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[BANGKOK] Experts on education, meeting this month (5—6 July) in the Thai capital, acknowledged the urgent need to provide students with a curriculum that is balanced, inclusive and compatible with 21st century ideas.

Manssour Bin Mussallam, president of the Education Relief Foundation (ERF) which co-organised the workshop along with the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO), spoke of an “obvious imbalance and neglect of contributions from other regions and other cultures, particularly the narratives in the field of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), in that everything we know and everything modern is based on a certain specific civilisation (mostly from West) and hardly any local contribution, and even fewer from women of what is today the global south.”

“Children are inspired when they learn about the lives and achievements of great scientists and scholars, some of whom came from their own cultures.”

Salim Al-Hassani, Education Relief Foundation


“This has the potential to build unconscious cultural superiority and inferiority complex when it appears that no other cultures (and gender) participated in the building of our present, modern civilisation,” Mussallam tells SciDev.Net.
Salim Al-Hassani, vice-president of the ERF board, said that children are inspired when they learn about the lives and “achievements of great scientists and scholars who were pioneers in building the modern civilisation, some of whom came from their own cultures, and they feel a sense of part ownership of the modern sciences.”  
He adds that children are moved by the lives of these pioneers particularly on the efforts to improve the quality of life of people and the positive attitude towards the environment.   
Mussallam explains that these observations and discussions with various stakeholders have led ERF to propose the four pillars of balanced and inclusive education namely, intraculturalism, transdisciplinary, dialecticism and contextuality.
“These four pillars are components to a solution to the world’s increasingly complex problems,” Mussallam says.
“For instance, we need dialecticism to respond to ever increasing necessity for critical thinking skills from the most local challenge to the most global one,” he says. “The method seeks to enable students to think for themselves by critically engaging with both truth and falsehood in such manner as to develop their capacity to elicit one from the other which becomes very critical in the era of fake news.” “Contextuality is critical because the centralised, industrial model of education is no longer suited to our age. Society no longer requires education to only equip students with the tools necessary to become efficient factory workers or more generally a productive piece in the overall economic machine,” he adds.
Ethel Agnes Valenzuela, SEAMEO deputy director for programmes and development, says that challenges facing the education sector within the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region include resiliency (particularly of teachers and students) in the face of emergencies, quality improvement of teachers and barriers to inclusion such as cultural differences which prevent some marginalised groups from attending school.
An intergovernmental organisation established in 1965, SEAMEO works to promote cooperation in education, science and culture within the region.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.