The Quality of Basic Education in Southeast Asia


About the Conference

Quality education is critical for countries to build their human resource, support future economic growth and realize long-term development. Consequently, many governments have been investing heavily in education as part of their strategy to promote future competitiveness. Despite the encouraging trends in public education investments and school completion in Southeast Asian countries, however, the learning outcomes gap remains significant.

Countries in the region have been spending on education for decades, with public education expenditure ranging from 2% to 7% of GDP. Although this sustained public investment has contributed to increasing school completion, a large gap in learning outcomes remains. Between 2000 and 2015, learning outcomes in Thailand and Malaysia continued to lag those observed in Singapore, with no indication of catching up. In addition, absolute learning levels in many Southeast Asian economies remain low. For instance, Indonesia and the Philippines were in the bottom ten countries participating in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (OECD, 2019). More than 51% of 15-year-old Indonesian students were in the low-achiever category in mathematics, reading, and science. The rate was 72% in the Philippines. Likewise, the 2019 Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics surveyed fifth-grade students in Myanmar, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines and found that 83% of Vietnamese students performed at or above reading grade expectations, while only 8% of Lao PDR students had the same competency (UNICEF and SEAMEO, 2020).

There are multidimensional challenges in improving the quality of basic education and ensuring that all students acquire foundational literacy and numeracy skills. This has prompted various education-related reforms, programmes, and non-governmental and non-profit organization-supported interventions. There are a few success stories but many more accounts of failure concerning educational reforms in the region.

The efforts to improve learning outcomes faced a significant setback during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools in most countries were shut in March 2020 and began reopening only in late 2021. During the school closure phase, teaching and learning moved online, interactively or using one-way methods such as television or radio-based instructions. But uneven access to mobile phones and the Internet, poorly trained teachers, and low parental support resulted in significant learning losses in most nations.

Given this backdrop, The Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI), Asian Development Bank (ADB), and ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute are organizing a joint conference on the quality of basic education in Southeast Asia. The conference presentations will offer contemporary analyses and feasible lessons related to enhancing the delivery of quality education to pupils during their formative years.

The two-day-long event will have ten presentations covering Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Dr Albert Park, Chief Economist of the Asian Development Bank, will deliver the keynote speech on Day 1. Dr Ng Pak Tee, Associate Professor at the National Technological University, will be the keynote speaker on Day 2. And Dr Justin Sandefur, Center for Global Development, will deliver a special talk based on his recent survey experiments to understand education policy preferences in developing countries on Day 2.

This conference is supported by the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) and Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Please refer to the programme here for further details.


This hybrid event is open to the public and will be held at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS).

Attending the Event In-person at ISEAS

To join the event in-person at ISEAS, please register via the ISEAS mobile app, available on iOS and Android via the Apple or Play store. Search “ISEAS” to find or scan this QR code.

Apple Store

Play Store

Seating capacity is limited. Do register early to avoid disappointment.

Attending the Event Virtually via Webinar

To join the event virtually at the specified date and time using your internet devices, please register via the following links to receive your unique login link for the webinar via the zoom platform.

Day 1 (Tuesday, 11 October 2022) – Please register here.

Day 2 (Wednesday, 12 October 2022) – Please register here.

If you have questions for the speaker, please key in your questions via the Q&A, stating your name and affiliation. The moderator will field them to the speaker during the Q&A session.


Oct 11 - 12 2022


ISEAS Seminar Room 1 & 2 / Webinar