Even though there is tremendous progress in education standards in Southeast Asia over the last four decades, education quality and access remain major issues that need to be adequately addressed.
This was one of many insights shared by The HEAD Foundation’s (THF) Academic Director Professor S Gopinathan in an interview conducted by the organisers of the Southeast Asian Movement (SEAM) Conference, in which Professor Gopinathan was on the policy memo judging panel.
SEAMConference was held at the National University of Singapore (NUS) from 27 to 30 May 2016.
Professor Gopinathan discussed at length various issues in education, including ways that governments can tackle problems of educational standards and whether Singapore can be a model for ASEAN countries to learn from.
On the topic of which skills Southeast Asian youths need to equip themselves for the future, he acknowledged that this was a consideration not just for the region, but for the world as a whole, given the extent of change brought about by globalisation. Moreover, Prof Gopinathan added, with an increase in educational attainment at present, the possession of knowledge alone was insufficient.
“The question is not what you know, the question is what can you do with what you know. And what you know is no longer relevant … do you have a capacity to learn anew? This question of ‘lifelong learning’ is a phrase that is often bandied about, but I think it is going to be a reality,” said Professor Gopinathan.
Thus, to learn and enjoy learning requires a mentality and mind-set that goes beyond completing homework and handing up assignments on time. Youths need to be curious in pursuing ideas and knowledge well outside the confines of what textbooks can provide.
The interview was conducted on the side-lines of the SEAMConference, which brought together over a hundred high school and college students from ten Southeast Asian nations. The SEAMConference was jointly organized by the NUS University Scholars Club and the Yale Student Southeast Asian Movement. As one of two sponsors for SEAMConference 2016, THF also acted as an advisor to the organising committee.
Students formulated policy memos over the last three days to address various themes concerning Southeast Asia in building a cohesive and unique ASEAN identity.
At the closing ceremony, the Guest of Honour, Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth) Baey Yam Keng congratulated the participants for their creativity and enthusiasm, and highlighted their importance in an increasingly complex and interconnected global community threatened by ideological divide.
“We need our youth to look beyond themselves, see the needs of the communities and work together to build a stronger and more cohesive ASEAN,” said Mr. Baey.