Challenges in Education in Southeast Asia

Arief S Sadiman
Director, SEAMEO Secretariat, Bangkok. Paper presented at the International Seminar on “Towards Cross Border Cooperation between South and Southeast Asia: The Importance of India’s North East Playing Bridge and Buffer Role”, Kaziranga, India, 16-19 November 2004.


Southeast Asia is a region covering 4.875.068 sq km which consist of 3,209.506 sq km land and the rest, 1,665,562 sq km is water. It has ten member countries (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), with a combined total population of around 540 million. The number of population varies from the fourth world populous country like Indonesia with 238 million people to the least populace country like Brunei Darussalam (365,251, July 2004 est.). They are different not only in terms of number of population but also in terms of geography, culture, and level of socio-economic development (The World Fact book, 2004)

Regardless all those differences, these ten countries share a similar emphasis on human resource development as a key in developing the whole nation to enter the knowledge-based economy and global environment. It is realized that we are moving fast forward the situation in which all nations operate in a global market environment. No country can grow in isolation. We are facing unprecedented challenges, brought by the convergent impacts of globalization, the increasing importance of knowledge as a principal driver of growth and the ICT revolution. Education, as a fundamental human right, is considered very important and strategic for developing their human resources. The right to education imposes an obligation upon countries to ensure that all children and citizens have opportunities to meet their basic learning needs. Promoting Quality and Equity Education is a common policy for countries in Southeast Asia region regardless their different levels of development.

In the Philippines, “the State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education available to all” (Art. XIV, Sec. 1) (Ballestamon, 2000). To address marked disparities in the provision of education in terms of access and quality, the main trust of education sector in Myanmar is not only quantitative expansion but qualitative improvement as well. (Han Tin, 2000). Under its motto Building a Modern Development Nation through Education, the vision of education in Myanmar is to create an education system that will generate a learning society capable of facing the challenges of the Knowledge Age. (Ministry of Education, 2003).

Malaysia belief that education plays a vital role in achieving the country’s vision of attaining the status of a fully developed nation in terms of economic development, social justice and spiritual, moral and ethical strength, towards creating a society that is united, democratic, liberal and dynamic. It is the mission of education to develop a world class quality education system which will realize the full potential of the individual and fulfill the aspiration of the Malaysian nation. (Education Act 1996, Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2001).

As the smallest country among the Southeast Asian Countries in terms of population, Brunei Darussalam clearly sets out its education policy aiming at quality education for all. One of its primary aims is to provide a minimum of 12 years of education for every Brunei a child, covering 7 years primary and pre-school, 3 years lower secondary school and 2 years on upper secondary or in a vocational/technical college. (Hamid, 2000)

Similar policy can be found in Lao PDR where Ministry of Education clearly set out their education development policy on providing quality education for all (Mitaray, 2000).

In Indonesia the national education system is carried out universally, open to every citizen, regardless of their geographic location, race and ethnicity, religion, socio-economic background, address the differing needs of people at various stages of societal development (Purwadi and Muljoatmodjo, 2000).Target has been determined: to increase the access of children to school in order to succeed the nine-year compulsory basic education by 2008. Besides increasing the access improving the quality of education is another priority as two of the three major educational problems in Indonesian are widespread inequitable access to education and low quality and relevance. (Muhaimin, in Jalal and Musthafa, 2001).

Cambodia, in its education policy and strategic framework 1995/2000 also put quality improvement and equitable access as the main policy objectives (MOEYS, 2000); while Vietnam also has a policy that social equity in education and training must be ensured. Everyone should be given the same education opportunities. The poor should be assisted and the talented should be facilitated. (Kyeu and Chau, 2000). Study is both the right and obligation of each citizen. All citizens, regardless of race, religion, belief, sex, family background, social status and financial condition, are equal in study opportunities. (Kieu, 2002)

Singapore, as the most developed country in the region, has re-defined its mission and vision of education. Its mission is to mould the future of the nation by molding the people who will determine the future of the nation. Its vision is Thinking Schools, Learning Nation (TSLN) as an overall descriptor of an education system geared to meet the needs of the 21st century. (Ministry of Education, 2001).

