Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.


The world today is vastly different from the world we knew as children. Technological advances, the most dramatic being those related to information and communications technology or ICT have radically and rapidly transformed all aspects of life. E-mailing, e-working, e-learning, e-shopping, e-banking, e-entertainment and all other “e’s”, which were previously unimaginable, have now become a reality in our daily lives.

The impact is greatest on the younger generation so much so that they are called IT-natives, while most of us are IT-migrants and some are IT-aliens. Today, wherever I go I never fail to see children as young as two to three years old tapping confidently on i-pads and other electronic gadgets. From the immediate imitative response it looks like learning is taking place even before the child can even read. I believe Sesame Street was built around this single, breakthrough insight that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them. Hence IT-mediated methods are potent learning experiences, especially at a young age when the brain is growing fastest and new synapses are formed through repetition and reinforcement.

It is therefore not surprising to see the explosive uptake of ICT in education. Smart schools with students carrying their own smart gadgets to learn in class or independently are now common. Research by Children Now has shown that children who use interactive and new media technology, show more complex speech patterns with higher levels of verbal communication and better phonological awareness. They tell more sophisticated stories and have better writing skills. For most children, the computer does not isolate them but helps to connect them with others. They exhibit greater cooperation, can play
better within a set of rules, share leadership roles and initiate interactions.

Quality media services are also developing the cognitive, social, psychological and creative aspects in innovative, challenging and entertaining ways. Content such as National Geographic, History, Discovery and Animal Planet help children understand and appreciate the biological, cultural and geological diversity and wonders of planet earth. Children imbibe not only new knowledge but the experience can also shape beliefs, values and attitudes, as well as mould ethical behaviour. I believe that such learning helps in character development and is the first step to becoming a global citizen.

However, not all children using the newer interactive media are exposed to the same learning environment. Most of the time they may be left to their own devices. What more when the exposure is from a very young age. Television and social media may be fantasy but a child cannot tell the difference. Significant exposure to media violence begets violence, and desensitises children to others’ pain and suffering. More than half of adolescent smoking initiation has been linked to watching smoking in movies. Incessant media portrayal of “the perfect body” in advertisements causes obsession with body image in adolescents, particularly girls. This can lead to feelings of shame and eating disorder. The most disturbing is when family sit-coms make fun of parents and treat them as nuisance. Children are also exposed to unscrupulous people on-line who stalk them and lure them into unlawful activities.

According to a study by the American Academy of Paediatrics, children are already spending an average of seven hours a day on various forms of entertainment media. The media have become so addicting that children do not spend enough time with the family, playing outdoors or studying. This has
resulted in negative effects on health, behaviour and the erosion of traditional values. Unfettered individualism, selfishness, greed and even terrorism are threatening to rip society apart.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

This is the world in which our children are growing. The technological influence on them is a double edged sword. It can be creative and constructive, benign and harmless, or destructive and damaging. Whether we like it or not ICT will continue to be a major influencer in life as rapid advances in communications technology give rise to more and more sophisticated tools and children spend more and more time on interactive media.

They are also going to be exposed to more and more technological innovations. Thus the future for today’s children for certain, will not only be dramatically different from the world we live in today but will also be unimaginably transformative in all spheres of life due to technologies yet to be discovered. Already there are trends showing that nanotechnologies have the potential to radically improve human performance and empowerment, the economy, society, and the environment we live. On the other hand they also have the frightening prospect of selecting and manipulating the genomes to change the very nature of human being and society. As General Omar N. Bradley said, “Technology… is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other”.

The challenge before us therefore is not about to use or not to use technology. It is about to use it right, morally, ethically and legally. As Steve Jobs said, “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them”. Albert Einstein said “The human spirit must prevail over technology”. Only in this way can we turn technological innovations into power in the service of humankind.

Indeed, if we prepare our children well today they will be able to use technological innovations to give greater hope to many of humanity’s unsolved problems. As stated in the Sustainable Development Goals, poverty, hunger, climate change, diseases, illiteracy, armed conflicts, terrorism, shifting mographics and cyber security remain our greatest challenges. At the same time technological innovations should also be creatively used to promote the values, culture and arts that make our identity distinctive in a world of diversity.

We do not know how the uncertainty and unpredictability will unravel. However we must heed the words of Nobel Prize winner and advocate of non-violent social change, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr who said “One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

To have some control over the future, Education is the most powerful tool that we can use. As John F Kennedy said “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” Allow me to share four pertinent points about education that I believe are crucial in preparing children for tomorrow.

