Opening Speech 17th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (17CCEM) Education in the Commonwealth : Towards and Beyond Global Goals & Targets

By Tuesday June 16th, 2009 No Comments

ON 16TH JUNE 2009 (TUESDAY), AT 9.00 A.M.,


“Surpassing expectations, Optimizing potentials”

Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh and good morning.

Your Excellency Mr. Nahas Angula,
Prime Minister of Namibia,

Your Excellency Mr. Jim Marurai,
Prime Minister of the Cook Islands,

The Honourable Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin,
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Malaysia,

The Honourable Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin,
Minister of Higher Education Malaysia and co-organiser of the 17th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers,

Your Excellency Mr. Kamalesh Sharma,
Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and Madame Babli Sharma,

Honourable Ministers,

Your Excellencies Ambassadors and High Commissioners, Heads of Delegations,

Senior Officials, Distinguished Guests, Officials of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Delegates,

Members of the Media,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

1. First and foremost I would like to bid a warm and heartfelt Selamat Datang or Welcome to Malaysia to all distinguished delegates and participants of the 17th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM).

2. Today, I feel privileged and honoured to be able to stand before the assembled engineers of human capital of the Commonwealth and speak on a subject close to all of our hearts that of education. The role of education as a transformational tool in moulding and determining the destiny of nations can be found etched in the annals’ of history. It goes without saying that the fate and future of our respective nations depends upon how well we go about in tackling this most important of tasks. The struggle for a more hopeful future for generations to come ultimately will be won or lost in our classrooms of today.
3. We in Malaysia view education as a very important agenda and priority a platform to optimise the potential of every citizen and put within reach the promise of the Malaysian dream. Towards this end more than a fifth of our budget annually is geared towards education and the development of human capital. In the 2009 budget for instance RM 47.7 Billion or 23 percent is put aside for this purpose. The bulk of this figure RM 31 Billion is allocated for the Ministry of Education with another RM 14.1 Billion going to the Ministry of Higher Education. It is the Malaysian Governments’ underlying commitment to provide equal access to quality educational opportunities for all Malaysians notwithstanding their geographical locations or income levels.

4. Malaysia is currently in the midst of formulating a new economic model that will lift Malaysia into the ranks of a high income nation within the decade propelling us from our current station of an upper middle income country. The new economic model will shift our reliance from a manufacturing base dependent on semi skilled and low cost labour to one that hinges on a modern services sector dependent upon skilled and highly paid workers. The new economic model will seek to leverage on inputs such as creativity, innovation, high value add and the entrepreneurial spirit. An Economic Advisory Council have been set up and tasked with turning this vision into reality.

5. I have made the successful formulation and implementation of the new economic model as the central theme of my administration. I realise it will require a major and comprehensive policy overhaul in all fields but it is nevertheless pivotal for Malaysia’s future. The success of the new economic model is dependent largely upon an effective human capital development strategy. This national endeavour will be in nought if our education system fails to produce human capital that can thrive in meeting the challenges of the 21st century innovation economy. Rest assured it shall be the central policy thrust of this government to formulate and execute all necessary strategies and policies to ensure the success of this new economic model.

6. We are also initiating a comprehensive relook at our national curriculum so as to ensure that the elements of creativity, innovation, high value add and entrepreneurial drive that I have mentioned earlier can be integrated at all levels of our schooling system. Another important aspect that we are looking at is the need to produce human capital who can master more than one language or who are multilingual. Advancements in the information, communication and transportation technologies have made this an important imperative as the whole world is now one big potential marketplace for our goods and services, we must take advantage of this situation. In this regard we are eager to share with and learn from the experience of fellow Commonwealth members.

7. It is apt that the theme for this 17CCEM is Education in the Commonwealth: Towards and beyond global goals and targets. This theme is a timely reminder of our commitment under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) chiefly to halve poverty, improve education, and combat child mortality by 2015 and meeting the Education for All goals also aspired to be achieved by the same target date. With more than half of the world’s 115 million children without an education residing in the Commonwealth, we must endeavour with an ever greater sense of urgency and commitment to ensure that these goals are realised. Let the promise be accessible to all and that no child is left behind.

8. Currently these challenges are compounded by the global economic turmoil. In a borderless and interdependent world no country is free from the effects of the downturn. Indeed, there are few international meetings nowadays where the global economic crisis is not felt and discussed. I am sure this conference is no different.

