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Asia's Schools Need to Push Ahead with Reforms - 2003-08-19

The Asian Development Bank says education reform is vital for Asia's economies to meet the challenge of economic globalization. The bank says Southeast Asia governments in particular must press ahead with education reforms to cope with the growing economic challenge from China.

The Asian Development Bank said the region's education systems face significant challenges from globalization.

An ADB report said the region's economic powerhouses, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea, have strong government support for education.

But the poorest countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Laos have low education standards. In Bangladesh, 70 percent of women are illiterate, while in Cambodia and Pakistan only about 25 percent of children get to attend secondary school.

For war-ravaged Afghanistan, where school enrollment rates are the lowest in Asia, the school-age population is expected to double by 2005. Rebuilding the Afghan education system is likely to take two decades, and millions of dollars just to meet basic needs.

For Southeast Asia, the report said governments need to press forward on reforms to have well-educated workers who can compete with China's lower-cost labor.

"With this China shock, or China syndrome, it poses an enormous challenge that while the competitive advantage that a country like Thailand or Malaysia had in the past that no longer exists," said Ifzal Ali, the Asian Development Bank's chief economist.

In some countries, girls, minorities, poor children and those living in rural areas receive inferior schooling. The Asian Development Bank said the result is that only wealthy students have access to prestigious universities, which can lead to high-paying jobs. Other children have less chance to advance in schooling or in income.

The Asian Development Bank report said that if East Asian nations are to cut poverty and maintain the economic growth of the past few decades, they must have education systems that are flexible and train workers to compete in a global economy.