Among the nine strategies for implementing education reform in Thailand two are related to the promotion of education quality and expansion of lifelong educational opportunity. (SEAMEO Secretariat, 2001). Quality improvement has become the ultimate goal in the provision of education in Thailand in addition to maintenance of equity and social justice. They believe that success in terms of equity in education without quality will not enable the Thai people to trive in a knowledge-based economy and society. (Office of the Educational Council, 2004). The government therefore is committed to provide equal access to lifelong education and training to all Thai citizens to ensure that they will be equipped with necessary basic life skills and be employed.

So, we can see that every country considers human resource development as a key element in developing the whole nation and education plays a pivotal role in developing their human resources. It is not surprising that all governments commit themselves to provide equal access to high quality education and learning to all their children and people. However, opening access to quality education and learning opportunity to all children and people is not always easy as there are a number of constraints. The basic challenge is how to meet these two conflicting requirements: on the one hand the demand for rapid expansion of the scale of provision and on the other hand the requirement to improve the quality of provision. There is a tendency that quality is not adequately addressed (being sacrificed) due to the fast expansion of learning opportunity

Problem of Equity in Education

Inequalities in the region exist not only between rural - urban areas and public – private education institutions or among provinces within the countries. There are also genders and socio-economic conditions that result to disparities in the delivery of quality learning opportunities especially if we talk about access to ICT.

In Indonesia, for example, educational disparities can be seen across geographical areas, urban and rural, between western and eastern part of Indonesia and among groups of people with varying income and gender. (Muhaimin, 2001)

The rate of female enrolments into upper secondary education schools in Vietnam, for example, is much lower than that of male enrolments. Ethnic minority school girls are the most disadvantaged in upper secondary education.
Only 4 % (37,689) out of the total number of disabled children are in both special and integrated education. (Information Management Centre, MOET)

In Malaysia, gaps in achievement are a main focus of programmes undertaken by the MOE. The programmes such as for English, Science, Mathematics and ICT all emphasize the need to bridge gaps between urban and rural children.

The following factors contribute to inequality of education and learning opportunity:

a) Lack of available school building and classroom with all required facilities.

This might not apply to countries like Brunei and Singapore but most of the countries in this region are still facing this problem.

b) Shortage of teachers, especially in remote areas; That is one of the reason in countries like Thailand and Indonesia there are multi grade teachers where one teacher teaches more than one grades of primary school.

c) Uneven spread of population, which also creates serious disparities in educational opportunity; especially in a big country like Indonesia.

With 18 provinces, 141 districts and around 12,000 villages and population around 5.5 million people Lao PDR has serious disparities in educational opportunity due to uneven spread of population and the inaccessible nature of much of the country. About 4,000 villages lack of primary schools.

d) Lack of good textbooks and other learning materials. Due to financial and geographical reason this problem can easily be found in remote schools.

e) Geographical location.

There are still many students living in remote areas where it is difficult to reach them or ask them to go to the school due to lack of adequate transportation system or schools. In some places, number of students is so small so that it will be very expensive to build a school building to serve their needs. On the other hand teacher: students ratio usually bigger in urban areas in compare to the remote ones. It is not unusual to see 60 or even more students in a class with one teacher in some of the countries.

f) Student’s and parent’s low appreciation toward education.

They don’t see the benefit of going to or sending their children to school. This is magnified by the fact that many school or even university graduates cannot get any job and remain unemployed. In some countries community belief, tradition and value limit girls’ opportunity to go to school or continue their study to a higher level.

g) Level of socio-economic condition of the family.

About one third of the population in Southeast Asia, at the average, lives below the poverty line. Except Brunei and Singapore, where there is no data available, all countries still have problem with poverty. High percentage of people living below the poverty line can be found in Lao PDR (40%), Philippines (40%), Vietnam (37%), Cambodia (36%), Indonesia (27%), and Myanmar (25%). The rest of the countries have smaller percentage: Thailand (10.4%) and Malaysia (8%) (The World Fact book, 2004). For poor families education is not an urgent need. Due to economic reason students have to work for helping their parents or for their family and do not have time to attend the conventional education and training system.

In the Philippines there is an increasing demand for children to assist their parents in providing for the family’s day-to-day needs. Access and equity for the poor become the major issue in financing education in this country. The pressures of family survival combined with the parent’s own attitude toward education ultimately determine whether or not a child will be able to stay in school despite the limited financial resources of family.( Ballestamon, 2000).

h) Lack of budget for building more schools, classrooms, learning facilities.

