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AseanAffairs Magazine
March - April 2010

The United States is facing daunting prospects in the Asia-Pacific region, a huge market for US goods, while China’s influence is growing as it makes rapid trade inroads in the region. The implications for the US and its need to redefine its ties with Asean are explored in our exclusive interviews with Ernest Z. Bower, Senior Adviser & Director - Southeast Asia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Founding Partner, Brooks Bower Asia LLC and former President of the US-Asean Business Council, and Demetrios Marantis, Deputy United States Trade Representative for Asia.

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By Rohit Bajoria
Education in New Asia


In most developing countries, responsibility for providing education has resided with the central government. However, a growing number of countries throughout the world, including those in Asia, are transfering this responsibility away from the government. The impetus for decentralisation has often been political, financial or entrepreneurial. The entrepreneurial addresses difficult problems confronting education systems, especially those relating to performance and effective accountability and financial prudence. Education systems are extremely demanding of the managerial, technical, and financial capacity of governments, so the potential returns of making such systems more efficient and effective are great. As they say, every challenge is actually an opportunity.

38 percent of the children of primary school age in Asia are not in school which is the EDUCATION By Rohit Bajoria THE BOTTOM OF THE PYRAMID Education in New Asia Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore National University of Singapore highest across the world and a stark contrast to the industrialised countries

The continent of Asia, which is home to almost 60 percent of the world’s population, is outstanding for its vast range of diversities that encompass almost all aspects of life, whether geographical, socio-economic, cultural, political or developmental. In the region there are countries of vast landmasses, (China and India) and also island countries lying in expansive ocean areas, (the Maldives). Countries with the largest populations, (China 1.3 billion; India 1 billion) and the most rapidly growing mega-cities are to be found in the region, as are countries with relatively small populations, (Bhutan, 600,000). The levels of economic development also vary widely between some of the fastest growing countries. Some of the major education problems currently facing mankind are evident in Asia. For instance, there are estimated to be 625 million illiterates in Asia: 71 percent of the world’s total, of whom 64 percent are women and girls.

A few of the disparities that exist in Asia are particularly disturbing. For example, in South Asia the literacy rate is 42 percent compared to 72 percent in East and South-East Asia; in South Asia, life expectancy is ten years lower than for those living in East and South-East Asia. In Asia, some 74 million of the world’s total 132 million children, (or 56 percent of the school-age population, 6–11 years old), are not enrolled in primary education. Of those who enroll, at least one-third abandon or drop out before completing the primary cycle.

In spite of such challenges and diversity, there is a common thread in that all countries in Asia and the Pacific believe that in order to achieve poverty eradication, sustainable human development, justice and equality in all respects, there is a need to make greater efforts to improve the quality, effectiveness and relevance of education and schooling. The reform and re-engineering of education and schooling is receiving increasing attention from governments and entrepreneurs in the region.

The Opportunity: Demand for quality education in Asia vastly exceeds supply

It’s no surprise that Asia’s demand for education is on the rise. Asia’s economy is growing twice as fast as those of Europe and the United States. Asia accounts for 25 percent of the world’s gross national product and is expected to account for 30 percent within a decade. Its traditional agrarian cultures are rapidly being transformed into societies based on industry and information technology. Since the economies of China and India have grown more liberal and their memberships to the World Trade Organization have been accepted, all eyes have been focused on Asia’s ascension into a global economic power.

China, India, and other Asian countries represent a huge market for quality primary, secondary and higher education. Asia boasts two-thirds of the world’s population; and unlike the graying population in the West, half of Asia’s residents are less than 25 years of age. Most importantly, Asia’s cultures place a high premium on education. Most families will do everything they can to pay for their children’s education. Yet Asia’s education infrastructure lags far behind that of the West, unable to satisfy the intense demand. For example, the prestigious Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore accepts only 100 students per year, from a pool of 50,000 applicants. That kind of discrepancy between supply and demand exists at most of the top programs in Asia, forcing hundreds of thousands of qualified students to settle for less desirable schools or leave the continent altogether for their education, especially higher education. From India alone more than 160,000 students go abroad for higher education. Worldwide the international student market is a $30 billion industry. Some estimates are that the industry could grow to around 8 million students by 2025, largely Asian but howstudents will engage in foreign studies will change over time, as more innovative distance, technology- assisted and distributed learning models take hold.


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