Amid a heightened focus on the education and protection of young children, ASEAN has convened a crucial policy dialogue attended by Education Ministers from member countries.

Held over two days from July 26 to 27 in Jakarta, Indonesia, the goal of this dialogue was to underscore the significance of comprehensive development for young children at both national and regional levels.

A compelling testament to this commitment was the issue of a statement highlighting the resolve to increase investment and cooperation in this sphere.

ASEAN’s 2023 chair, Indonesia, facilitated the event that drew significant participation from all member countries.

Oum Romney, the secretary of state of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, represented Cambodia with a delegation from the ministry, confirming the ministry’s announcement.

The dialogue aimed to achieve three objectives: first, to highlight the critical importance of early childhood education and the need for parental guidance; second, to facilitate the sharing of experiences among policy makers, researchers and stakeholders within ASEAN and on an international level; and finally, to enable in-depth discussions about relevant policies across ASEAN member nations.

Romney presented six key strategies that form the basis of Cambodian national policy on the protection and development of young children.

His recommendations spanned areas such as: the provision of care services for pregnant women alongside health education and nutrition; offering young children regular health check-ups, vaccination, adequate nutrition and early education; ensuring every child is ready for school at six; training early childhood caregivers, parents, and guardians; promoting collaboration among all stakeholders; and enhancing healthcare and nutrition services for young children from birth to three years old.

An outcome of this meeting was the issuance of a joint statement by the ASEAN ministers of education.

This marked a strong commitment to the protection and education of young children in Southeast Asia, echoing the need for greater investment and cooperation at both national and ASEAN levels to ensure the holistic development of children.

Reflecting on the importance of this topic, Chhort Bunthong, head of the Culture, Education and Tourism Relations Department at the Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC), expressed his belief that nurturing children forms the bedrock of human resource development. He emphasised that potential youth originate from potential children.

“In order for the human resources of society to be healthy, fully capable, moral and virtuous, we need to care for the child and start with their health and knowledge progress,” he remarked.

This articulates the shared vision of providing a wholesome environment for children to thrive, at the heart of this pivotal ASEAN dialogue.

Bunthong further stressed the importance of considering a child’s development from conception, requiring attention to maternal health and family upbringing.

This comprehensive approach, he argued, should be facilitated by the society and involves early education within families and communities.

Reflecting on the situation in Cambodia, Bunthong acknowledged the efforts being made at a national level. These include ensuring the well-being of pregnant women and providing education for kindergarten and lower high school children. He conceded there were areas of shortfall but remained optimistic.

“Cambodia, like its ASEAN counterparts, will heighten its focus in this area and create policies backed by detailed studies,” Bunthong stated.

He underscored, “This is to ensure the future capacity of ASEAN youth, who grow from childhood, is enhanced”.

His statement reinforces the collective determination to foster an environment conducive to nurturing children into capable youth.