MANILA, PHILIPPINES - South Asian countries must meet the rapidly changing educational and health needs of their people if the region is to remain an engine of economic growth in Asia and the rest of the world, a new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) says.
The South Asia Economic Report, the second in a series of biannual reports on economic and development issues in South Asia, confirms that the region remains on a solid track of high economic expansion led by India.
Still, at the same time, South Asia is undergoing momentous changes driven by global and regional trends, which are having dramatic impacts on educational and health needs.
"The region's education systems must be transformed for the countries to be able to adapt to the new realities," said Kunio Senga, Director General of ADB's South Asia Department. "Quality education is needed at all levels, and technical, vocational, and higher education should be aligned with global market demands."
To do this, more resources will be needed. India, for example, has only 12,000 training and vocational institutes, while the People's Republic of China has 500,000 vocational schools.
"Identifying the education and training strategies that will allow youth to take advantage of growing domestic and international economic opportunities is critical," the report says.
The region's competitiveness could also be undermined by new health challenges as increasing numbers of people suffer from non-communicable illnesses due to changing lifestyles.
"While the challenge of communicable diseases continues, the burden of non-communicable diseases is also increasing," the report says. "India has more people with diabetes than any other country in the world."
Without effective health promotion and preventative activities to mitigate this burden, the incidence of non-communicable diseases is likely to increase in relatively younger age groups. Much of this burden will occur during the middle age, adversely affecting labor productivity.
Despite the rapid economic growth of recent years, the quality of education and health care in South Asia remains worse than all other parts of the world except Sub-Saharan Africa. The region faces significant challenges to meet the relevant Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.
"Clearly, rapid economic growth alone will not take care of human development in the region," said Juan Miranda, the Director General of ADB's Central and West Asia Department. "Growth is not sufficiently inclusive and truly poverty-reducing... Successfully tackling these challenges requires strategic choices in crucial policy areas."
The report offers broad actions for governments in the region that would help them to meet the dual challenges of accelerating progress toward the MDGs and simultaneously capitalize on opportunities and mitigate risk posed by six broad global and regional trends highlighted in the report. These include preparing for a "borderless world" through better regional cooperation and making better use of information and communication technology.