Funding is always an issue in promoting education opportunity as we are dealing with so big number of children and people in a wide geographic area. Many governments have focused their efforts on the easy to reach for social, economic or geographic reasons.

Problem of Quality Education

To understand the issue of quality in education it will be easier for us if we look at education as a system with all its interdependent components: inputs, process, outputs and feedback. Under the inputs we have students as raw inputs and curriculum, learning materials, teachers, principals and other educational resource persons, learning facilities and environment as instrumental inputs. The second component, process, is where all inputs interact in the process of teaching-learning to reach educational goals and objectives. The third component, output, is the product of the interaction among the inputs, which can be seen from the student’s improved performances in terms of cognitive, affective, psychomotor domain. Feedback mechanism is another important component of the education system that will give us information on how the system succeeds or fails in achieving goals and objectives.

Quality in education cannot be seen from the output or student learning achievement only, but from other components as well. If we follow the Dakar’s Framework of Action, then the definition of quality is no longer focused only on teaching learning and the classroom. A good quality education requires:

  • - Healthy, well nourished and motivated students,
  • - Well motivated and professionally competent teacher,
  • - Active learning techniques,
  • - A relevant curriculum,
  • - Adequate, environmentally friendly and easily accessible facilities,
  • - Healthy, safe and protective learning environments,
  • - A clear definition and accurate assessment of learning outcomes, including knowledge, skills, attitude and values,
  • - Participatory governance and management, and
  • - Respect for and engagement with local communities and cultures. (World Education Forum Drafting Committee, 2000).

We cannot expect to have good quality education if the students are not healthy, malnourished, going to school with empty stomachs. Their basic need for food will decrease their attention and motivation from learning. The significant number of people living below the poverty line in the region needs real actions if we really want to improve the quality of education.

The economic downturn since 1997 increased the number of poor people. The World Bank has described the reversal in Indonesia’s fortune as “the most dramatic economic collapse anywhere in 50 years”. The UNICEF report on” the State of The World’s Children 2000” revealed that Indonesia is suffering the greatest setbacks worse than any other country in East Asia. Even UNICEF Indonesia and Malaysia representatives said that Indonesia faces the threat of an entire generation lost, characterized by a large number of unhealthy, malnourished and uneducated children, including those who work on the streets (http://

Teachers are essential players in promoting quality education. Well trained, highly motivated, dedicated and professionally competent teachers are very important. This is strongly related to the financial reward they get from their profession as teachers. What is important in improving the quality of education is not only having enough number of teachers in school and class, but enough number of good quality teachers which are highly motivated and dedicated to their jobs. This region has a shortage of teachers both in number and quality. In most of the countries, teaching is not an attractive profession financially.
Cambodia has made significant progress in expanding access to primary and secondary schooling in the past ten years. In contrast to access gains, quality improvement has been broadly disappointing. In particular, there appear to be serious urban-rural quality gaps. Roughly one-half of primary school teachers have had little professional training; only two-thirds have completed lower secondary schooling.

The teaching learning process should put the students as subject not as an object. Students must be active in learning and they should not only learn about subject matters but also to learn how to learn. Teachers should play their new role in preparing students for an emerging knowledge-based and technology-driven economy. It is unrealistic to expect the low quality and less dedicated teachers to perform this new role.

A relevant curriculum, which addresses the need of students, community and work place, should be used in good quality education. In most of the countries it is considered that curriculum is overloaded and should be reformed. Mismatching between what students learn at school and what the community or world of work demands is also an issue to address. This is the irrelevant curriculum and teaching learning process that contribute to the widening gap between education institutions and world of work, and finally contributes to increasing unemployment rate.

In majority of the countries we are still lacking learning facilities such as textbooks, libraries, laboratory, and other learning materials both in number and quality. In Vietnam, for example, “most schools in the more developed rural areas lack of the teaching equipment required by standardization of the Ministry of Education and Training. Libraries remain poorly stocked and out of date. Many schools are yet to get a science laboratory” ( Kieu, 2002). The same picture can also be found in countries like Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and even Indonesia.

Not all schools and classrooms in our education institutions are healthy and conducive enough to promote excellence in learning. We need a better governance of education systems that is efficient, accountable, transparent and flexible so that they can respond more effectively to the diverse and continually changing needs of learners and community.

