THE CASE FOR EDUCATION REFORM IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

By Kristopher Klein
Staff Writer

In the new, global economy the playing field between traditionally developed and developing economies is leveling out. This is apparent with development strategies currently being designed and implemented across Southeast Asia. As Asia begins to pull an increasingly large share of the global economy its way, the nations of Southeast Asia have begun to prepare themselves for a new era of commercial and technological competition. With these reforms, we are witnessing the creation of one of the world’s largest markets and what will potentially be a hub of innovation and commercial growth.

Southeast Asia, or more specifically the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is home to more than 600 million people, has a GDP of 2.1 trillion U.S. dollars and grew at a rate of 5.3 percent in 2013. Beginning in 2015, these economies will open themselves to the free flow of goods, services, investment, labor and capital between the member states and in the process become the world’s third most populous common market.

How competitive this market will be, however, will depend on its ability to produce an educated workforce ready to supply its burgeoning market with skilled labor. Improving education must be a high priority if Southeast Asia is to fully realize its potential as a global competitor. National governments across ASEAN have increased investment in universities to help build the educational capacity needed to attract jobs in the skilled labor and services areas, but this may not be enough.

According to a study by Harvard University Graduate School of Education Professor Emeritus Noel McGinn, national education systems are ill-prepared to anticipate the needs of a supranational market. McGinn goes on to suggest that “a more helpful alternative is to re-design education to contribute to integration at a trans-national level.” Economic integration gives rise to much larger supranational organizations with an appetite for knowledge very different from their local and national counterparts. If ASEAN is serious about competing in the skilled labor market, it must integrate its education system at a supranational level. Supranational education has been successfully implemented across other common markets like the European Union, where supranational programs have given students opportunities to gain educational and work experience in any of the union’s member states. The freedom to receive an education anywhere across the entire economic community will allow the dispersion of education and educated people to more closely match the demands of the economic community. This seems to fit the stated aims of ASEAN integration in increasing investment in high skill and high technology sectors.

On May 22, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak delivered the keynote address at the International Conference on the Future of Asia. In his remarks, Prime Minister Najib stressed the need to “win support for agreements that can unlock growth and create higher paying jobs,” perhaps referring to on-going negotiations of international trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) involving markets like Japan and the United States. Prime Minister Najib’s statements highlight the need to improve education in order to attract jobs and investment in Southeast Asia. As Southeast Asia becomes increasingly connected to the rest of the world, it will have to create a class of highly educated professionals to compete with foreign workers in high-end sectors. According to an Economist Intelligence Report on ASEAN exports, jobs producing high-vale exports are likely to be better paid, better skilled, less physically demanding and more technologically advanced than those producing low-value exports. It is therefore imperative that Southeast Asian invests in higher education if it is to successfully scale the value chain.

Between now and 2017, information technology services in ASEAN will be worth more than $74 billion. Investors increasingly view Southeast Asia as an attractive destination for investment in information technology and in 2014, 14 ASEAN cities were on the top 100 outsourcing destinations. Meeting the growing international demand for information services in Southeast Asia means meeting the demand for human resources.

As Southeast Asia realizes it growth potential, it will also be faced with greater economic inequality. Prime Minister Najib, at the Future of Asia Conference, also commented on growing economic disparity saying that inequality following economic growth threatens stability and undermines social progress. “When soaring GDP outstrips living standards, people feel they do not have a stake in their nation’s economic success. That in turn undermines social progress and threatens stability,” he said. However, investment in education may slow the growing inequality. Prime Minister Najib stressed the role of government in investing in public goods such as quality education in order to narrow the divide in educational results between urban and rural areas. Furthermore, public support will be needed for promoting social mobility and helping to close the gap between rich and poor.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its future common market clearly have very high potential for growth, specifically growth in the high-skill, high-value sectors. However, if ASEAN is to fulfill its potential and become a center for innovation and commercial activity, a serious conversation must be had about reforming and integrating its education system. Investment and reform for education will attract investment and help slow the growth of inequality. If that does not occur, however, the economic development of one of the world’s largest markets will hang in the balance.

Image by Commonwealth Secretariat

THE MYSTERY OF MH370

Malaysian Jet Liner

By Aarushi Gupta
Staff Writer

On March 7, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak addressed the world and revealed that flight officials had lost contact with Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370), and that a search and rescue operation was well underway. The families of the passengers and crew aboard the proclaimed “missing flight” were notified via text message, ostensibly as a formality. However, later that day, evidence of plane debris emerged, confirming suspicions that MH370 had crashed, presumably in the Indian Ocean, which triggered the international search for the remnants of the lost Boeing 777-200.

Razak disclosed that contact with MH370 had been lost on March 7, but Malaysian Airlines officials had already been searching for the lost plane for a few hours before the official announcement had been made. Collaboration between Vietnam, Malaysia and Australia, as well as the United States and 11 other nations resulted in information regarding the potential location of MH370 and/or any scattered debris that may have dispersed upon the plane’s crash landing, but no definite conclusions were reached. However, the main source of confusion surrounding flight MH370 is not where it went down, but why.

