Interview

promoting the role in SEAMEO in strengthening : Dr. Edilberto C. de Jesus, Director of the SEAMEO Secretariat, Philippines

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Dr. Edilberto C. de Jesus, Director of the SEAMEO Secretariat, assumed office at the start of 2005. Previously, he was the SEAMEO Council President from 2003 to 2004, while he was also the Secretary of the Department of Education in Philippines. The Director is committed to promoting the role in SEAMEO in strengthening education in Asia.

   What is SEAMEO’s mission and priority area of work?

The Charter states that SEAMEO’s mandate is “to promote cooperation among the Southeast Asian nations through education, science and culture in order to further respect forjustice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are the birthrights of the peoples of the world.” In terms of priorities, many member countries are still focused on attaining the EFA and MDG targets within the 2015 deadline, if not sooner.

   What are the most pressing educational challenges facing Thailand at the present time?

In terms of access to elementary education, Thailand is focused on reaching the last 5% to 10% of the school-age population not yet covered by the formal education system. At the same time, like many middle-income countries, it has to cope with the growing demand for post-secondary education, even as it addresses the concern of raising the quality of the educational services it delivers.

   Do you believe new technologies have transformative power for education in developing countries?

Governments in the region are hoping that the progress in ICT will enable their countries improve both access to, as well as quality of, educational services. It certainly makes sense to explore the potential of open and distance learning systems for bringing education to communities in far-flung areas or those rendered less accessible by peace and order problems. ICT can provide powerful learning tools, but governments must invest the resources, not only to purchase the tools, but also to provide the training for their effective use.

   What is SEAMEO’s vision for education in Thailand?

The same as its vision for the other countries of the region: that the educational system provides the human resources it needs for the development of a prosperous, democratic and caring society.

   How has SEAMEO aimed to fulfill the UN Millennium Development Goals particularly in providing ‘Education for All’?

Through its network of 12 Regional Centres, hosted by eight of the Member Countries, SEAMEO can deploy resources at ground level to help ministries of education in the implementation of their EFA/MDG programs. The annual ministerial council meeting provides a forum for policy discussion and and a platform for regional collaboration. A regional perspective helps in uncovering policy inconsistencies, identifying dead-ends and best practices, and disseminating innovative projects.

   What role has SEAMEO played in introducing learning technologies for expanding the quality and reach of education in Thailand?

An example is the SEAMEO Regional Centre Tropical Medicine(TROPMED)’s use of ICT in HIV/AIDS preventive education. This project has two development goals (i) reduce incidence of HIV/AIDS infection among vulnerable age groups, poor and marginalized population groups; and (ii) expand the use of ICT and other multimedia technologies in HIV/AIDS preventive education by building the capacity of teachers, health workers, and other stakeholders in using the technology. The project develops ICT HIV/AIDS learning materials in local languages and delivers ICT-based interventions to isolated, marginalized, and vulnerable populations.

   What have been the goals and achievements of the SEAMEO IT Development Taskforce with respect to education?

The Regional Centres all aspire to expand the use of IT as a tool to achieve learning objectives. The SEAMEO Regional Language Centre in Singapore, for instance, runs the SEAMEO Regional Schools Internet Project. The Project allows students to interact electronically through the web pages they create. Through its web-based learning and interaction programmes, the SEAMEO RELC reinforces the use of English among the participants. RLC also manages a virtual forum for English language teachers and linguists in the region for the exchange of ideas in their field.

   How do you see Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as delivery mechanisms for nonformal education?

The potential is there, but organizing the target participants and developing the delivery system will require a lot of work.

   What is the penetration of e-learning in Thailand?

E-learning has been introduced and implemented at all levels of education in Thailand during this decade to support the formal education system. The Thai government promotes elearning by making available to the schools ICT equipment and facilities. It offers soft loans for staff and students to acquire personal computers and provides tertiary education with the infrastructure for internet networking.

   Globalization is presenting new challenges and opportunities for students and educators. What role is SEAMEO playing in harnessing the opportunities of globalization for education?

The globalization of education, understood as the delivery of learning programs across national boundaries, can help countries meet the rising demand for post-secondary education among their population. To benefit from the availability of cross-border educational programs, governments must establish the quality assurance systems to protect consumers from diploma mill operations.

   What is your view of the growing liberalization of higher education? What is its impact on Thailand?

The Government has established two Open Universities to give both high school and vocational school graduates and working adults a chance to pursue tertiary education. In recent years also, enrollment in private colleges and universities has surged in Thailand and now accounts for about half of the tertiary education sector population.  hailand has also taken major steps towards providing greater autonomy to public institutions of higher learning. These trends will reinforce the need for strong quality assurance systems.

   Last year SEAMEO signed an MOU with Microsoft in 2005. How does SEAMEO see public-private partnership as a means for achieving the National Education goals? Could you elaborate the framework of partnership between SEAMEO and Microsoft?

Governments in the region have come to recognize that their resources are inadequate to meet the growing demand for education at both basic and tertiary levels. The private sector, which needs a steady flow of human talent to staff its operations, has also accepted this reality. It is to the private sector’s interest to help government develop the country’s human resources. A public-private partnership to achieve national education goals works to the benefit of both parties.

Through the web-based Innovative Teachers Network, Microsoft provides to SEAMEO Member Countries a communications platform that enables teachers to work together in the enhancement of their professional skills. The system allows access to networks within their respective   ies and across the globe. In the Partners-in-Learning Programme, Microsoft provides affordable desktop tools and licensing for primary and secondary schools using donated computers and free upgrades, student skills assessment and high quality curriculum for teacher training. The facility the system provides to communicate with students, parents and other stakeholders also help teachers in the performance of their classroom tasks.

   SEAMEO has a strong presence in Southeast   Asian countries. How is SEAMEO strengthening its existing partnerships and exploring new opportunities in these countries?

SEAMEO, through its network of 12 Centres, does have a presence on the ground. The SEAMEO Regional Centres work across all ten of the ASEAN countries. SEAMEO is focusing on regional projects and has been expanding partnerships with international development agencies, such as UNESCO,  NICEF, UNHABITAT, the ADB and the World Bank, that share its concern for the development of education, science and culture in the region. In the last few years, it has also ushed a process to establish closer linkages with ASEAN.

   How has SEAMEO provided regional leadership for human resource development in the field of education?

SEAMEO is in a unique position to provide this regional leadership on education. Only the ministries of education have the structure and organization, maintained successfully over more than 40 years, that potentially allow for intervention at both the policy and project level on a sustained and coordinated basis.

   How would you like to see Thailand with respect to its human resource in2015?

Thailand, by 2015, would have achieved the EFA and MDGtargets, raised the tertiary-level enrollment, and demonstrably improved the quality of educational services in both basic and higher education systems.   

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