Addressing the Problem of Equity

To improve equity in education the following measures have been undertaken by countries in the region:

1) Set up an education law or act, stipulating 6, 9 to 12 years compulsory education to be implemented at all primary and secondary school through out the country.

Brunei’s National Education Policy provides continuous education for all children for a period of 12 years. Starting 2003, Thailand is expanding the 9 years to 12 years compulsory education, while other countries such as Indonesia and Philippines still maintain 9 years compulsory education. This policy is important as the legal basis for any effort in promoting education equity and quality.

2) Building more school buildings and classrooms to accommodate more students and reconstruct or rehabilitate existing schools.

3) Train and appoint more teachers especially to remote places.

In some countries a special incentive is given to teachers who are willing to be appointed in remote areas. Brunei, for example, is improving the quality of their teaching staff through better in-service and pre-service training and the intake of better qualified candidates in the teaching profession; upgrade and expand existing education facilities; to improve the administration and management of the education system, particularly in schools; and to upgrade the status of teaching profession by making classroom teaching an attractive profession comparable to other professional career paths in the public service.

4) Publish more textbooks and learning materials for distribution make it easily accessible for the students to learn.

5) Develop and implement alternative education programmes such as small schools, multigrade teaching classroom, and satellite schools for children leaving in remote areas; special education for children with physic and mental disability.

6) Increase community and private sector participation in providing education.

Except Myanmar and Cambodia, where education is mostly provided by the Government, almost all countries in the region encourage private sector participation in education. In Indonesia, private institutions have been contributing significantly to the provision of education. The higher the level of education, the higher the level of involvement of the community and private sector in providing education opportunity. Malaysia is now moving towards a more equitable share of financing education between the government and the private sector, while Thailand and the Philippines are strengthening active partnership between government and the private sector to sustain the process of human resource development.

7) Social mobilization to create awareness among the people regarding the importance of schooling and education by using mass communication and publicity media such as radio, short films, posters, billboards, radio and TV spots.

8) Provide assistance to disadvantage children such as stipend programme, school feeding and lunch programme, and mobilize resources of the community to support children’s needs such as school uniform, textbooks and stationary.

In Thailand, since 1980, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn initiated Agriculture for School Lunch Project to increase food production in order to improve the quality and frequency of school lunches. This is important not only to lower dropout rates but also for combating malnutrition among school children and thus facilitate their learning. This project has served 48,176 children attending 478 schools in 41 out of 76 provinces in Thailand. (Office of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s Projects, 2000).

A similar project has also been started in Indonesia for socio economically disadvantaged school children. Scholarship was also given to students at the higher education level. High school students with exemplary record were given scholarships and exempted from university entrance test. Scholars, mostly those coming from the provinces and remote areas were also offered dormitories free of charge. At the primary and secondary levels, there are also initiatives on providing dormitory for poor students who are living far from the schools.

9) Develop and implement open education and learning systems.

Since 1979, at the basic and secondary schools Indonesia has expanded education opportunities for school age children who can not learn via the conventional system due to geographic, socio-economic, and cultural reason by managing the Open Junior Secondary School. Started with 5 locations in 5 provinces, this open school has been expanded to all over the country. In the middle of 90s, there were 4,483 open schools in 26 provinces (Sadiman, et all, 1996, Rahardjo, 2001). In the Philippines, the Bureau of Secondary Education will undertake the Distance Learning Program (Open High School) specifically to address accessibility concerns at the secondary level. (For above the school age children the government also conducted Package A Programme (equivalent to primary school) and Package B (equivalent to secondary school).

To increase access at the higher education level a number of countries in the region is conducting open universities, such as Sukhothai Thamathirat Open University (STOU, Thailand), Open Learning University (Indonesia), University of Philippines Open University (Philippines), University of Distance Education (Myanmar), Hanoi Open University (Vietnam), Open University Malaysia and University of Tun Abdul Razak (Malaysia). Distance or open learning has not been formalized as an official mode of acquiring knowledge in Brunei Darussalam.

This open learning system is not only for primary, secondary and university levels, but also for teacher training programmes. Indonesia has been using radio broadcast for primary school teachers upgrading programme since the 1970s. With the new requirements for being primary and secondary school teachers, more than a million teachers have to be trained. The conventional approach is not feasible to solve persistent and prevalent issues such as geographic location, limited time, lack of budget, big number of teacher and insufficient learning facilities. Thus, open learning; using radio and TV become a good solution.

