Hon Alberto Romulo, Executive Secretary of the Office of the President represented H. E. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, President of the Republic of the Philippines at the Opening of the 38th SEAMEO Council Conference, held on 5 March 2003 at the Makati Shangri-La, Philippines.

On behalf of the President, Secretary Romulo delivered the Keynote Address, which emphasized the important role of education in responding to the urgent crisis and common concern to combat terrorism and resolve international conflicts. Education, she said, enables people to liberate themselves from the trap of dogmatism, intolerance and poverty; enhances people’s ability to meet their wants by increasing productivity; contributes to higher and sustained economic growth; and nurtures “humane and upright” young citizens. As the challenge traverses the regional plane, she called on SEAMEO to promote the higher goals of gender equality, reducing infant and child mortality, improving maternal health, universalizing primary education and diminishing, if not eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. She called on SEAMEO to translate the UN Millennium Goals into a SEAMEO Plan of Action and urged ASEAN to recognize the valuable resources and institutional networks of SEAMEO. In closing, she left the Ministers with the important task of articulating educational policies that would best serve the region’s collective interests.

Hosted by the Department of Education, Philippines, the three-day conference was attended by the Ministers of Education and higher education officials from 10 SEAMEO Member Countries (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), representatives from SEAMEO Associate Member Countries (Australia, Canada, France), SEAMEO Regional Centres and international organizations/institutions. The Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports of the Democratic Republic of Timor- Leste attended the meeting for the first time as Observer.

His Excellency Dr Edilberto C de Jesus, Secretary of Education, Philippines succeeded Thailand’s Minister of Education, H.E. Pongpol Adireksarn as SEAMEO Council President and chaired the three-day meeting.

The Plenary Session began with a report by the 37th SEAMEO Council President and the Integrated Report on the annual accomplishments of 15 SEAMEO Centres/units. The SEAMEO Council took note of on-going programmes/projects including:

• Second SEAMEO Education Congress
• Survey on the Visibility of SEAMEO and Effectiveness of Marketing Materials
• IT Development Plan
• Project Connecting Southeast Asia & Europe e-Learning Models-CAE e-LEARN
• SEAMEO-Australia Project on Pre-Service Teacher Training and Teacher Professional Development in the use of ICT in the Teaching of Mathematics and Science
• ICT & HIV/AIDS Preventive Education in the Cross- Border Areas of the Greater Mekong Subregion(GMS)
• Regional Cooperation on Quality and Equity in Education in SEAMEO Member Countries
• NUFFIC Fellowships on Quality Assurance

The Conference also deliberated on and approved a number of future plans and initiatives which included the following:

• Fifth SEAMEO Integrated Operational Plan FY 2003/2004 to FY 2005/2006
• SEAMEO-France Education Quality Improvement Programme (EQUIP) in Southeast Asia
• SEAMEO Service Awards
• SEAMEO-France French Speaking Competition

Bilateral meetings as well as a Policy Forum on “Engaging Communities in Delivering Quality Education” were also held. An MOU was signed between SEAMEO and the Commonwealth of Learning, Canada to strengthen the education and training opportunities in open and distant learning in non-Commonwealth Member Countries of SEAMEO (namely Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand). Likewise, two MOA were signed, with UNESCO on the joint conduct of the SEAMEO-UNESCO 2nd Education Congress; and with the Asian Development Bank on the Implementation of ICT and HIV/Aids Preventive Education in the Cross-Border Areas of the Greater Mekong Subregion.

The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization was established in November 1965 as a chartered international organization whose purpose is to promote cooperation in education, science and culture in the Southeast Asian region. Since its establishment, the Ministers of Education have been meeting annually to take note of the accomplishments of the 15 Regional Centres/units situated all over Southeast Asia, the financial reports, the on-going activities and to approve proposed initiatives and future plans.

The next SEAMEO Council Conference will be hosted by the Government of Brunei Darussalam.