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ASEAN: Towards a people-oriented, people-centred community

The ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community seeks to improve the well-being, livelihood and welfare of the people.

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Brunei's Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Aminuddin Ihsan (second from left), with senior officials from ASEAN Member States and student liaison officers from Singapore at Our Tampines Hub.

AS ASEAN pushes for greater integration in the political, security and economic sectors, its leaders have also actively sought to foster a close-knit ASEAN Community which is people-oriented, people-centred, environmentally friendly and geared towards sustainable development.

The ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) seeks to improve the well-being, livelihood and welfare of the ASEAN people.

As the people's pillar, the ASCC pursues goals and addresses issues related to various sectors such as culture and information, environment and disaster management, health and disabilities, youth, sports and education, women and children, labour, civil service and social welfare.

As chair, Singapore hosted two ASCC Council Meetings and organised two ASCC Ministerial Retreats this year.

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CULTURE OF PREVENTION

The inaugural ASCC Council Retreat held in March 2018 discussed a strategic direction for the development of a culture of prevention in ASEAN.

Singapore's Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee called on ASEAN Member States (AMS) to look into upstream measures and preventive policies to develop peaceful, inclusive, resilient, healthy and harmonious societies in our region.

An example of preventive policy in Singapore is the use of education as a social enabler.

To ensure that every child has access to quality education and can get off to a good start in life, regardless of family background, the Singapore government has made major investments in preschool education and the national school system. These include improving the accessibility, affordability and quality of preschool education, providing levelling-up academic programmes for students who do not have basic English literacy and numeracy skills, and introducing SkillsFuture to provide opportunities for working adults to stay relevant amid economic and technological disruption.

Indonesia which is doing its part to support the culture of prevention, organised the ASEAN Youth Interfaith Camp (AYIC) in 2017. The objective of the AYIC was to offer a degree of understanding about the tradition and culture of dialogue and tolerance in Indonesia, and was one of the concrete implementations of inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogues that Indonesia had initiated and conducted with various countries, both in bilateral and regional frameworks.

Also calling on ASEAN to do more to build a culture of prevention, ASCC Council vice-chair and Thailand's Minister of Social Development and Human Security, Anantaporn Kanjanarat added that "a regional plan of action should be developed to mainstream a culture of prevention in the work plans of relevant ASEAN sectoral bodies".

The ASCC Council also directed the formation of a senior officials working group to work on the regional plan of action, to identify a set of core values for the culture of prevention and to share best practices among the 10 AMS.

ASEAN ENABLING MASTERPLAN 2025

To build a more inclusive ASEAN, ASCC Council Ministers also provided strategic directions for the "ASEAN Enabling Masterplan 2025" at the second ASCC Ministerial Retreat on Oct 3.

The key action points in all three ASEAN Community pillars of the Masterplan seek to empower and enable persons with disabilities in all aspects of their lives. These include areas like healthcare, education, employment, entrepreneurship, welfare and seamless connectivity and accessibility which will benefit a much larger ageing population of ASEAN in the near future.

As the Enabling Masterplan 2025 demonstrates ASEAN's continued commitment to the well-being of persons with disabilities, Malaysia's Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mohamaddin bin Ketapi said that ASEAN "should provide avenues and means for persons with disabilities to reach their full potential and contribute towards social and economic development".

Beyond enabling persons with disabilities, Brunei's Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Aminuddin Ihsan called for AMS to regard persons with disabilities as valuable assets by "showcasing the contributions and roles played by persons with disabilities in the development of the nation" and "how some of them are already giving back to the community, to their country and ultimately to ASEAN".

MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS

Key developments in the socio-cultural pillar under the Singapore Chairmanship in 2018 include initiatives for youth, arts and culture, disaster management and the environment, education, health, information and the civil service.

Education

Education is a priority for the ASCC pillar as it empowers the people of ASEAN. Higher education serves as a catalyst in accelerating the economic, political and socio-cultural development agenda.

ASEAN also prioritises the promotion of quality technical and vocational education and training. ASEAN has made improvements in the education sector over the years.

The enrolment rates for basic education in member states are over 90 per cent. Enrolment rates for tertiary education for those aged 18-23 years in member states have increased from 18.25 per cent in 1990 to 36.1 per cent in 2016.

Singapore hosted ASEAN participants at a Workshop on Leadership for Innovation during the International Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology in June.

Forty undergraduates from ASEAN and China took part in the Youth Track@Future China Global Forum in August. They visited the Nanyang Technological University's Innovation Centre and met Education Minister Ong Ye Kung.

Health

The ASCC pillar also takes the lead in promoting a healthy and caring ASEAN community, where the peoples of ASEAN can achieve maximal health potential through healthy lifestyles; a safe and resilient health system that is responsive to emerging health threats; improved access to quality care; and a safe food and health diet.

Singapore led the development of the ASEAN Plus Three Joint Statement on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) to help deepen cooperation to combat AMR.

Given the experience of ASEAN Plus Three counterparts in managing AMR, their contributions to the discussions on AMR will be useful for ASEAN. AMR directly impacts health outcomes as it increases morbidity, mortality and healthcare costs.

Information

ASEAN is experiencing technological change at a rapid pace. Among the benefits of digitalisation, social media has allowed us to connect, join communities, and share information.

However, it can also be used to spread false information, which can be detrimental to culturally-diverse regions such as ASEAN.

As we embrace information technology, we seek to encourage responsible online behaviour and critical consumption of information.

Singapore led the development of a set of Core Values on Digital Literacy for ASEAN, which was adopted by the ASEAN Ministers Responsible for Information (AMRI) in May.

The core values will promote digital literacy and cyber wellness in the region, and serve as a guide for online etiquette while promoting socially responsible online behaviour. These core values were inspired by media literacy values promoted by Singapore's Media Literacy Council to address risky and uncivil behaviours and inaccurate or extremist information online.

Singapore also advocated for a Framework and Joint Declaration to Minimise the Harmful Effects of Fake News, which outlined broad strategies for member states to tackle the growing problem of fake news.

Guided by the framework, which was adopted by AMRI in May, Singapore held an ASEAN workshop on strategies to combat fake news in June 2018.

Civil service

The establishment of the ASEAN Network of Public Service Training Institutes will foster closer cooperation and exchanges among training institutes across ASEAN civil services.

The network will collectively promote best practices, strengthen training capabilities and enhance our learning and development competencies.

This will ensure that ASEAN civil services can continuously transform themselves to overcome emerging challenges and harness new opportunities to better serve our citizens.

  • The writer is senior director of international relations at the Ministry of Social and Family Development.