ASEAN Needs a Revolution in Education, Business Leaders Warn


For ASEAN to meet the growth and inclusion challenges posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution – the rapid adoption of new technologies and digital systems – countries in the region must reform the way people are educated and be careful not to introduce regulations that stifle innovation and the adoption of disruptive business models, business and policy leaders warned in a session on the first day of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN.

Mari Elka Pangestu, Professor of International Economics at the University of Indonesia, who was a minister in the previous Indonesian government, said that with the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), “we have gone from pooling resources to pooling markets, but we have yet to pool our talent.” She added: “Technology is a means to an end. But people are still important – and they have to have the training and knowledge to use the technology.” Developing new skills, such as collaboration and empathy, is important. “With value chains, you can’t work in silos anymore,” she said.

Regulators, too, have to be educated, Pangestu argued. “Regulators and policy-makers are still in the old world. We have to regulate but we have to do it in a way that is in line with the new world. Governments tend to over-regulate and control in the old way. Policy-makers don’t know where all this is going so it is better to tread lightly.”

“We need a revolution in education” for both young and old people, declared Nazir Razak, Chairman of CIMB Group Holdings in Malaysia. Embracing the unprecedented wave of technological change means empowering people, particularly the youth, to challenge vested interests, especially the entrenched links between big business and government, he added.

South-East Asia has key advantages over other regions, the experts reckoned. Being relatively young, its people are fast adopters of new technology. “There are lots of local platforms being mixed with global brands and platforms,” said Ulf Ewaldsson, Senior Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer of Ericsson in Sweden. Established companies such as CIMB will have to rely on this openness and flexibility to prosper. “We are being bashed by fintech,” Nazir told participants. “We have to respond. For an old company like us, we have to think like a fintech company, be innovative and become a fintech company ourselves.”