The SAARC principles have recognized the literacy is a fundamental human right and the foundation for lifelong learning which adopt through education. It is fully essential to social and human development in its ability to transform lives. For individuals, families, and societies alike, it is an instrument of empowerment to improve one’s health, one’s income, and one’s relationship with the world.
Therefore, the leaders of the SAARC member States have given special attention to enhance the level of literacy in the region by promoting the quality of education. Illiteracy was a major impediment to economic development and social emancipation and that the eradication of illiteracy in the Region including through co-operative endeavours within SAARC must continue to be pursued resolutely.
During the Second SAARC Summit (Bangalore, 16-17 November 1986), the Heads of State or Government reiterated the great importance of the increasing involvement of the people for ensuring the success of regional co-operation. The Member States emphasized the need for promoting greater contacts among the peoples of the region through such action as regular and frequent interchange of scholars, academics, artists, authors, professionals and businessmen as well as facilitation of tourism.
At the Third Summit (Kathmandu, 02-04 November 1987), the leaders have noted the dates for the institution of the SAARC Chairs, Fellowships and Scholarships among SAARC member states to promote the educational facilities in the SAARC region.
During the Fourth Summit (Islamabad, 29-31 December 1988), the leaders decided that Education may be included as an agreed area of cooperation since all children was the principal means of human resources development. Children should, therefore, be given the highest priority in national development planning.
At the Eighth Summit (New Delhi, 02-04 May 1995), the Heads of State or Government noted that illiteracy is one of the major causes of poverty, backwardness and social injustices and called on the Member States to initiate more concrete programs aimed at eradicating illiteracy in the region preferably by the year 2000 A.D. The leaders decided to observe 1996 as the "SAARC Year of Literacy".
To enhance the literacy level in the region, recognizing the resource, manpower and infrastructural constraints to the promotion of vocational and higher education in the region, the Leaders at the Ninth Summit (Malé, 12-14 May 1997) agreed that new and innovative methods like Open Learning and Distance Education can play an effective role in meeting regional needs in a cost effective and flexible manner. Accordingly, the leaders agreed that the institutional facilities in such education available in the region should be utilized on a regional scale. The possibility of the creation of a Consortium of Open Universities in the region should also be explored.
At the Eleventh Summit (Kathmandu, 04-06 January 2002), the Heads of State or Government recognized that access to quality education was an important element for the empowerment of all segments of society, and undertook to develop or strengthen national strategies and action plans to ensure that all children particularly the girl child have access to quality primary education by 2015; and to improve levels of adult literacy by fifty percent by eliminating gender disparities in access to education as envisaged in the Dakar Framework for Action on Education for All adopted by the World Education Forum held at Dhakar in April 2000.
At the Thirteenth SAARC Summit ( Dhaka, 12-13 November 2005), the leaders noted the achievements of the Member States during recent years in the area of primary education and stressed that to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century Member States must make important strides in the areas of science, technology and higher education.
The Heads of State or Government during the Eighteenth Summit (Kathmandu, 26-27 November 2014) expressed their resolve to eliminating illiteracy from the region in line with the global goal of education for all and ensuring quality education in all institutions by reforming curricula, teaching methods and evaluation systems adequately supported by physical, technical and other facilities.
The leaders agreed to promote regional cooperation in the field of vocational education and training. The leaders directed their Education Ministers to develop a Regional Strategy for Enhancing the Quality of Education in order to raise the standards of South Asian educational institutions in order to better serve the youth in the region.
SAARC has implemented many directives to ensure the security from terrorism, drug trafficking, child and women trafficking, transnational crimes which are common social evils within the region. It was emphasized in many SAARC meetings that while condemning terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, collective actions in fighting this menace and stressed that terrorists should not escape prosecution.
The necessity of identifying the practical solutions to address the challenges on controlling the cybercrimes, transnational organized crimes, to ensure the safety and security for the social and economic growth, especially, to ensure a secure future for the youth, women and children are also highlighted. Therefore, SAARC is trying to improve the monitoring system, exchange of information and exchange of technology to fight these common social evils within the region.
During the Second SAARC Summit (Bangalore, 16-17 November 1986), the Heads of State or Government agreed that co-operation among SAARC States was vital if terrorism was to be prevented and eliminated from the region. The leaders unequivocally condemned all acts, methods and practices of terrorism as criminal and deplored their impact on life and property, social economic development, political stability, regional and international peace and co-operation.
