Posted in Reports & Indices

Education in Asia and the Pacific

The Asian Development Bank in its flagship annual report on Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2015, includes a special chapter on education in the region. The key findings in this chapter are:

  • Developing Asia has made large strides in expanding access to education. Average years of schooling nearly doubled from 3.9 in 1970 to 8.0 in 2010
  • Skills remain weak in many parts of the region, due to gaps in both the quantity and quality of education provided
  • A failure to raise the quality of education will have consequences for growth prospects
  • Public educational expenditures are necessary, but not sufficient to improve learning outcomes
  • Families and firms also need to be involved in the region’s skill development agenda.

Pretty obvious you would think, but having elucidated these issues, the report cannot really hide its private sector bias and meanders into all sorts of contradictions. For instance, stressing the importance of motivation among teachers, it goes on to suggest filling the vacancies on contract. Where in the world have you heard of temporary workers – insecure, underpaid and overworked – remaining truly motivated about their jobs, which never ever develop into a vocation?

Similar ambiguities mark the redesign of school and college curricula – are they to be redesigned to empower the individual to play a more responsible role as a citizen, or to produce automatons for the assembly lines of private industry? Can higher education really bring together vocationalisation and the liberal arts? And so on…

Nonetheless the report does contain some important data which one can interpret from a different perspective. Take the graph on country-wise data on the vocationalisation of secondary and technical education:

ADB Report 1

And compare People’s Republic of China in 2011 and India in 2012… Although India seems to have better coverage, the extent of vocationalisation of secondary and tertiary education in China far outranks India.

Further, if we look at the sector-wise distribution of types of education received, what do we find?

ADB Report 2

While China’s educated are represented in all sectors, including agriculture, India’s educated are overwhelmingly in the high-skill services sector.

In my post China and India: Two roads diverged dated 29 November 2014, I had written:

The benefits of the Chinese Revolution are most visible in the way the country raises and educates its children. The first major reform was the standardisation of the written language (Mandarin-Beijing dialect) across the country. Then, there was universal literacy and mass education, and eventually with a new higher education system geared to the country’s development needs, we see massive vocationalisation with an emphasis on technology in higher education. Today, there are no less than 4 Chinese and 4 Hong Kong based institutes/universities in the Asian Top-25, and not a single one from India.

Higher Education in China has rapidly adapted to the global trend of internationalism, duly followed by indigenization of the knowledge gained. This means that the Chinese technocratic class is now geared to move from re-engineering western technology to innovation in its own right, and is encouraged through government investment to set up businesses in China itself. Contrast this with India, where IITs and IIMs, funded entirely by the humble Indian taxpayer, compete with each other in how many alumni they have been able to place in foreign companies – preferably in the USA!

Furthermore, by opting to invest heavily in manufacturing industry, China has found a place for its unskilled, semi-skilled, skilled, and highly skilled workers, all in the same business matrix. Whereas, by opting for hi-tech services such as IT, India can provide the best opportunities only to its best and most educated workers, further fuelling the social and digital divide in the country.

Thanks to ADB, I stand vindicated. And what a great way to conclude one’s 50th post in less than a year…


I am a trainer of Government Officials and Elected Representatives, specializing in the urban and municipal sector. I have also written extensively on Urban Governance, Poverty, Development, Social Accountability and Municipal Management in the Indian context, and wish to share these writings with you through this blog.

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