Why did this plane, within an hour of taking off, reroute and fly hundreds of miles west while losing contact with ground control and satellites, to the extent that no one actually knows for sure where it actually crashed? It is shocking in this day and age that a plane can be lost, when civilian cell phone tracking and communications monitoring is the norm for several countries. Not only did ground control lose contact with MH370, but also satellite contact was not acquired. The Malaysian authorities had at one point implicated the pilots, Capt. Zaharie Ahmed Shah and Fariq Abdul Hamid, saying that it is possible that the former was involved in potential terrorist activities. Malaysian Officials have repeatedly said, “the pilot of MH flight 370 deliberately flew the jet off course” and have been asking Zaharie’s relatives for information regarding his behavior and actions before the March 7 takeoff. An unknown official associated with the investigation has been quoted off-record as saying, “he was the only person with the necessary skills and experience to pilot the aircraft,” saying that Zaharie’s copilot, Hamid, would not have been capable of hijacking the aircraft.

Malaysian officials have been reluctant to reveal several details of the ongoing investigation, angering Chinese officials and the families of the missing Chinese citizens, who comprised the majority of the passengers aboard MH370. However, while Malaysian authorities have been adamantly pushing the theory that Capt. Zaharie was in some way compromised to fly the aircraft or was on a suicide mission, Interpol has revealed that Malaysian officials in Kuala Lumpur did not validate the passports of any passengers, including the two passengers who allegedly used stolen passports to illegally migrate to the West. The officials said that “consulting an Interpol Stolen passport database would have taken too much time and caused too many delays to be useful.” Interpol rebuked this claim, asserting that a search on the stolen passport database yields results in 0.2 seconds, hinting at suspicious actions not by the pilot, but instead by Malaysian flight authorities or even the Malaysian government. Apparently, “Malaysia’s Immigration Department did not conduct a single check of passengers’ passports against Interpol’s databases,” according to Interpol.

In the midst of cooperation between 15 countries, the Malaysian government has acted as a bottleneck for the information emerging from this investigation, releasing intelligence in a slow, steady flow. Among a lack of information, they were quick to proclaim the missing flight as “probably crashed” somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Even now, as 12 planes and 5 ships from all over the region collaborate to search for more evidence of the crash, Malaysian officials remain mum about details surrounding the communication loss and the poor satellite reception. The lack of transparency surrounding the investigation has infuriated Chinese officials and families of the 239 people on board, but has also given way to conspiracy theories that can neither be confirmed nor denied, due to the lack of information provided by the Malaysian government.

Several news outlets have proposed wild theories, most notably CNN. On March 19, CNN’s Don Lemon asked the former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Mary Shriver, if it was possible that MH370 had been sucked up by a black hole. Shriver clarified to Lemon and the rest of the world that a black hole would “suck in our entire universe. So we know it’s not that.” However, theories analogous to popular TV shows such as “Lost” and “The Twilight Zone” have been proposed, and several correspondents have even asked why the Malaysian Government has not used psychics to find the debris from MH370. Other more realistic theories include that the pilots of the Malaysian Airlines flight purposely avoided radio signals and changed the flight path of the plane through coordinates that are known to not have radio signal. These theories may or may not be grounded in truth, but due to the omnipresence of a 24-hour news cycle where information is continuously flowing, news outlets have begun reporting on even the smallest details of the case, and to keep viewers’ interest, have attempted to stretch the information available into barely viable theories for the sake of ratings. Unless the Malaysian authorities (or any countries affiliated with the search) present some real information, media outlets should reevaluate their priorities and focus on the current issues on hand.

The unsettling realization that modern technology can be so ineffective, the sketchy and slow flow of evidence and the widespread international involvement are all aspects of what has made this case especially compelling news. Each day a representative from an involved country presents renewed statements regarding the fate of MH370. Currently, the search has switched over to focus on the black box on MH370, which is the communications center for the plane. Pundits believe that the black box contains information that can elucidate details about the final moments of those on MH370, and can help solve the mystery of the plane. Obviously, finding the black box in the Indian Ocean presents a considerable challenge.

This is not the first time Malaysian Airlines has lost of one of their planes. In 1977, Malaysian Airlines Flight 653 was high jacked en route to Kuala Lumpur and crashed into a mangrove swamp as it descended, killing all passengers and crew on board. Families of the passengers aboard MH653 are still skeptical of the details surrounding the plane crash, but one thing is certain–MH370 has certainly resurfaced memories and feelings surrounding the MH635 crash. Tom Sherrington, whose father perished on MH653, offers this advice for the families of the passengers of MA370: “Focus on remembering [your] loved ones and try no to fixate on assigning blame…stick together and find comfort in each other.”

Image by Aero Icarus