Transforming Education and its Systems in the Asia-Pacific region has to be seen against the backdrop of its great diversity and its large population. It is characterized by a rapid and dynamic economic growth, a growing number of middle-income countries, innovation and technological advances. However, these overall economic trends belie vast disparities between and within countries and economic growth has not necessarily resulted in equivalent increases in living standards in all countries. Trends show that these gaps are widening, rather than narrowing, and are compounded by a diversity of challenges such as demographic change with huge youth bulges in some contexts and a rapidly aging population in others, increased labour mobility and migration, environmental degradation and natural disasters and continuing presence of conflicts in parts of the region.
As concerns education, while the region has made great progress in access and participation in education especially at primary and lower secondary levels, with more than 97% of primary and 90% of lower secondary-age children enrolled (UIS, 2020), there are persistent disparities among and within countries, in particular in equity and quality of education. Completion is a major challenge, especially at upper secondary level - in half of the countries in the region, less than 40% of adolescents complete the cycle (UIS, 2020). As regards learning achievement, in half of the countries of the region less than 56% of students are proficient in reading in all levels, and less than 50% in math (UIS, 2019), indicating a major learning crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented disruption of education globally and in the region, severely impacting education delivery, learning outcomes, student engagement and their health and well-being, affecting vulnerable learners the most, and resulting in a significant setback in progress towards achieving the SDG 4. Overall, while the situation is diverse between and within countries of the region, the pandemic not only exacerbated pre-existing deep inequalities in access to education and learning achievements, but exposed significant existing weaknesses in the quality and relevance of education and the overall fragility of education systems.
As a first and immediate action, countries need to ensure learning recovery, ‘to prevent this generation of students from suffering permanent losses in their learning and future productivity, and to protect their ability to participate fully in society’. Here, as spelt out in the R.A.P.I.D. Learning Recovery Framework, jointly developed by UNICEF, UNESCO and The World Bank, (UNICEF, 2022) the focus should be to: 1. Reach and retain every child; 2. Assess learning levels; 3. Prioritize teaching the fundamentals; 4. Increase catch-up learning; and 5. Develop psychosocial health and well-being. At the same time, these immediate and urgent actions should go hand in hand with the development of broader strategies to address the learning crisis in a longer-term perspective in transforming education systems.
Beyond recovery, the crisis revealed the urgent need to rethink and transform education systems to be resilient to withstand future shocks, and to become more equitable, inclusive, relevant and flexible to deliver learning and well-being for all and better respond to shifting learning and training requirements as well as deliver on the SDG4 commitments.
Transforming education: what learning is needed in Asia-Pacific in the future?
In order to effectively transform education systems, there needs to be a reflection on what education we want for the future in the Asia Pacific region. To this end, the recent UNESCO l Futures of Education Report invites governments and education stakeholders globally to rethink and reimagine the purpose, content and delivery of education, with a view to transforming education toward peaceful, inclusive and sustainable futures of humanity and the planet. It aims at responding to the key current challenges of “growing social fragmentation, democratic backsliding, the crisis of climate change, and growing exclusion” and calls for a new social contract for education to face our common challenges. It identifies five main areas for transformation: pedagogies, curricula, the teaching profession, schools, and the creation of a learning eco-system. The report is not in itself a blueprint for educational reform, but rather a basis for reflection and debate about what choices should be made in formulating policies. The vision, principles and proposals contained in the Futures of Education Report and the report of the UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda are also guiding the thematic action tracks that will be discussed in the upcoming Transforming Education Summit.
Importantly, there needs to be a reflection on what key competencies learners need to acquire to live and work in, as well as contribute to and shape rapidly changing societies and economies. Building on different existing conceptual frameworks, these key competencies include:
- Proficiency in foundational literacy and numeracy skills and basic digital skills
- 21st century/transferable skills and higher order competencies and in particular communication, collaboration, problem-solving, critical thinking
- Skills for work, including employability, entrepreneurship and ICT skills
- Competency for independent and life-long learning and skilling
- Competencies to respond to climate change and environmental degradation, promote sustainable development and engage with the world as creative and responsible global citizens
Values and attitudes that promote:
- Resilience and adaptability
- Treasuring and sustaining diversity and pluralism
- Promoting justice and human dignity
 The World Bank, UNESCO and UNICEF (2021). The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery. Washington D.C., Paris, New York, p. 4
 UNICEF (2022). Where are we on Education Recovery? UNICEF. New York.
 UNESCO (2021): Reimagining Our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for education.
 The United Nations Secretary-General is convening the Transforming Education Summit (TES) on 19 September 2022 during the 77th UN General Assembly. It is a key initiative of Our Common Agenda, and spotlights the urgency to act fast to transform education. It builds on the UNESCO’s Futures of Education Report and seeks to mobilize political ambition, action, solutions and solidarity to transform education: to take stock of efforts to recover pandemic-related learning losses; to reimagine education systems for the world of today and tomorrow; and to revitalize national and global efforts to achieve SDG-4.