Thailand is very aggressive in using radio and TV. They started using TV broadcast for education in 1964 and radio for distance education programmes from primary to pre-university level in 1978. Under the Satellite Distance Education Project which started in 1994 Thailand uses satellite television broadcasts to provide an open access and equal education opportunity to all target groups, consisting of formal students, non formal students and the general public through seven TV channels broadcasting education and instructional programmes every day. (Non-formal Education Department, 1998).

10) Provide free education to all students.

Education in Brunei Darussalam is free of charge for all citizens from the age of 5 years to the university level. In other countries, under the nine years compulsory education policy, education is also provided to all the school age children free of charge.

Addressing the Problem of Quality

Improving quality of education is really one of the big challenges faced by countries in Southeast Asia. Several measures have been undertaken such as :

1) Train teachers, school principals and other educational personal and upgrade their professional competency.

Teachers, who are not only knowledgeable and innovative, but highly disciplined, strongly motivated and dedicated. Competency-based approach has been used to meet this goal. To ensure quality, the status of teaching profession is being upgraded by making classroom teaching an attractive profession comparable to other professional career paths by improving teachers’ welfare. Incentive and facilities were introduced such as providing opportunities for further studies, presenting appropriate awards for dedicated teachers, determining appropriate allowances for teachers teaching critical subjects and those teaching in remote areas, etc. to make the teaching profession more attractive.

In Malaysia plans are under way to attract the best people to teaching by providing housing facility, car loans at low interest rates and scholarship to further studies at the masters and PhD level.

Malaysia’s targets are to improve achievement among children. Apart from overall achievement, emphasis is placed on science, mathematics, English and in bridging the digital divide with the introduction of ICT literacy.

Since last year Malaysian government start implementing a new policy in education; teaching science and mathematic using English as medium of instruction. The challenge is they do not have enough capable teachers doing that job. Training (both pre and in-service training) has been done but it seems it will take times to have all science and math teachers capable in teaching those subjects using English.

To ensure that a competent teaching force is maintained to deliver quality education, Singapore MOE has introduced programmes that focus on talent management, leadership selection and review of teachers’ workload. Various initiatives, from faster promotion prospects to awards, have been introduced, to acknowledge the role teachers play, and raise the standing and morale of the profession.

2) Revise curriculum and make it more relevant and appropriate.

Effort is also undertaken to match the skills provided in education and training with the skills required by the industry and world of work and to improve the image of technical education by integrating vocational and technical education with general education.

Singapore, for example, has been imparting values and skills through a forward-looking curriculum. MOE has been reviewing and introducing changes to the curriculum, assessment modes and teaching methodologies in order to impart core skills, values and attitudes to our students. Some of these changes include reduction of the syllabus content, infusion of IT and thinking skills through the launch of the IT Master Plan in Education in 1997, as well as introducing project work to help the different disciplines.

Thailand under its Decade for Quality and Equity in Education during 2002-2011 has developed a core curriculum for basic education aimed at preserving Thai identity and providing international contents to enable learners to keep up with updated information. It is flexible enough to facilitate the community to make adjustments in response to local demands.

Malaysia aims to equip all school leavers with an employable skill with which to secure employment in the job market, and for those who choose to be self-employed, they are taught the rudiments of entrepreneurship and the setting up of a small business in the field that they have been trained.

As the smallest country in terms of population, Brunei has the highest unemployment rate (10%,est.2001). (World Fact Book, 2004). For that reason the MOE Brunei is trying to reduce unemployment by matching the skills provided in education and training with the skills required by the industry and world of work. The Ministry is also making efforts to improve the image of technical education by integrating vocational and technical education with general education.

In Indonesia, MONE is providing pre-vocational skills especially to the poor students who are enrolled in open junior secondary schools as part of life skills programs. In 2002 there are 1,000 out of 3,121 open junior secondary schools covered by the program.

In reforming its curriculum, Thailand allows for contribution/participation of stakeholders, to meet new challenges and demands of difference groups of learners with an emphasis on mathematics, science, and technology in parallel with the promotion of pride in national identity and cultural heritage;

3) Increase the availability, accessibility and quality of textbooks and other learning materials.

Thailand, under it Education Reform policy requires the students to use various learning sources besides their textbooks. Electronic sources are encouraged to expand a knowledge base of both learners and teachers.

