“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The words of Nelson Mandela not myself, though I share the sentiments. And in a region that is changing as rapidly as ASEAN, education is an essential tool to ensure the benefits of economic growth are shared amongst its 600 million plus population.
Yet educational standards in the poorer nations – Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar – lag far behind those of the wealthier elite.
This is something acknowledged by the member states of ASEAN – an organisation that is committed to a harmonised higher education system across the bloc. But how realistic is this?
While Singapore boasts, in the National University of Singapore, the top ranked university in the whole of Asia, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar fail to have one in the top 100. And with government expenditure lagging at 2.8, 3.3 and 0.8 percent of GDP (2010) respectively, compared with 5.8 percent in Thailand and 6.6 percent in Vietnam, this gap is likely to widen rather than narrow. A paltry 16.7 and 15.8 percent of the population progresses onto university in Laos and Cambodia respectively, compared with over 50 percent in Thailand.
Even those few lucky enough to graduate, do so in subjects that are peripheral to the skill requirements of employers.
“Too many students are graduating in liberal arts and too few in science, technology, engineering and maths,” stated a Cambodia Development Resource Institute education report in 2015. Only three percent of Cambodia’s 250,000 post- secondary school graduates (2014) came from technical and vocational fields, such as agriculture, science and engineering.
In our first issue for 2016, Marissa Carruthers looks at the state of education in Cambodia, and asks what needs to be done to provide the skills that businesspeople in the country are crying out for, especially in the much sought after, but undersupplied STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills.
It is also the subject that an expert panel will address at the second BritCham / ASEAN Forum Question Time debate on 18 February, including Lord Puttnam.
Education is not the only issue of concern in the recently inaugurated ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Renowned regional correspondent Luke Hunt looks ahead to the forthcoming year, raising questions as to whether the AEC has come at the most opportune time, as well as providing an almost Nostradamus-like insight – considering the recent events in Jakarta – on the impact ISIS might have on the region’s security.
It is not all bad news though. Last November’s elections in Myanmar led to an upsurge in optimism both within the country and abroad. With a clear mandate for change, it will be interesting to see how the National League for Democracy delivers upon its promises. Daniel de Carteret looks at the balancing act that Aung San Suu Kyi has to play managing these expectations while persuading the military to loosen its grip on both political and economic power. Elsewhere Ate Hoekstra talks to two young Burmese who have returned to the country to help it on its road towards economic prosperity.
Myanmar is not the only country with rising expectations. In recent years the region has seen the emergence of a new breed of middle-class consumer. With a recently empowered wallet, these people are the engine behind economic growth within ASEAN. Christian Vits writes on the benefits that this new phenomenon brings with it, as well as the challenges governments face in providing the infrastructure and services that the new economic elite demands.
With the El Nino effect on rice production, IMF’s analysis of Cambodia’s economic prospects, a trip to sleepy Kampot, an interview with Malaysia’s Sparrow for Windows and a look inside e Residences by Anantara, I trust that you find this sixth issue of ASEAN Forum of interest.
If you have any questions on this or any other issue, please email me at: email@example.com
Mark Bibby Jackson