First, invest in quality education from early childhood. Several decades of research have shown that experiences and environments during the earliest years of life, when the brain is growing at the fastest rate, have profound influence not only on academic success but can have effects throughout life. They are also less likely to be problematic when they become adolescents. Quality early childhood education and care or ECEC unleashes the enormous and invaluable potential inherent in every child. As the child experiences all kinds of stimuli, the brain forms synaptic connections that are essential for cognitive, physical, emotional, ethical, spiritual and behavioural development as well as social attachment. We thus help develop the child as a total balanced being. As they grow they will have the capacity to ride the waves of change by not only “fitting into the future, but more importantly to shape and to influence it”. But if we fail to give children the best start in life they may cause us to pay attention as troubled
adults tomorrow.

Second, learning and thinking skills for ethical decision-making should be embedded into the education system from the foundation years until the tertiary and beyond. As we are all aware knowledge increases in geometric proportion. Old knowledge becomes obsolete or irrelevant as new ones are iscovered,
particularly in fast growing science and technology areas. Thus children must have life long learning skills to keep abreast of change. In other words they must learn how to reflect, to be curious, to access and share knowledge, to discover new things, to innovate and solve problems. They must also learn how to choose which idea, information or innovation is best for humanity based on moral and ethical considerations, and reject harmful ones. Ethical decision-making will make the unpredictable future become more sustainable for themselves and their offspring for generations to come. In the words of futurist Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Third is to educate children to develop a global vision of peace, non-violence, social justice, human rights, democracy, cultural diversity and environmental awareness so that they will be better positioned to make the world a better place. Children are aware of the heightened violence and inequality on this
planet which have permeated every aspect of their lives. They are hungry to make a difference, but they are unsure of how to do it. If we do not teach them peace, compassion and respect for life, someone else will teach them violence and hatred. We see this in conflict areas for example, where exposure to cruelty, extreme violence, rape and massacre inflicted on their families give children the wrong message that violence is socially acceptable and the best way to solve problems.

From a young age children need to learn how to listen, dialogue and mediate in resolving disputes and conflicts. We need to promote gender equality and appreciation of cultural diversity. They need to be imbibed with values such as kindness, compassion, discipline, integrity, volunteerism, charity and respect of the environment. In this way we will create a generation who will not only love their country but will also be responsible global citizens who get along with others with respect, humility and patience. These are choices they need to practise. Knowledge alone is not enough. There must be
actions. Education that invests in peace and equality will end the gaps between the rich and the poor, the empowered and the helpless.

Fourth is to be inclusive and develop all talents. As Prime Minister Dato Seri Najib said when opening the International Seminar on Autism in 2014, “It is a tragedy when we ignore the right of every child to be successful”. Education must ensure all individuals, including those with special learning needs and
the marginalised, are enabled to their maximum potential, so they can contribute to the evolution of society as a whole. As described by Howard Gardner human beings do not have one intelligence as measured by IQ tests but multiple intelligences. Individuals differ in the strengths of these intelligences and in ways they are used to carry out different tasks. Hence education cannot be “one that fits all”. It must take into account individualisation while activating multiple intelligences. Hence important ideas, topics, theories and skills ought to be taught in more than one way. Story-telling, reading, word games activate verbal-linguistic intelligence. Art, maps and charts enhance learning for children with visual-spatial intelligence. Games, building and hands-on activities are best for bodily or kinaesthetic intelligence. Those with musical and rhythmic intelligence learn best through songs, patterns, instruments and musical expression. Group work is best for children with interpersonal intelligence while independent study and introspection are best for intrapersonal intelligence. Those with logical-mathematical intelligence prefer experiments, investigations and solving mysteries. At the end of the day we will have more people with multiple intelligences who will use their intelligence for positive ends.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

This brings me to subject that is so close to my heart - the Permata programme, that I initiated in 2005. Permata literally alludes to children as the jewels of the nation where “Every Child Is Precious and No Child is left behind”. It incorporates all four concepts that I have just described guided by the philosophy that quality and holistic education must begin as early as possible and must uncover and nurture the enormous and invaluable potential inherent in all children. Permata education is concerned not only with intellectual and skills development but also with healthy living, exercise and nutrition for proper physical
development. The emotional and social development of children have a strong focus on inculcating values, ethics and roles that ultimately shape the nation’s character and growth. It is also built on the belief that the voices of children must be heard and that children must have the time to enjoy a childhood that would bring out their full potential to become responsible global citizens.

Thus we start with Permata Negara or Early Childhood Education and Care or ECEC as the foundation which gives children a headstart in life. From seven pilot programmes in 2005 Permata Negara has now expanded to 750 centers nationwide. It serves children below four years who come from rural and low income urban families who lack opportunities for quality ECEC. Based on the learning is fun concept Permata Negara centres encourage curiosity, creativity, innovation, appreciation of diversity and love of the environment through play, exploration, experimentation, problem-solving and discovery. Simple concepts in science, technology, mathematics and engineering or STEM are incorporated. Medical, dental and nutritional well-being are part of ECEC. Parental involvement of at least four hours per month is compulsory for ensuring continuous learning at home.

