Asia-Pacific Policy-Makers Target ‘Innovative, Inclusive’ Early Childhood Care and Education as Regional Forum Opens in Malaysia
PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA 19 JULY, 2016 – Despite extensive research proving that early childhood care and education is the best investment countries can make in the future of their children and their societies, ECCE is too often undervalued and under-resourced in Asia-Pacific.
Sharing innovative approaches to address this disparity and creating a framework to guide the development of equitable, quality ECCE in Asia-Pacific over the next 15 years is the aim of a three-day high-level policy forum that opened here today.
The “Asia-Pacific Regional Policy Forum on Early Childhood Care and Education: The Transformative Power of Early Childhood: Innovations for Inclusivity and Quality” is the first high-level policy meeting focusing on ECCE to be held since United Nations Member States agreed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Improving ECCE is the aim of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 4.2: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.”
The regional policy forum brings together ministers and vice-ministers overseeing education as well as other policy-level delegates from 35 countries. They will join representatives from UN agencies, NGOs, bilateral cooperation agencies, intergovernmental organizations and donors engaged in ECCE at the forum, which is organized by UNESCO, UNICEF, the Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) and the Malaysian Ministry of Education.
The forum will spotlight innovations in areas such as financing and partnerships to increase investment in ECCE; improving coordination mechanisms to promote holistic development; and teaching approaches and human resource development to improve ECCE.
UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General (ADG) for Education Qian Tang spoke in his opening remarks of the far-reaching potential impact quality ECCE can have, from providing security and routine to young victims in post-disaster settings to reaching ethnic minority children through mother-tongue based multilingual education programs.
"There is no better place to set sustainable development on track than the first years of a child's life," Mr Tang said, noting that while Asia-Pacific has made great strides in improving the quality and accessibility of ECCE, more needs to be done.
"Opportunities to benefit from ECCE are, unfortunately, unequally distributed in this region. In addition, low quality of ECCE provision is hampering its potential as a true and effective game changer," he said. "We need to work together to harness the transformative power of early childhood and turn the 2030 agenda's vision of a better world into a reality."
In his opening remarks, Malaysian Education Minister Dato' Seri Mahdzir bin Khalid referred to the "universal involvement" required to advance the "universal principle" of delivering education.
"We are here today because of our serious commitment in our efforts to continuously improve the quality of ECCE services in our respective countries," he said. "Our main responsibility in fulfilling the Education Agenda is to implement systemic action plans within our own countries and at the regional level to facilitate the effective translation of sustainable development policies into concrete actions in the various member states."
The opening day's keynote address was delivered by Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor, Patron of PERMATA, an organization heavily focused on children’s education, and the wife of Prime Minister Dato' Sri Haji Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak.
"It is our collective responsibility as parents, guardians, NGOs, governments, and citizens of the world to develop and nurture the children from the earliest age possible. We owe it to them to lay the foundation for empowering them to take on the challenges that are familiar to us now, as well as the possible complexities of tomorrow," she said.
"Today's children in the next generation will be leaders... Their success will be determined by how well we have nurtured the enormous and invaluable potential inherent in them from childhood. They are the most potent symbol of any country's ambitious march towards peace and prosperity."
Eleven ministers and 10 vice ministers responsible for education are attending the forum.
The conference is expected to conclude on Thursday with the proclamation of the “Putrajaya Declaration” which will provide guidelines for the development of ECCE policy in Asia-Pacific as well as commitments from signatory countries towards concrete goals to advance this agenda.
The Putrajaya meeting follows the first regional policy forum on ECCE held in Seoul, Republic of Korea in 2013, as well as last year’s World Education Forum in Incheon, Republic of Korea.
The forum is supported by financial contributions from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology; the Ministry of Strategy and Finance of the Republic of Korea, and the Open Society Foundation.
UNESCO: Noel Boivin, Media and Communications Officer, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ARNEC: Silke Friesendorf, Communications Manager, email: email@example.com
For more on the forum, please visit: http://bangkok.unesco.org/content/asia-pacific-regional-policy-forum-ecce-19-21-july-2016-putrajaya-malaysia
Updates will also be posted on UNESCO Bangkok’s social media channels