9. The impact of the crises on education has been, and will continue to be, intense and severe. The economic crisis has increased competition for the scant public funds available. Plans for educational initiatives that were formulated in better economic times have been put on hold. Severe cuts in education will inevitably result in reduced educational opportunity and quality. Experience from previous economic crises indicates that the effects of the economic downturn will be disproportionately felt most among children and young people.

10. All of these factors left unchecked will result in a higher level of poverty in the future, greater level of income inequality and lower capacity for sustainable growth thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of hopelessness and low expectations. For many emerging and developing countries there is a real danger that the economic crisis will reverse their current achievements under the Millennium Development Goals thus far. There are already signs of this reversal.

11. However, the attainment of MDGs and Education for All should not stop at the statistics and logistics. Today, more than ever, the attainment of universal primary education is not just the mere act of sending all our children to school or making sure they have schools to go to. The whole notion of moving beyond global numerical goals and targets means not merely the numbers must add up but the qualitative aspect must also be met. Education thus has to be the engagement and opening of hearts and minds. In this sense, education is transformative and has to be a value-add, not just at the higher levels but right from the early formative years.

12. If education is to have any impact at all, it is pointless to talk about quality education at higher levels if we do not ensure quality at the most basic level, that is, from preschool. As the Chinese saying goes, to build a house you have to start from the foundation. Here I am proud that my wife is an advocate of early childhood education and has helped in initiating a nation-wide early childhood programme PERMATA.

13. In fact, early in my term as Education Minister I included preschool as part of the national curriculum and mandated all kindergartens to follow curriculum guidelines provided by the Ministry of Education. It is indeed unfortunate that in many countries early childhood care and education programmes have been given scarce policy attention, despite the known fact that children at ages 1-5 stand to gain most in terms of health, nutrition and cognitive development.

14. Education is seen as the engine of economic advancement and social mobility. The never ending quest to gain a competitive advantage has led many countries to focus on education as the panacea for strengthening competitiveness, employment and social cohesion. Indeed this is an inevitable consequence of increasing complexity of the global economy and rapid technological advancement.

15. To survive and compete in these trying times, we must leverage our creativity and innovativeness to provide that critical difference. It is no longer enough being ordinary in a highly competitive innovation economy we must move beyond the ordinary and strive for excellence. In a scenario such as this, teaching has never before been as challenging. Opening the doors to creativity and to innovation demand that teachers take on new and different roles, deploying innovative pedagogies.

16. The sage on stage must give way to the facilitator by the side. The instructor must become the coach. From being mere purveyors of knowledge, teachers must become the sculptors who mould individuals into wholesome beings who possess positive values in addition to the knowledge and skills required in this new world. For this to take place, schools and teachers must provide a safe and comfortable environment for our children to develop.

17. The post-9/11 world is a dangerous place, while global peace remains a universal goal pursued by all; the current trajectory of global discourse seems to be on wrong side of history. Being in perpetual conflict and turmoil serves no purpose except for the benefit of a few with a perverted vision of the world and who are bent on forcing their own version of reality upon all of humanity. Therefore I am happy to note that in President Barrack Obama’s’ defining Cairo speech he managed to addressed the heart of the issue;

“It’s easier to start wars than to end them. It’s easier to blame others than to look inward. It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path….”

18. Hence, in the Commonwealth we have the opportunity to be not mere observers but active participants in building a better world. We can and should show the way forward as the Commonwealth is a successful showcase of peaceful coexistence and what can be achieved if only we are willing to work together based on mutual respect and mutual benefit.

19. This conference is aptly held as we partake in the celebrations of the sixtieth anniversary of this august organization. Time may have passed and circumstances may have changed for the 53 member states from the time when we first choose to join this fraternity of nations but sixty years on for most if not all of us the Commonwealth is still if not more relevant as we end the first decade of the 21st century. The Commonwealth has been able to withstand the test of time because its’ espoused values of diversity, liberty, hope, social justice and a sense of fair play is universal in nature and represents the best yearning of humanity. It is these timeless values that bind 2 billion people representing 30% of humanity in a covenant of hope and opportunity.

20. That Malaysia has benefitted from its’ membership is beyond doubt. The English Language, the common law tradition, the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy, an effective bureaucracy and a reverence for learning are some of the common wealth that we are fortunate to inherit.

21. Furthermore, as a multicultural and multiethnic nation, we are particularly sensitive to the need to maintain peace and harmony. We believed peace and unity could be attained through acceptance, shared values and social justice. These values have long been imbued in the philosophy that has guided us through our 50-odd year history as a nation.

