Most developing countries in Asia and the Pacific have earned high marks for a dramatic rise in primary education enrollment rates in the last three decades, but daunting challenges remain, threatening economic and social growth.
With over $8.2 billion in loans and grants to the education sector over the past forty years ADB has a long track record in assisting its developing member countries (DMCs) achieve the goal of quality education for all.
Good quality, inclusive education is essential to building human capital and a skilled labor force that underpins a modern, competitive economy. Although the region is likely to achieve near universal primary school enrollment by 2015 and attain gender parity, over 25 million children in the region are still without access to education. High enrollment rates mask the poor quality of primary education in DMCs which is hampered by inadequate financing and resources, poor learning outcomes, high rates of grade repetition, school dropout, and teacher absenteeism.
At the same time, there is an urgent need for improved quality and access to higher education and technical and vocational education and training (TVET). These problems in the education systems of DMCs are creating a growing deficit of adequately educated and trained workers and a major bottleneck for growth and economic expansion.
Education is not just a concern for governments, but for students and parents, communities, and employers, and is critical for reducing poverty. Efforts to achieve Education for All (EFA) by 2015 require continuous support by governments and stakeholders to find ways to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
ADB provides finance and advisory assistance to its DMCs for education services to tackle key challenges such as increasing enrollments (access), improving education outcomes (quality and relevance), reducing education inequality (equity and inclusiveness), and reducing costs (finance and cost-efficiency). ADB’s Community of Practice in Education (CoP) supports operations through knowledge generation and sharing lessons and best practices from the field. The CoP also peer reviews proposed projects, and coordinates staff development activities in the sector.
ADB has supported the decentralization of basic education in Nepal, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan; the modernization of secondary education in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Viet Nam; higher education projects in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic; distance education in South Pacific countries; and open university systems in Bangladesh.
With the growth and development of modern national economies and social equity in DMCs dependent on a skilled workforce, higher education has become an urgent concern. Enrollments in higher education in the region have soared from about 4 million in 1970 to 46.7 million in 2007, but due to resource constraints and competing priorities appropriate investments have not kept pace. Sudden and large shifts of government financing to higher education in DMCs could derail adequate funding for basic and secondary education. This makes it critical that new paradigms be found for financing higher education. Innovative financing, public-private partnerships (PPPs) and community-based approaches are needed to provide quality teaching at all levels, including increased support for workforce skills development and higher education reforms.
With its well-developed framework for planning, project preparation, and analysis in education, ADB is well positioned to provide leadership. Education is one of the five core operation areas of Strategy 2020, ADB’s long-term strategic framework. It reaffirms ADB’s commitment to step up education sector operations and contribute to the further development of human capital and a skilled labor force in the region. Strategy 2020 provides a mandate to explore opportunities for new approaches. Partnerships between governments and the private sector can contribute to improving the quality and relevance of education, and to raising the cost efficiency of education delivery, including to disadvantaged groups.
Approved in 2010, Education by 2020: A Sector Operations Plan reflects ADB’s commitment to increase and align its support in the education sector to meet the changing needs and priorities of its DMCs. The plan identifies key educational challenges in Asia and the Pacific in the coming years, and proposes ways for ADB to meet those challenges and stresses the importance of utilizing new and innovative models of education service delivery and financing. To achieve these goals, ADB is scaling up its programming of loans, grants, and technical assistance, and strengthening economic and sector work. Besides assisting comprehensive educational programs in DMCs that bring basic and secondary levels up to international standards, ADB is supporting postsecondary education, including TVET and higher education, as well as social protection measures that help girls and disadvantaged students to attend school. For 2012-2014, ADB has programmed support to education development in the region, totaling about $2 billion.