Quality Education for ALL: Achieving 21st Century Competencies and Skills

Lima, Peru, 11 June 2008
  • Remarks by Ambassador Juan Carlos Capuñay, Executive Director, APEC Secretariat
I would like to thank the Minister of Education Mr. Jose Antonio Chang for inviting me to share with you the importance of education as a tool for development and its importance in strengthening our economies.
APEC Peru has committed to the adoption of a social perspective in implementing the APEC agenda. We know that by considering those sectors of society which have traditionally been marginalized, we will improve the regional economic capacity and this will lead to an improved quality of life for all of us.
This is particularly true with regard to education. Those economies who invest the greatest percentage of their national budget in education experience the highest GDPs. A strong educational system serves to promote talent and contributes to steady economic growth.
Similarly, aware that education leads inevitably to health and prosperity, the United Nations has included education in the Millennium Development Goals - a blueprint of the world's leading development agencies, aimed to bring an end to poverty. Evidence shows that educated communities are less susceptible to disease and better nourished. Women who are literate are less likely to suffer physical abuse. And economic opportunities are more readily available to those who have received a formal education.
In the time since APEC's inception, the global landscape has changed dramatically: the world's financial system has been shaken by the rapid fluctuations of a traditionally stable currency; the energy market has been impacted by the sharp increase in the price of oil; the consequences of climate change can be seen throughout the world and the global food supply has reached a critical stage.
At the same time, no challenge is without the possibility of solution. Rapid change has come to define modernity. There is a common saying that: "The only thing you can depend on is that there is nothing you can depend on." For some, this phrase describes a life of excitement - unanticipated developments and achievements.
Imagine that in 1990, an average of only 0.6 percent of those living in APEC member economies used cellular phones and that only 0.08 percent used the internet. Within a space of 15 years, those figures jumped to 55 percent and 30 percent, respectively. Among the most developed APEC economies, cellular phone subscriptions have reached well over 83 percent and internet use over 44 percent. Connectivity - convenience - has become the norm.
But change has not been experienced in equally rewarding ways. Developing economies have only a 22 percent rate of cellular subscription and as little as 8 percent internet use.
Can we be sure that this is correlative to education rates? Not necessarily. But we do know for certain that: Governments whose investment in education is greatest sees the highest rate of enrolment in fields related to science and technology. We do know for certain that the economies with the lowest rates of youth literacy also have the lowest rates of connectivity. We do know that to the extent that challenges arise quickly, so too do the innovations with which they are met. And those who are prepared to meet challenges will enjoy tremendous opportunity.
This is why APEC Peru 2008 has been diligent in its commitment to a social perspective. In fact, in the context of globalization, it is only through the adoption of a social perspective that APEC will be able to achieve its objectives. Success in this globalized world is predicated on education and ICT knowledge, and successful knowledge-based economies will be those which are based on the efficient and wide-spread use of ICT by all sectors.
The digital divide is an enormous impediment to the ability of the people in the Asia-Pacific region as they seek to participate in and benefit from the global economy. Access to internet, adequate infrastructure, appropriate policies on ICT and human capacity building are central issues in addressing the digital divide.
At the third APEC Education Ministerial Meeting in Chile in 2004, Ministers defined four priority areas for future activities: teaching English and other foreign languages; stimulating learning in mathematics and science, using technology for teaching and learning; and governance and systematic reform in education.
At the same meeting, a number of factors were considered as challenges to the achievement of these priorities. These factors have been addressed through the Human Resources Development (HRD) working group through EDNET as it endeavors to raise the standards of English and other languages, e-learning, innovative ways to teach mathematics, and to evaluate educational planning.
We do not consider education as an end in itself, but as a starting point for a successful adulthood, sound business and a healthy economy. To this end, we consider the relationship of education and the ability of small to medium enterprises to compete globally. SMEs make up 98 percent of all enterprises in the region and employ as much as 65 percent of the workforce in the region. They are flexible and can quickly accommodate market demands. They generate local employment opportunities, lead to development, increase community stability and stimulate innovation.
At present, however, SMES account for only about a third of trade and many feel that their participation the global economy is undermined. Through education, small business people are empowered to engage in the international arena and to realize the range of benefits available to them through globalization.
For example, since 1994, intra-APEC trade has doubled to reach US$ 3 trillion. If SMEs are able to fully participate in the global economy, one could safely predict both an increase in intra-APEC trade as well as regional participation in the external marketplace. Greater competition would lead to the provision of better quality goods and services and would push the boundaries for innovation.
This January, in Xi'an China at the 'Education to Achieve 21st Competencies and Skills for All: Respecting the Past to Move Toward the Future' symposium, recommendations focused on math and science, language and learning, career and technical education and ICT and systemic reform. The importance of 21st century skills for students could be embodied in APEC education projects. For example, through an on-line, teacher-led project, students across APEC can join together to work on science projects like an astronomy project comparing each other skies or identifying the source of global warming in their respective economies.  Such projects as these emphasize the 21st century skills of problem solving and team work while concentrating on the content areas of math-science, ICT, and English language learning.
Education is a definitive factor in the ability of people throughout the Asia-Pacific if they are to thrive in a globalized economy and to reap the benefits of free and open trade in 2010 and 2020 for developed and developing economies, respectively.
Our position in tomorrow's economy will be determined by our ability to navigate throughout this continuously transformative landscape. And education will be the single most important tool. By acquiring language skills, developing the ability to think critically and innovatively, expanding ICT skills and adopting the very best practices in education, APEC will achieve its overarching goals of security, stability and prosperity throughout the region. And will contribute to the development of the citizens of the new century.