East Asia and the Pacific: Investing in Teachers and Basic Education for a Prosperous Future
Education has played a vital role in East Asia and the Pacific’s remarkable economic development. In the past, investments in basic literacy and numeracy equipped farmers to adopt new technologies and usher in the Green Revolution. This led to increased productivity, which allowed workers to move from agriculture to export-oriented manufacturing. This structural transformation boosted economywide productivity growth.
However, despite significant advances in school enrollment and educational attainment, more than half of 10-year-olds in most middle-income countries in East Asia and the Pacific cannot read and understand an age-appropriate text. This phenomenon, known as learning poverty, is a major barrier to economic development and social progress.
Learning is cumulative, so children who struggle with basic literacy and numeracy are likely to have difficulty developing the more advanced skills needed for innovative manufacturing and sophisticated services. These are the productivity-boosting economic activities that could propel countries in the region from middle- to high-income status.
Learning poverty is significantly higher in all the region’s middle-income countries than in the high-income countries of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Singapore. The challenges are even greater in lower-middle income Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), and Papua New Guinea. In all countries, the quality of education is much weaker in rural and poorer regions than in urban and richer areas.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these persistent deficits in basic learning.
This report focuses on foundational learning—basic literacy and numeracy—which is necessary for the development of more advanced skills. The report also focuses on public schools, where most of the region’s students obtain their basic education. Finally, the report focuses on teachers, who are central to children’s learning.
- More than half of 10-year-olds in most middle-income East Asia and Pacific countries cannot read and understand an age-appropriate text.
- Learning poverty is significantly higher in the region than in high-income countries.
- The quality of education is much weaker in rural and poorer regions than in urban and richer areas.
- Teachers are central to children’s learning, but they need more support.
- Invest in high-quality teacher training and development.
- Provide teachers with access to technology and other resources.
- Support school leaders to create effective learning environments.
- Develop policies that promote equity and inclusion in education.
Investing in teachers and basic education is essential for the future of East Asia and the Pacific. By empowering teachers, we can help all children develop the skills they need to succeed in school and in life.
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