At the Third Summit (Kathmandu, 02-04 November 1987), the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism was signed and it was considered as a historic step towards the prevention and elimination of terrorism from the region.
The Heads of State or Government at the Fourth Summit (Islamabad, 29-31 December 1988) expressed grave concern over the growing magnitude and the serious effects of drug abuse, particularly among young people, and drug trafficking. The leaders recognized the need for urgent and effective measures to eradicate this evil and decided to declare the year 1989 as the "SAARC Year for Combating Drug Abuse and Drug Trafficking".
At the Fifth SAARC Summit (Malé, 21-23 November 1990) the SAARC Convention on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances was signed.
The Additional Protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism was signed at the Twelfth Summit (Islamabad, 02-06 January 2004).
The SAARC Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters was signed at the Fifteenth Summit (Colombo, 02-03 August 2008).
The regional cooperation in the field of culture started with the First Meeting of the Technical Committee on Sports, Arts and Culture held in New Delhi in January 1989. Since then it has been an important area of cooperation among SAARC countries.
The Tenth Summit (Colombo, 209-31 July 1998) recognized the profound cultural continuum of South Asia as a historical basis for sustaining harmonious relations among the peoples of the region and welcomed the offer of Sri Lanka to host a meeting of Ministers of Cultural Affairs with the objective, inter alia, of establishing a South Asian Cultural Centre.
A preparatory meeting of the Secretaries of Cultural Affairs was held in Colombo in November 2001, which recommended practical measures, among others, for protection, conservation and maintenance of cultural and pilgrimage sites; development of archaeology and musicology; encouragement of contemporary arts and culture; engaging the corporate sector and non-state organizations in cultural activities; and developing cooperative links with UN and other regional institutions.
The Meeting of the Cultural Affairs Ministers (Colombo, 05-07 February 2003) has approved measures for protection, conservation and maintenance of South Asian Cultural Heritage, and cooperation among Member States in promoting contemporary arts and culture.
Sri Lanka hosted the first ever SAARC Film Festival in September 1999. On that occasion, three seminars were also held on different aspects of the South Asian cinema including on film as cultural expression, film marketing and distribution, and the future of the film industry. Another film festival is to be held in Sri Lanka in December 2004. Recommendations of the Technical Committee on HRD at its First Meeting (Colombo 4-5 March 2004) that the SAARC film festivals may be organized annually by Member States in rotation has been approved by the Standing Committee. This would significantly contribute to the promotion of culture among the SAARC Countries.
The Leaders during the Twelfth Summit (Islamabad, 4 - 6 January 2004), took pride in the rich cultural mosaic of the peoples of South Asia and underlined the need for preservation of traditional skills and crafts, and promotion of cultural exchanges between nations.
During the Thirteenth Summit (Dhaka, 12 - 13 November 2005) the Leaders recognized the crucial role of culture in bringing the people of South Asia closer. They also stressed that cooperation in the area of culture was vital for reinforcing and projecting the distinct identity of South Asia. The SAARC Ministers of Culture were directed to meet soon to elaborate a SAARC Agenda for Culture.
At the Thirteenth SAARC Summit held in Dhaka in November 2005, the Heads of State or Government directed the SAARC Ministers of Culture to meet as soon as possible to elaborate a SAARC Agenda for Culture.
Consequently, at the invitation of the Government of Sri Lanka, the Second Meeting of Ministers of Culture was held on 31 October 2007 in Colombo.
The Meeting considered the matters relating to establishment of the SAARC Cultural Centre in Sri Lanka and establishment of a SAARC Museum of Textiles and Handicrafts in India, SAARC Agenda for Culture, Protection, Conservation and Maintenance of the South Asian Cultural Heritage including the intangible cultural heritage in South Asia, broadening of cooperation among Member States in promoting contemporary arts and culture in South Asia, promotion of cultural tourism, pilgrims, holding of cultural festivals, film festivals etc., and cooperation with international organizations
At the Eighteenth SAARC Summit (Kathmandu, November 2014), the Leaders “directed to implement the SAARC Agenda for Culture and agreed to develop a cultural trail linking major Buddhist historical sites in the region. The Member States also agreed to take measures to preserve and restitute the South Asian cultural property and create a SAARC heritage list together with the operational guidelines.
Furthermore, they declared the year 2016 as the SAARC Year of Cultural Heritage and tasked the relevant bodies to develop an action plan for its success. They further agreed to facilitate access of persons visiting prominent and holy sites of Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and all other major religions in South Asia.”