To complement early childhood education, five programmes were launched to provide opportunities to nurture the different types of talents in children with special learning needs. This approach is possibly the best human capital outlay to drive a nation’s economic growth with lower social costs attributed to savings in costs for remedial education, special education services, health, nutrition, welfare and crime costs. As President John F Kennedy once said, “All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.

I will only highlight some features of the five initiatives because more information can be obtained in the plenaries, workshops and concurrent sessions. Permata Pintar and Permata Insan are educational programmes for the 0.01 percent of the population who are gifted and talented. We aim to optimise their giftedness from a young age by challenging them in STEM, while grounding them in the humanities and multilingual competency. The pedagogical approaches are individualised and help students learn deeply and think critically as well as creatively about values and ethics, the environment, global problems and appreciation of diversity. The Permata Insan curriculum in addition, integrates acquired knowledge or aqli with knowledge revealed in the Quran and Sunnah or naqli. We hope to produce responsible leaders, Muslim scholars and caring citizens who will strive for economic and technological advancement as well as foster and cultivate harmonious societies living in peace and stability.

Permata Seni is for enhancing the performance of children talented in the performing arts, especially in music, choir, and dance. Permata Kurnia provides early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder, the fastest growing developmental disorder in the world today. This is to prepare them for mainstream school and an independent and productive adulthood. It is also to eradicate ignorance and prejudice through public awareness and to empower parents to encourage their children to achieve their potentials. Perkasa Remaja or the community-based youth empowerment programme engages
youths-at-risk and helps them achieve long term change. This is done by reinforcing positive relationships and empowering them with vocational and entrepreneurship skills. A sense of achievement in economic independence builds their self esteem and confidence to contribute productively to their family and society. At the same time the youths are kept away from negative influences that lure them into socially undesirable activities.

The seventh initiative is the Permata Children’s Hospital, the first dedicated children’s hospital in the country. It is under construction and will be operational in 2018. It has 10 niche areas covering the medical and surgical disciplines. The 250-bedded hospital is designed to be child and family friendly, providing top quality and affordable preventive, early detection, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care. Most importantly, in addition to enhancing health personnel education and training, research to advance knowledge in childhood diseases will be its main focus.

The Permata programme is governed by a Permata Coordinating Council which is chaired by the Prime Minister. It consists of relevant Cabinet Ministers and experts, with the Permata Division in the Prime Minister’s department as the secretariat. The Council formulates policies while an Implementation Coordinating Committee oversees the conduct of the programmes by three universities and three government agencies in accordance with an agreement with Permata. All PERMATA initiatives are benchmarked with relevant world-renowned centres with similar programmes. Internationalisation
is an important aspect of the Permata programme. Continuous monitoring of the children’s performance and achievements at both local and international levels as well as periodic audits of the initiatives are carried out to assure quality and accountability.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen

The Permata programme is only one part of the whole effort by the Government, private sector, professional associations, civil society and other non-governmental organizations as well as parents and community, to educate, nurture and guide the young so that they are better prepared for an unpredictable tomorrow. The Permata programme complements the formal education system. Its input is recognised in the Education and Higher Education Blue Prints launched in 2013 and 2015 respectively, thus completing the cradle to career spectrum in learning.

Permata works very closely with parents and teachers, acknowledging them as vital influences in empowering and enriching children with knowledge, family and universal values, culture, ethics and life skills for the future. Good parenting in particular is very important when noble values are diminishing and social problems among children are increasing. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

All of us as adults, have the responsibility to be good role models in providing a safe and nurturing environment for our children’s growth. Just as we want to teach children a culture of peace, we must also aspire for peaceful resolution of conflicts, political stability, inclusivity, social justice, equality and respect of human rights. All of us and not just the government or leaders should practice open-mindedness in seeking solutions through an inclusive process. We should not be merely depending on skewed information from social media for our decision-making for instance. We should be sincere in our effort and not let self interest get in the way of helping our children reach their goals.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen

Change is the only constant in life. The children of today are already living in a rapidly transforming society. More radical transformations will continue to occur so much so we cannot imagine what the future will be. What we do know is that we aspire for a future that is free from poverty and hunger, where people can fulfill their potential in dignity, equality and health, living in a society that is peaceful, just, inclusive, and free from fear and violence. Progress is in harmony with nature. All of us have the duty to collaborate with each other in providing a total intellectual, cultural, ethical, moral and spiritual milieu that will ensure that the children of today will become the best assets to take the world to a higher level of sustainable and responsible development with compassion and accomplishment.

Let me end by echoing John F Kennedy, “All of us must play our part in developing children to their greatest abilities, because in each of them there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation”.

Wabillahi taufik wa hidayah, wassalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu

Join Us