric perspectives in teaching in the new normal while reimagining people transformation towards the SDGs by highlighting strategic lessons from institutional experiences of global leaders and education ministries.
“This pandemic has acted as an accelerator; it gives us no choice but to transform. SDGs are universal roadmaps and achieving them depends on transformation. Education systems everywhere experienced profound disruption in the past year. Education is an engine for achieving SDGs. More than ever, education should be at the very core of the recovery phase,” reported Dr. Stefania Giannini of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), France in her keynote address.
On achieving SDGs as SEAMEO’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda, Dr. Valenzuela affirmed this by stressing out how the learners were affected by the health crisis and working together to achieve SDGs need “smart people, smart cities, and the need to reimagine education in a globalized context more than ever.”
His Excellency Mr. Nadiem Anwar Makarim, Minister of Education and Culture, Indonesia, said “we have to close the digital gap and ensure connectivity is spread across all regions by putting clear emphasis on the education sector not just to have an access on the internet but inclusivity to expose different levels of digital literacy among learners and teachers alike.”
He added that parents and educators are encouraged to work together since on the onset the pandemic, these agents of the learners have become far more exposed to illiteracy to technology.
During the congress, SEARCA also showcased its work at the event via the SEAMEO Secretariat (SEAMES) FLOOR Virtual Conference Platform. The Center highlighted its 11th Five Year-Plan focused on Accelerating Transformation Through Agricultural Innovation (ATTAIN).
Transformed education in a health crisis
“Since the crisis started, the government tried to set up solutions such as distance learning initiatives. But these are not enough as the situation also opens the door for us to rethink the future of education in the long run” said Dr. Shigeru Aoyagi, Director of UNESCO Bangkok, Thailand.
This was affirmed by Dr. Priyanut Dharmapiya of the National Institute of Development Administration, Thailand, who said “Education systems set by institutions must be resilient that enable students to cultivate the mindset to know oneself, to understand the society they are living in, to realize the planet boundaries, and to respect cultural heritage and wisdom.”
Moreover, Dr. Leonor M. Briones, Secretary of the Philippine Department of Education (DepEd), said “While COVID-19 changed the landscape of education, we must also keep and leap into the future. And this is why I strongly support the SEAMEO Strategic Plan 2021-2030 to keep our ways forward and future-ready.”
Sec. Briones furthered that the Philippine Government through DepEd introduced the formation of Education Futures Programme which “would endeavor to perceive, to see, and to discern what is going to happen in education in the near future” on top of its Sulong Edukalidad campaign.
Ways to look forward
In the congress synthesis, SEAMES Deputy Director Dr. Kritsachai Somsaman presented a declaration draft that sums up all the education reforms leading to SEAMEO’s strategic plan for the next decade.
Dr. Somsaman highlighted four aims of this declaration which are: (1) to realize the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on education system; (2) to consider this opportunity to discuss the possibility in transforming Southeast Asia education, science, and culture in the new normal; (3) to note the importance of strategic collaboration and partnerships among countries to reach SDGs; and (4) to ensure learning continuity for all embracing gender equity.
The SEAMES Deputy Director noted that there are potential areas for interconnected response identified amidst the widespread of the plenary sessions and parallel sessions of the congress.
“The council also recognizes SEAMEO as a regional organization for undertaking research and for taking strategic action in the region to move this commitment forward,” said Dr. Somsaman.
The outcome of the SEAMEO Congress 2021 are the commitments to support SEAMEO Cares – a program to ensure that no education reform is left behind as this program will continue to promote development of learning materials and capacitate projects.
SEARCA supports SEAMEO’s leadership as the Center focuses on gender and youth engagement in agricultural and rural development, IT-based education and state-of-the-art pedagogy, transformational leadership, and training for development as key thematic areas.
“It is through these initiatives that SEARCA strives to operationalize its international commitment within the framework of SEAMEO, particularly the SEAMEO 2030 Agenda,” Dr. Gregorio affirmed.