Building stronger public education systems in Southeast Asia

published 2 May 2024 updated 3 July 2024

Under the banner of the Go Public! Fund Education campaign, Education International led the launch of the United Nations High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession's recommendations specifically targeting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Held on April 19 in Bangkok, Thailand, this subregional gathering brought together EI Member organisations from across ASEAN countries—including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia— to deliberate on implementing the United Nations High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession. Representatives from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) brought forward additional support for the implementation of these recommendations.

In her opening remarks, Education International’s President, Susan Hopgood, emphasised the critical teacher shortages in the ASEAN region, with UNESCO projecting a need for an additional 4.5 million teachers by 2030 to meet educational demands in the region. “The gap in qualified teachers is widening, jeopardising our future generations. This is not just a shortfall; it is a crisis of unmet potential, requiring urgent and substantial public investment," Hopgood stated, highlighting the need for increased state funding for public education across ASEAN countries.

"Every day without action, we risk deepening the divide in educational equality. Our campaign, Go Public! Fund Education, is more than a call to action—it is a demand for an investment in our collective future, ensuring that every child in ASEAN has the education they deserve," Hopgood added.

Go Public: turning recommendations into action

The High-Level Panel recommendations call for not only increasing the number of teachers, but also enhancing their initial training, professional development and working conditions to uplift the entire profession. "Our teachers need more than just numbers; they need support, quality training and respect to foster environments where education can truly thrive," concluded Hopgood.

Ms. Panudda Boonpala, Deputy Regional Director of the ILO, underscored the economic implications of educational investment. "Investing in education is not just a moral imperative—it is sound economic strategy. Better education equates to better economic outcomes for every nation in ASEAN."

The Director of the South East Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), Datuk Dr. Habibah Abdul Rahim, welcomed the UN High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession recommendations, acknowledging that "we need to intensify our efforts" to address teacher shortages.

Ms. Yan Hong, Education Specialist at UNESCO, provided insights on the broader impact of educational quality. "Through sustained investment in public education, we can address multifaceted social challenges, from reducing poverty to enhancing civic engagement."

Discussions highlighted the disparities in teacher training and resources throughout the ASEAN subregion. A significant focus was placed on the role of public investment in harmonising these disparities, ensuring a more equitable public education system. Union representatives from different ASEAN countries shared national experiences and strategies, illustrating the diverse educational landscapes and common challenges that could be addressed through the Panel’s recommendations.

A toolkit was introduced to support EI member organisations globally as they advocate for the implementation of the recommendations in their national and local contexts as part of the Go Public! Fund Education campaign. This resource tackles critical issues such as teacher salaries, job security, professional development, gender equity, and the effective integration of technology in education.

The event concluded with a call to action for EI member organisations to mobilise teachers and communities to ensure that educational policies across ASEAN are shaped by these transformative recommendations, so that every child has the opportunity to learn from a qualified teacher in a supportive environment.