Education is one of the sectors that has been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 crisis due to the closure of the educational institutions as a result of the restriction measures imposed by governments across the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a massive shift away from learning and teaching in traditional settings with physical interactions. According to the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization, “to safeguard the right to education under the extraordinary circumstances created by the pandemic, and to facilitate the levels of trust necessary for global collaboration in mobilizing resources to support the universal right to education”, all education stakeholders must monitor that education resources are used for the sole purpose of advancing the interests and capabilities of learners.

The Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) is committed to safeguarding education in the post-COVID era. On November 20, 2020, the Eleventh ASEAN Education Ministers Meeting (ASED) was convened online. Themed “Transforming Education the ASEAN Way: Forging Partnerships in the Age of Global Disruptions,” the meeting highlighted the exchange of national experiences in grappling with COVID-19 related challenges amongst the ASEAN Education Ministers. The Director-General of the Philippines’ Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Isidro S. Lapeña chaired the 11th ASED on behalf of ASED Chair Leonor Magtolis Briones, Secretary of Education of the Philippines.

In his statement, Secretary-General of ASEAN Dato Lim Jock Hoi said, “despite this crisis, education cannot wait. Education simply cannot stop, particularly for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds who may fall even further behind.’’. ‘’The COVID-19 pandemic likewise serves as a reminder to bolster our education systems, with a view to empowering our learners with the skills and competencies to make them resilient and future-ready. Should they ever have to face another shock of this scale, they will be prepared,” he added.

The ASEAN Education Ministers reaffirmed the commitments made during the ASEAN-UNICEF Conference on Digital Transformation of Education Systems throughout ASEAN held in October 2020. The conference highlighted the significance of the linkages between and among access to digital technologies, computerized proficiency, adaptable aptitudes, inclusion and equity, public-private sector associations, the role of children and youth, and the potential of work in the digital transformation of education frameworks. It took conscious of varying degrees by which education has been digitalized among the ASEAN Member States and the need to incorporate information and communications technology (ICT) in education.

ASEAN Education Ministers stated that the theme of the meeting holds particular significance, at a time when the region’s education systems are grappling with the severe disruptions caused by COVID-19. They pledged to build and strengthen partnerships at all levels and with all relevant stakeholders. The leaders concurred that education was the key to the region’s post-pandemic recovery. To this end, they expressed their support for the implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, which was adopted by the 37th ASEAN Summit. One of the objectives of the ACRF is promoting human capital development, including promoting digital skills and literacy and 21st Century skills in basic education, TVET, and higher education, and reskilling and upskilling for employment, including digital skills and creating job opportunity.

The ASEAN Education Ministers commended the adoption of the ASEAN Declaration on Human Resources Development for the Changing World of Work by the 36th ASEAN Summit in June 2020 which provides guidance in promoting 21st Century skills, lifelong learning, use of technology and multi-stakeholder partnerships.

The ASEAN Education Ministers noted with satisfaction the successful completion of the ASEAN Work Plan on Education 2016-2020 and appreciated the continued support of partners and ASEAN entities in implementing the education sector’s projects and activities in the past five years. The Education Ministers agreed to meet again in 2022 at the Twelfth ASEAN Education Ministers Meeting under the Chairmanship of Viet Nam.

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