Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte underscored the urgent need to “act now” to address the challenges faced by students across the world.
Duterte, in her welcome speech for the opening ceremony of the 52nd Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) Council Conference on Wednesday, Feb. 8, said that the recent global health crisis has “unraveled some of the weakest areas of our countries’ education systems.”
This, she added, “worsened education inequality, with younger, vulnerable, and disadvantaged children among the most affected.”
Citing data from UNICEF, Duterte noted that “more than half of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries were unable to read or comprehend a simple story” even before the pandemic.
Moreover, learning poverty --- or the inability to read and comprehend a basic text by the age of 10 --- has also “gotten worse” because of the disruption in schooling which is currently thought to be close to 70 percent.
“In all of these, one thing is clear: we need to act now,” Duterte said noting that countries can no longer afford to “waste more time.”
Education leaders, Duterte stressed, cannot allow ASEAN children to “miss out on the beauty and benefits of learning and the wonders of being able to use it to positively impact” the ASEAN and the world.
“As education leaders, we have a huge responsibility to bear,” Duterte said. “The decisions we make today will help determine the quality of life in our countries and the entire ASEAN region, and the ripple effect of these decisions can reverberate for generations to come,” she added.
Duterte noted that the last two years have been “extremely difficult” for everyone due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, despite all the challenges, we have sustained our alliance with virtual meetings and consultations, until today, when all Member Countries are once again convened in one place, ready and committed to working for the improvement of education quality in the region,” Duterte said.
Duterte stressed that the potential of regional cooperation as an “avenue to sustainable development and shared prosperity is still ours to take.”
Southeast Asian countries, through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and SEAMEO, have “demonstrated to the world the benefits of working together for the common good,” Duterte said.
The event, she added, also reflected the region's strength in cooperation and underscores the common objective: “to sustain our development efforts to enhance the lives of ASEAN citizens through equitable, inclusive, and quality education.”
Given this, Duterte vowed that the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Philippines will “continue to support the strategic partnership” between the ASEAN Education Sector and SEAMEO.
In particular, Duterte said that the country through DepEd will strive to address two pressing issues: equitable access to education and post-pandemic recovery.
Related to this Duterte mentioned that the DepEd recently launched its “MATATAG” agenda.
“Matatag,” the Filipino word for resilience, has become DepEd’s newest call to action. “This is our commitment to the country, our learners, and our fellow Filipinos as we work towards improving the basic education sector,” Duterte explained.
Meanwhile, Duterte also expressed hope that member countries will continue to work together in the spirit of “Bayanihan” which is used to describe the act of “coming together to work for a common goal.”
As the SEAMEO Council convened, Duterte noted that: “Like the act of Bayanihan, let us continue to value education as a shared duty.”
The Philippines is this year’s conference host and will hold the post of president of the SEAMEC which is the highest policy-making body of SEAMEO.