EducationEducation is closely associated with human development. Over the past two decades, rapid educational system improvements have been experienced by Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. Currently, ASEAN Education Ministers have identified four top priorities in improving education across Southeast Asia. These are as follows:

  1. The promotion of ASEAN awareness among ASEAN citizens, especially the youth
  2. The strengthening of ASEAN identity through education
  3. The development of ASEAN human resources in the education field
  4. The strengthening of ASEAN university networking


ASEAN identity integration, education quality, resource shortages, and the ability to meet workforce demands: these are the four top issues and challenges of education in the Southeast Asian region.

Identity Integration. It will be difficult to promote ASEAN awareness and identity if the education systems still cling to a colonial method. Consequently, it will also take time to draft the methods and systems necessary for the adoption and integration of a common identity, considering the diverse educational system in the region, each one effective in its own right.

Quality of Education. Poverty prevents most children from going to school or getting quality education. While Singapore maintains a comfortable level of competitive advantages when it comes to education, most other countries are still lagging behind. Poorer countries are less likely to provide the conditions of good quality education, which include the following:

  • Classes taught by professionally competent and well-motivated teachers
  • The use of active learning techniques and relevant curriculum
  • Access to adequate facilities in protected learning environments
  • Clear and accurate assessments of learning outcomes
  • The presence of participatory education governance and management

Resource Shortages. The lack of schools and teachers is a big problem in many Southeast Asian countries, caused by various reasons. In Laos, for example, around 4,000 villages out of 12,000 lack primary schools. Most public schools are free, but there are still many  requirements that require money, making it difficult to complete schooling. Most youths are forced to work rather than go to school to help their family.

It presents a challenge to richer ASEAN member nations to provide support via grants, scholarships, and donations, not only to train teachers and build classrooms but to likewise encourage the international community to share best practices and effective academic programs.

Ability to Meet Labor Demands. Work and education mismatch should be addressed. In the changing workforce environment, maintaining focus on traditional courses or academic programs no longer works. Students just can’t choose to pursue a course because it is associated  with a whitecollar job or a “prestigious” occupation. Many ASEAN countries now have higher demands for personnel in the hospitality  industry, computer-related work, and skilled labor. Vocational training appears to be the more intelligent option for those who want to have a higher likelihood of landing a job.


Just recently, the Regional Cooperation Platform Training and In-Service Training of Teachers and Managers in Vocational Schools in Asia (RCP) expressed the need for a systematic exchange on reform processes, that there is a need to create a forum for professional and scientific exchanges in the field of vocational teacher education and training. This is to answer the demand for more skilled people in economy-boosting industries. Collaboration and systematic networking between countries, especially in the acknowledgment of training certifications, can certainly be useful in ensuring the quality of people hired. Although education systems in ASEAN countries have improved, these systems could best serve the region by making these systems more attuned to contemporary situations and labor demands.

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