Indonesia, in order to bridge urban-rural gaps is procuring textbooks prioritized to the remote areas. Currently, the ratio of textbooks to students is still 1:3, while the ideal one is 1:1.
The other countries are also trying to provide the learners with good quality, enough in quantity and easily accessible learning materials.

4) Improve teaching-learning process, shift it from a conventional to a leaner-centered approach with an emphasis on self- learning to promote lifelong learning and relevant to real situations and their daily life.

MOE Singapore seeks to identify, as early as possible, the talents and abilities of students and develop educational programmes to cater to their different needs, abilities, aptitudes and learning modalities. There is a need to structure different educational routes for children of different ability groups and move towards a model of mass customisation in the provision of education.

5) Provide the schools and learning institutions with more and better learning facilities.

Even though Singapore is the most developed economically country in the region but attention is still being paid to school infrastructure, including the building of new schools, making all secondary schools go single-session and reviewing school designs for flexibility and expandability.

6) Use ICT both for teaching – learning and management purposes.

All countries have been trying to integrate the use of technology, especially ICT to improve the quality of their education.

Thailand has been using radio and television broadcasting intensively to provide good quality education to all formal as well non-formal students. Indonesia trains hundred thousands of primary school teachers using the same media. New policy on ICT has been set up and action plans has been developed by the countries. E-education/virtual education/on-line education become a common trend we can find in most of the countries.

The MOE Malaysia considers ICT as a means, not an end in itself. All departments in the MOE are actively engaged in the implementation of the ICT in education policy. (UNESCO Bangkok, 2003). Malaysia has launched their SMRT School project as one of the seven flagship applications of the Multimedia Super Corridor to systematically reform the Malaysian school system and transforming a culture of memory based examination oriented learning to a thinking creative and problem solving culture. (Ministry of Education, 2001)

Philippines, with its ICT Plan for Basic Education focuses on seven key areas :infrastructure development, technical support, teacher training on the design, production and use of ICT-based instructional materials, research and development, technology integration in the curriculum, use of innovative technologies in education and training, and fund generation. (UNESCO, 2003)

7) Apply school-based quality improvement by combining school-level autonomy with accountability.

This approach empowers the schools by promoting participative decision-making and flexibility in allocating school resources. At the higher education level, more autonomy has been given to universities and colleges.

Since schools play a vital role in developing children in all aspects of skills, school reform is a fundamental element of quality improvement. With this justification, Thailand has introduced the concept of school-based management to schools as part of school reform aiming to improve quality in education. Local schools are able to independently administer their schools to assure close participation of local community. Administrators will be trained to keep pace with new administration techniques related to effective school management. (Office of the Educational Commission, 2003)

8) Introduce bilingual system of education to enable students achieves high degree of proficiency in national and international languages.

Brunei and Malaysia believe that proficiency in English will allow students easier access to information on development of science and technology, and as a result, take advantage of more opportunities to compete in an increasingly globalize world. Cambodia introduces foreign language teaching (French and English) in grades 5 and 6.

9) A good reading habit is a prerequisite for better learning.

Some countries like Brunei, Thailand and Indonesia are promoting book and reading among the school children, youth and the community in general.

10) Strengthen partnership with foreign educational institutions through twinning programme, credit transfers, validation and accreditation, distance learning and Open University programmes.

In Malaysia, to open up foreign education to Malaysians, the Education Ministry approved the 3+0 foreign degree programmes. Students are able to obtain foreign degree locally. The presence of offshore campuses will provide the impetus to higher education institutions to improve their quality and standard of education.

Cooperation with foreign partners in education is also encouraged in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.

11) Strengthen partnership with community, private and business sectors. This will help minimizing the gap between education and the world of work.

MOE Singapore, like in other countries, recognizes the importance of involving schools, parents, community and industries as partners in education. Efforts have been made to involve the various stakeholders at the Ministry and school levels.

12) Giving more autonomy to education institutions/schools to manage their education process. Decentralization becomes a common agenda of education reform in most of the countries in the region.

Lao PDR, for example, is improving the management of non-formal education programs through increased decentralization of management and activities, with improved training of trainers. (Mitaray, 2000).

Indonesia gives more autonomy to the school to improve quality of education by assuring the implementation of school-based management program.

