Lifelong education a growing priority in Asia, Unesco report says
Education is a human right, no doubt about that. In a recently released document, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau lays down strategies to fulfil the mission of strengthening member states' capacities to provide equitable and quality education throughout life.
It has pledged to provide support for individual countries in improving teaching practices and fostering a learning culture.
The past decades have seen progress in improving access to education in the developing world, though illiteracy remains a pressing issue in some regions.
As mentioned in the bureau's Education Support Strategy 2014-2021 report, the net enrolment rates at the primary level in its 47 member states - home to more than 4.3 billion people, or roughly 60 per cent of the world's population - stood at 91 per cent in 2012, up from 85 per cent in 2000. Providing basic education (primary and lower secondary) continues to be a tough challenge, particularly in South and West Asia, but as identified by the report, continuous or lifelong education is of rising importance.
Thanks to the growth of knowledge economies and globalisation, never has the world been as closely linked. And individual countries can rarely survive alone on the manufacturing industry.
Post-basic education, including higher education, technical and vocational training and continuing education focusing on the acquisition of skills and competences needed for life and work is cited as among the challenges facing the region.
As the battle against illiteracy rages on, the Bangkok-based UN organisation calls on governments in the region to develop learning opportunities at different levels. There is really no room for complacency in a fiercely competitive environment.
"Countries need to find an optimal balance of investing in various sub-sectors of education as well as ways to effectively engage and coordinate numerous education stakeholders in the central and local levels," the report says.
Significantly, it also calls for attention to early childhood education. Research has repeatedly shown the value preschool education has for a child's future development.
The proliferation of private kindergartens in Hong Kong specialising in well-established teaching approaches is testament to the mass support for quality education for small children.
Indeed, reading through the report makes one appreciative of the vibrant educational scene here. The 12-year compulsory education aside (free kindergarten is coming on board with a government committee studying the issue due to announce its decision this month), Hong Kong has a wide array of institutions offering all sorts of training.
A rising number of private institutions have made available study options that suit different aspirations and interests, many of which at non-degree level. They cover areas such as visual arts, photography, fashion design, veterinary nursing and comic creation. The list goes on.
Yet another new offering is the Vocational Training Council-run International Culinary Institute set up last year to train a new generation of master chefs for international cuisines.
Hong Kong is in an advantageous position in meeting the need for further education in the region. English is a common medium of instruction, though some courses, especially those at diploma level, are taught in Chinese. But at least the city has a good supply of teachers who can communicate effectively in English.
Mainland students form the vast majority of the non-local intake at universities. Why not open the door to students from less-developed countries so there is a wider mix of people of various ethnic backgrounds?
In an education hub, efforts can also be made to promote non-degree courses abroad. In line with the UN goals, a small but resourceful city such as Hong Kong should look beyond its border to offer what it can for the benefit of the region.