fbpx ADB's Focus on Education: Overview | Asian Development Bank


Most developing countries in Asia and the Pacific have increased primary education enrollment rates in the last three decades, but daunting challenges remain. ADB is assisting its developing member countries achieve the goal of quality education for all.

ADB's Work in the Education Sector

ADB is well-positioned to provide leadership in the education sector in Asia. With over $15 billion in loans and grants to the education sector for more than 50 years, ADB has a long track record in assisting its developing member countries (DMCs) achieve the goal of quality education for all.

ADB provides finance and advisory assistance to its DMCs for education services to tackle key challenges such as

  • increasing enrollment (access) particularly of disadvantaged groups
  • improving learning outcomes for all (quality and relevance) since many students are not learning despite attending school
  • reducing education inequality (equity and inclusiveness) to ensure no one is left behind
  • enhancing employability of graduates from different levels of education and training
  • improving governance, financing, and efficiency

ADB has supported the decentralization of basic education in Nepal, Pakistan, Indonesia and Uzbekistan; the modernization of secondary education in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Viet Nam including secondary education oriented to labor market needs in the Philippines; human capital and skills development in Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China, and Kyrgyz Republic; higher education projects in the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Mongolia; distance education in South Pacific countries; and open university systems in Bangladesh.

Strategy 2030 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 strategy positions education to strongly support learning anytime anywhere with the use of appropriate technologies, addressing remaining poverty, reducing inequalities, and accelerating progress in gender equality. 

Biology students at Champasack University in Pakse, Lao PDR.
Biology students at Champasack University in Pakse, Lao PDR.

Drawing lessons from COVID-19 for the new normal, ADB continues to identify key educational challenges in Asia and the Pacific in the coming years, and proposes ways for its DMCs to meet those challenges. ADB stresses the importance of using new and innovative models of education service delivery and financing to enhance learning for all and the employability of graduates.

To achieve these goals, ADB is scaling up its programming of loans, grants, and technical assistance, and strengthening its economic and sector work. Besides assisting comprehensive educational programs in developing countries that bring basic and secondary levels up to international standards, ADB is supporting postsecondary education including vocational and higher education, as well as social protection measures that help girls and disadvantaged students to attend school.

How does ADB influence development in the region through its educational investments?

  • ADB, DMCs, and other development stakeholders agree that nations need to reach and maintain a critical level of basic skills to provide the social and economic means for societies to grow and prosper.
  • If ADB can help each DMC in Asia to strengthen its own formal and informal education and training system, then each country and the region collectively will stand a better chance of competing in the global economy.
  • ADB offers scholarships through the ADB-Japan Fund for Scholarship Program as well as internship and research fellowship opportunities to eligible candidates from DMCs.
  • ADB recognizes that universal basic education along with similar efforts for secondary education go hand-in-hand with expansion of post-secondary education, teacher education, and skills training that together rest on the strong foundation of school education. ADB helps each DMC develop a good mix of financing across the various subsectors.
  • ADB and the international community stress the importance of reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for education ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

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Education Issues in Asia and the Pacific

Asia is a global success story when it comes to educating children. Overall, 9 out of 10 children in the region, since 2018, are enrolled in primary school. Significant progress in attaining quality education was globally reported during the first quarter of 2020. For a continent that contained two-thirds of world’s out-of-school children in the 1970s, the progress has been nothing short of remarkable.

However, while much progress has been made over the past 10 years, indicators particularly on learning still point to serious education and human-resource shortfalls at all levels throughout the region - a reality that could dampen Asia’s lofty economic aspirations. These issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted education and training systems in unprecedented ways. ADB and its key stakeholders share the view that urgent action is needed to address the deep-seated problems related to poor learning outcomes and inequities in education aggravated by the current pandemic. Yet the current crisis can be an opportunity to establish transformational strategies to reimagine a new normal for DMCs’ education systems in close collaboration with key stakeholders.

This section highlights major education challenges and trends in developing Asia and the Pacific. Across all levels of education and in the context of COVID-19 and other possible pandemics that will stifle face-to-face learning, ADB helps its DMCs maintain education delivery in the “new normal” scenario. This includes exploring education technology solutions to ensure continuity of learning and scaling of quality and equity, as noted in ADB blogs: Lessons learned from the massive shift to online learning due to COVID-19 and Blending education and technology to help schools through the pandemic. The publication Class of 2020: Implications of COVID-19 on Education Systems, Ensuring Progress of Students and Educators, provides guidance on how ADB DMCs and development partners can re-orient support for education in dealing with the current pandemic.

Recognizing the evolving state of education in the region is vital for ADB, governments, and other development partners to properly align their education operations to developing member country needs.

Basic and Secondary Education

Basic and Secondary Education

Primary education enrollment averages around 90% in the region. However, this high rate masks serious deficiencies in student retention, quality of education, and foundational literacy and numeracy acquired.

Higher Education

Higher Education

Higher education contributes significantly to the technological and innovation capacity and overall competitiveness of developing member countries (DMCs). As such, the region's fast-growing economies are exerting pressure on higher education.

Technical and Vocational Education

Technical and Vocational Education

Developing Asia and the Pacific provides a rich array of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) experiences, but too often these have recorded only modest results.

Education Reform

Education Reform

In an expanding and diversifying sector, developing member countries (DMCs) need to implement reforms to strengthen governance. In particular, reforms should focus on attracting and developing talents of education workforce, improving governance and accountability, and improving financing and system efficiency.

Promoting Equity

Promoting Equity

Unequal access to education in the region remains pronounced, beginning at the basic education level, and compounded at the secondary level and above.

Sustainable Education Financing

Sustainable Education Financing

Sustained investments in education are important for the productivity and resilience of economies. Funding for education is provided not only by the state, but also by households and the private sector.