It is really a challenge for the country moving education environment from centralized to decentralized system. The consequences, among others, are as follows. Since they have more autonomy, some local governments at district level are trying to develop their own education systems, which sometimes are not congruent with the national system. The new bureaucracy system at the district level, which requires appropriate adjustment, has caused a time constraint in implementing quality and equity improvement programmes. In addition, some districts with low income have some reasonable difficulties in developing their education program. Therefore, they are still highly dependent on the budget allocated by the central government. (SEAMEO Secretariat, 2001)

Thailand also decentralize authority to local communities for self-reliance and self-determination of local affairs, while Vietnam renovate strongly state governance over education by decentralizing dramatically educational management and bring into full play the initiative and self-responsibility of educational institutions. For this purpose, a project of decentralization in education is being implemented.

SEAMEO’s Role in Promoting Quality and Equity

What role SEAMEO plays in helping the member countries dealing with these challenges? As the only and oldest regional organization of Ministers of Education’s in Southeast Asia, SEAMEO commits itself to help member countries in promoting quality and equity in education. This commitment is reflected clearly as one of the seven SEAMEO programme priorities, at least for the next five years : expanding access to quality education at all levels and streams (SEAMEO Secretariat, 2001). This is done through its main activities : training and workshop, seminar/conference/symposium, research and development, consultancy, and information sharing.

Since its establishment in 1965, through its 15 regional centres, SEAMEO provide various training programmes, both short term and long term, degree and non degree ones. The trainings covers area such as science and mathematic, vocational and technical education, education innovation and technology, ICT, language, higher education and development, history and tradition, education management, preventive health education, open learning methodology. Most of the training target beneficiaries are teachers, instructors, lecturers, principals, and other educational personals.

SEAMEO RECSAM, in Penang, Malaysia, provide trainings for teachers and school principals in how to teach better science and mathematic; SEAMEO RELC in Singapore in teaching English and other languages, SEAMEO INNOTECH in the Philippines using new and innovative approach in teaching–learning, SEAMEO TROPMED in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines dealing with preventive health measures to make the learning environment and children healthier.

In higher education level SEAMEO RIHED in Bangkok does the training, research and development dealing with higher education development. SEAMEO SEAMOLEC (Indonesia) promotes the use of open and distance learning approach in expanding learning opportunities, as well as the use of technology for supporting these initiatives.

SEAMEO VOCTECH in Brunei Darussalam provides training for teachers and other educators in vocational and technical education while SEAMEO SEARCA (Philippines) trains university and higher education people in sustainable agriculture. In education management we have SEAMEO RETRAC (Vietnam) while improving teaching history and culture preservation and development are done by SEAMEO CHAT (Myanmar) and SEAMEO SPAFA (Thailand).

The 37th South East Asia Ministry of Education Organization (SEAMEO) Council Conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand on 11 March 2002 adopted the Declaration on Quality and Equity in Education in Southeast Asia. All SEAMEO member countries committed to enhancing education quality and equity in their respective countries.

As the follow up of the conference, the Special High Official Meeting (SHOM) was held in Pattaya, Thailand on 29-31 May 2002 to discuss what to be done by each SEAMEO member country. The meeting agreed on the following issues: 1) to strengthen the program responding equity and quality in education, 2) to form the task force consists of one representative from each member country, and 3) to provide school targets in each member country through the coalition of the schools, that is the Regional Coalition of Schools on Quality and Equity (RCS-QE). The targeted schools are included in a pilot project on quality and equity for two years (i.e. 2002 and 2003).

A regional Coalition of Schools on Quality and Equity has been set up and the number of schools is growing as the countries see the important of this initiative.

ICT is very important for improving the quality of as well as expanding access to education. Research findings around the world shows that appropriate use of ICT will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of teaching learning process. SEAMEO is also promoting the use of ICT in the member countries. Just to mention some of the programmes, the development of model for the use of ICT for pre-service and in-service teacher training on science, mathematic and language; development of e-learning and virtual library; SEAMEO Sister School Internet Project, The Use of ICT for HIV/AIDS Preventive Health Education at the Cross Border Areas in GMS , Virtual Forum for Language Teachers etc.

SEAMEO INNOTECH, as a centre for Education Innovation and Technology, has conducted the following ICT based programmes: Utilizing Leading-Edge Technologies for Quality Education, Technology Tools for Producing Instructional Materials, Special Course on Using Computers in the Teaching-Learning Process, Technology Applications in Education: Teachers and Teacher Trainers, The Principal as CEO and Technology Leader. Similar training on ICT was also done by SEAMEO SEAMOLEC such as Development of Web-based course using WebCT, Utilization of Internet for instruction, and Development of interactive multimedia for CD ROM and online access.

