Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak affirmed that UNESCO's goals are in line with those that his nation has set itself to achieve high-income status by 2020 through sustainable and inclusive economic growth and human development, during an extensive meeting with Director-General, Irina Bokova, in Kuala Lumpur on 22 May.
''Education and technology are huge game changers. You have to create opportunities and possibilities for people to develop their talent and also to attract global ones," he said, referring to Malaysia's Education Blueprint for 2013-2025. This document, based on a comprehensive review of the country's education system conducted jointly with UNESCO, emphasizes qualitative improvements.
The country's roadmap to 2020 foresees the creation of 3.3 million jobs and an increase in per capita income. "I believe in an open system," he said.
The Prime Minister, who was re-elected to a second term on 5 May, reflected that his country had not given sufficient recognition to the economic value of cultural heritage sites in terms of job creation and increasing tourism. Citing the historic cities of the Straits of Malacca that joined the List in 2008, he indicated that ''we have underestimated their enormous economic impact.''
Mrs Bokova briefed the Prime Minister on the Culture and Development conference in Hangzhou, emphasizing that culture mattered for the economy, job creation, social inclusion and understanding. She encouraged Malaysia to ratify the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, affirming that it would give visibility to the country's rich diversity of cultural traditions and practices.
The Director-General also emphasized the crucial role of cultural heritage in promoting social cohesion and contributing to intercultural dialogue in increasingly globalized societies. In this context, the Prime Minister stressed the multicultural dimension of Malaysian society whose cultural diversity was enriched by the Chinese, Malay and British influences.
Linked to this, the Director-General also invited the Prime Minister to consider ratifying the UNESCO Convention for the Protection and the Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005), a catalyst for developing the creative economy, providing jobs, and sustaining creativity and innovation.
The Prime Minister shared his vision of a multicultural and multilingual society, stressing the importance of respect for different religious views and advocating a 'philosophy of moderation that underpins all policies in our country".
With the advent of the ASEAN Community in 2015, the Prime Minister and the Director-General discussed the importance of regional stability, prosperity and peace. For democracy to work, he said, you need strong values and institutions.
Mrs Bokova praised Malaysia for playing a lead role in South-South cooperation, notably in the area of science, technology and innovation. She highlighted the significance of the Malaysia-UNESCO Cooperation programme for building capacity in education, sciences and culture in least-developed countries, and thanked the Prime Minister for his country's long-standing support to UNESCO.
In a separate meeting, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Mr Muhyiddin Yassin assured the Director-General that Malaysia would do "everything we can to ensure the sustainability of UNESCO's programs.'' He stressed the importance of education for the country's prosperity, expressing appreciation for UNESCO's contribution to the review of the education system. Mrs Bokova thanked the Minister, who is also chair of the Malaysian National Commission for UNESCO, for the establishment of a Funds-in-Trust, which reflects support for UNESCO and solidarity with least developed and developing countries.
During her stay in Kuala Lumpur, the Director-General visited the emblematic Petronas Twin Towers, crossing the 42nd floor skybridge and riding up to the panoramic 88th floor. The towers of reinforced concrete, steel and glass were inaugurated in 1999 and widely viewed as a symbol of the country's ingenuity and dynamism.
She also witnessed solidarity in action during a visit to a school set up in a hospital. Eight such schools now exist across the country, enabling children who are hospitalized for long periods to pursue their studies with specially trained teachers. The School in a Hospital is offered free of charge and run with the Ministries of Education and of Health, and an NGO, the Nurul Yaqeen Foundation. Mrs Bokova met with young children in the brightly decorated classroom, affirming that the project was a “wonderful sign of inclusiveness, solidarity and commitment to give every child a chance to learn."