Bismillah-ah-rahman-ah-raheem,

Mr. Secretary General,

Distinguished Ministers and Delegates,

Assalaamu Alaikum and a very Good Morning,

 

Let me welcome you all to the Maldives. This is a country where education thrives; where seeking knowledge is a priority, from the young child to the elderly adult.

Excellencies;

I am truly delighted to be here today, to inaugurate the third meeting of SAARC Ministers of Education/Higher Education.

As everywhere in the world, our people no matter where they are, have always strived to achieve their fundamental rights and freedoms.  Our peace-loving people want social cohesion; to ensure rule of law; to explore economic opportunities; and sustain a decent life; to live in dignity.

 

Education is no doubt, the most powerful means to eradicate poverty. It is the most effective tool to unleash the potential for growth and development in the region. I strongly believe that South Asia as a region has witnessed remarkable progress in terms of education in the past two decades. We have increased our school enrolment percentages; we have reached near universalization of primary education; we have raised the numbers of student population that achieve excellence. We have seen our girls and young women compete equally in schools and universities. We have also seen a reduction in the out-of-school adolescents. In short, we have made successful interventions to address challenges to access to primary, secondary and tertiary education. We have made huge strides to ensure that the gates of education and knowledge is open to one and all, without discrimination.

 

Since the inception of SAARC, we have always collaborated for the promotion of literacy and universalization of primary education,. Further, the establishment of South Asian University - an international university sponsored by all SAARC countries, is considered a remarkable achievement. The regional networks of Heads of University Grants Commission and Equivalent Bodies have long provided a platform for sharing experiences in the field of higher education. As the region takes on the new challenge of implementing Education 2030, these initial efforts will provide important insights and lessons.

 

While we celebrate the successes we have achieved, unfortunately statistics depict that progress has stalled significantly in the past few years. Many governments continue to struggle to reach the most deprived and hard-to-reach populations, and large numbers of children still remain out of school. 

 

Excellencies, Ladies, and Gentlemen,

Our region has made many significant strides in the past few decades. However, the tasks ahead are many, and challenging.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Education 2030 Framework for Action recognize the significance of the regional dimension in the implementation of SDGs, including SDG4.

The 2030 Agenda also recognizes that gender equality is a pre-requisite for progress. However, we still witness gender disparity in primary education enrolment in some countries in the region. The disadvantage for girls in particular, is acute in some countries while extreme in others. As we take steps forward in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, an integrated approach to the advancement of women must be adopted. Women should be encouraged to reach their full potential with the same opportunities as their gender counterparts. Let me add here that we in the Maldives recognize with pride that our first teachers are our mothers. We owe our women deep respect for lighting the candle of learning in us in our early years.

Excellencies; we must recognize the urgent need to fast-track efforts in the national and international arena to guarantee that gender equality is achieved, not only within the region but everywhere around the world. Empowering women will create a generation where everyone is empowered.

 

Excellencies, Ladies, and Gentlemen

The current Administration in the Maldives places the utmost importance on the provision of education. We believe that education is essential to attain the knowledge and skill sets to fully participate and contribute to the country’s economic and social development. Inclusive education policies that start from primary school age and equal opportunities for girls and boys have resulted in over 98 percent of school enrolment. Since assuming office last November, President Solih’s administration has already fulfilled a number of pledges to improve the education sector in the country. In this regard, I note the policiesincluding free education until first degree at university, increasing the number of scholarships and facilitating low interest student loans for higher education, as well as increased emphasis on vocational education.

The Maldives, as a country with a young population, will continue to invest heavily in the academic future of our children and youth, and we hope to contribute to change the status quo of the region.

 

Excellencies, Ladies, and Gentlemen,

To reach our desired destination, we are in dire need of consolidated efforts from all our members. The SAARC region has always been regarded as a region of great wealth and extraordinary potential. However, SAARC must become more dynamic, more forward-looking and strategic. We owe it to the people of this region. We owe it to the children of this region; for keeping up their hopes alive; for their future.

 

Hence, a new dawn for South Asia’s development is not only desirable, but a necessity. It is also attainable. What our region needs is political commitment, to achieve our ambitious targets for the 2030 Agenda, both nationally and regionally. It is time for SAARC Member States to embrace the concept of regionalism fully and irrevocably.

Excellencies;

You are tasked with the huge responsibility for shaping the hearts and minds of our future generation. Our schools are the incubators from which emerges citizens who will become the leaders of our countries. It is imperative that this generation, who is promised so much, yet face so much fear and uncertainties, emerge as responsible and responsive citizens who respect diversity and practice tolerance of those who may be different, thus equipping them with a mindset that is more compassionate and humane in their treatment and interaction of their fellow human beings.

Let me end my remarks by wishing you a fruitful and successful meeting, and a wonderful stay in the Maldives.

Thank you!