Since its establishment in 1965, SEAMEO has done a lot in helping the member countries in improving their human resources through education and training but the demand keep increasing as our environment keep changing. The challenges are still there for this organization to help the member countries.


Ballestamon, Salvacion U.; Narvasa, Barnadette L; Cabasal , Maribel P; Gonda, Beverly A; and Prado, Eleanor G., The Filipino’s Commitment to Quality Education, Journal of SEA Education, Journal of SEA Education, Volume 1, Number 1, 2000, Pages 163-184.

Central Intelligence Agency, USA, the World Fact Book 2004,

Hamid, Rasani, Education in Brunei Darussalam, Journal of SEA Education, Volume 1 Number 1, 2000, Pages 21- 51.

Jalal,Fasli.PhD and Musthafa, Bahrudin, PhD, Education Reform, in the Context of Regional Autonomy: The Case of Indonesia, Ministry of National Education, Jakarta, 2001.

Kieu,Tran, Education in Vietnam: Current State and Issues, The Gioi Publishers, Hanoi, 2002.

Kieu, Tran and Chau, Nguyen Huu, Education in Vietnam, Journal of SEA Education, Volume 1 Number 1, 2000. Pages 219 – 241.

Kotkam, Chantarat, Education in Thailand, Journal of SEA Education , Volume 1 number 1, 2000. Pages 202 – 218.

Ministry of Education Malaysia, Education in Malaysia, A Journey to Excellence, 2001.

Ministry of Education, e-Government Initiatives in the Myanmar Education Sector, The Government of the Union of Myanmar, 2003.

Ministry of Education, The Singapore Education System, Journal of SEA Education, Volume 1, Number 1, 2000, Pages 185 – 201.

Mitaray, Sikhamtath, Education in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic : Challenges in the New Millennium, Journal of Southeast Asian Education, Volume 1, Number 1 (pages 103 -112), Thailand, 2000.

Non-formal Education Department, Satellite Distance Education: The First Experience of Thailand, Bangkok, 1998

Office of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s Projects, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s Development Work in Remote Areas, Thailand, 2000.

Office of the Education Council, Education in Thailand 2004, Ministry of Education, Kingdom of Thailand, Bangkok, 2004.

Planning Department, Education in Cambodia, Journal of Southeast Asian Education, Volume 1 Number 1, pages 53 – 78.

Purwadi, Agung and Muljoatmodjo, Suheru, Education in Indonesia: Coping with the Challenges in the Third Millennium, Journal of SEA Education, Volume 1 Number 1, pages 79 – 112.

Rahardjo, Raphael (Ed), Sampler of Open and Distance Learning in Southeast Asian Countries (Country Reports), SEAMEO SEAMOLEC,Jakarta, 2001.

Sadiman, Arief S., Seligman, David, and Rahardjo, Raphael, SMP Terbuka, The Open Junior Secondary School: An Indonesian Case Study, UNESCO Paris, 1995.

SEAMEO Secretariat, Special High Officials Meeting, Summary of Proceedings, Amari Orchid Resort, Pattaya, Chon Buri, Thailand, 29-31 May 2002.

SEAMEO Secretariat, Workshop on SEAMEO’s Role in the 21st Century, Mallaca, Malaysia, 2001.

SEAMEO Secretariat, The 37th SEAMEO Council Conference, Chiang Mai, 2002.

Tin, Han, Myanmar Education: Status, Issues and Challenges, Journal of SEA Education, Volume 1, Number 1, 2000, Pages 134 -162.

UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau of Education, Synthesis of Country Case Studies, South East Asian ICT Advocacy and Planning Workshop for Policy Makers, Bangkok, 2003.

World Education Forum Drafting Committee, Education For All: Meeting Our Collective Commitments, Expanded Commentary on the Dakar Framework for Action, Paris, 2000.

Zakaria, Haji Azmi bin, Educational Development and Reformation in the Malaysian Education System: Challenges in the New Millennium, Journal of SEA Education) Volume 1, Number 1, 2000, Pages: 113 -133.




Last updated: 16 October, 2006


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