22. It is for this reason that upon assuming office as Prime Minister, I introduced the 1 Malaysia concept in continuing my predecessor quest for national unity and national cohesion. The most important tenet of this concept seeks a major paradigm shift in the state of race relations in Malaysia a migration from mere tolerance of our differences to unconditional acceptance based on mutual respect. We need to accept and celebrate our differences as it adds colour, diversity and vibrancy to our country. We must recognize that our diversity is our greatest strength and we must leverage it for the benefit of our nation.

23. I would like now to consider the subject of globalization, a subject that is unavoidable in any discussion today. The notion of globalization is capable of evoking very strong responses. Some of us reject and refuse to accept the phenomenon. Others try to understand and accept it, while there are still others who completely embrace the idea of globalization, associating it with all that is good and progressive in this new century’s socio-cultural and educational space.

24. Whatever our response, we cannot deny the effects of globalization on our development, on our consciousness, and in the context of this conference, its effects on our education systems. Globalization offers both threats and opportunities. We need to recognize and exploit the opportunities, while at the same time being mindful of the threats since those marginalized by globalization are often the least equipped to have their voices heard.

25. Various elements have been identified as the hallmarks of globalization. I would like to focus on just one – the unprecedented explosion of knowledge. The globalized world is marked by the unprecedented emergence and dissemination of information and knowledge, much of it in a digitized format. Research and development is now exceeding capital investment in plant and machinery. The entrepreneurial corporation is now being transformed from a place for production to a place for knowledge creation. The role of knowledge in all human activities is now so critical that even the concepts of development and progress are being redefined in terms of the capacity to generate, acquire, disseminate and utilize knowledge.

26. The presence or absence of this capacity for knowledge creation is the single defining factor that distinguishes between rich and poor nations, between those parts of the world in which individuals have the potential to decide and act with autonomy, and those in which people are not yet empowered to realize their full potential. This new paradigm centred on knowledge creation and utilization is creating new challenges for developing countries’ efforts to mobilize science and technology to improve lives of their citizenry. It has become increasingly evident that without at least a minimum level of science and technology capabilities and access to knowledge and information, developing countries cannot expect to improve significantly their standards of living.

27. The key to unlocking the potentials of this new paradigm of knowledge is education. The success of an education system will be measured by the extent to which education professionals are able to re-structure and re-programme that system to develop a knowledge-based economy. The intellectual capital that the education system generates will determine the economic success of the country or the region. The pace of technological change will require that people be well trained even for entry-level jobs and that they be retrained continuously. In the future, jobs will require fairly sophisticated intellectual abilities – the ability to think abstractly and analytically and to make judgments based on those skills.

28. It is clear therefore that there is a need for us to upgrade the quality of our educational systems, preschool through graduate and professional schools. We need to consider how learning modes and learning technologies can be harnessed to produce a workforce that has the linguistic, scientific and technical literacies to generate and apply knowledge effectively in order to competitively turn out ever more sophisticated goods and services. This is a key requirement for the innovation economy. The quality of education is thus directly related to the strength of the economy. The challenge for this conference is to offer concrete and workable proposals and programmes to upgrade the quality of our workforce. I would like to suggest that this conference consider the possibility of establishing an expert working group that can assist member countries that might encounter challenges in achieving the MDG and Education for All goals.

29. I believe that it is important for this Conference to not only forge solutions to the more overt and visible impacts of the economic crisis such as reduced funding for education, but to also consider ways and means of addressing the less overt and visible impacts that I have just outlined. We must prioritize efforts to alleviate the impact of the crisis on availability of opportunities for quality education among women, children and young people. We need strategies and solutions that will enable us to reclaim this lost ground by using the reduced economic resources available to us with the greatest efficiency, effectiveness and efficacy.

30. In the final analysis education must continue to be the harbinger, agent and custodian of change and transformation. That, admittedly, is a tall order. As policymakers and educators we cannot shirk from this responsibility we could not afford to take the path of least resistance or of expediency over doing what is right even though it is hard, for our nations’ very future depends on our decisions, commitment and determination.

In conclusion, on top of everything our journey in education is paramountly about surpassing expectation and optimizing potentials. On that note, it is with great pleasure that I declare this conference officially in session.

Wabillahi Taufiq Walhidayah Wassalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh. Thank you. Ministry, including

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