OECD Southeast Asia Regional Forum, 20 May 2021


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

OECD Secretary-General

Paris, 20 May 2021

Dear Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand; Mr. Choi Jongmoon, Second Vice Foreign Minister of Korea; Distinguished Participants:

Welcome to the 2021 Forum of the OECD’s Southeast Asia Regional Programme (SEARP), which will focus on human capital and skills development in Southeast Asia. My thanks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand for co-hosting today’s event.

Southeast Asia has long been a strategic priority for the OECD. Since I launched the SEARP with Japan’s then Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, in 2014, our co-operation with the region has flourished.
We are about to undertake our fourth Joint Work Programme with Indonesia – one of the OECD’s five Key Partners – and we have also launched a country programme with Thailand. A country programme for Viet Nam is under development. In 2015, ASEAN designated the OECD as an institution of strategic collaboration in its Economic Blueprint. And last year’s ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF) called for an MoU with the OECD, which we are advancing.

COVID-19 catalysed a triple health, social and economic crisis in Southeast Asia that has disproportionately affected women, youth, SMEs and unskilled labour. The OECD’s latest Economic Outlook for Southeast Asia, China and India forecasts a gradual recovery, with average ASEAN real GDP growth of 5.1% in 2021. The crisis has accelerated the shift away from the region’s traditional key growth drivers, such as tourism and hospitality. At the same time, megatrends – including globalisation, digitalisation, demographics, migration and climate change – are radically reshaping the skills people need to thrive at work and in society.

Today’s Forum will discuss how education systems can help foster the skills – especially digital skills – needed for the future of work in Southeast Asia. It will also highlight the importance of improving digital connectivity and addressing digital divides.

Let me outline a few areas where the OECD can help.

First, the OECD provides policy guidance on skills that are most relevant and adaptable to the changing world of work. Nearly 10% of Southeast Asian employers report having difficulties finding workers with the right skills. Only around 49% of students across Southeast Asia have regular access to career guidance, compared to 64% of students in OECD countries. The new OECD report, Towards a Skills Strategy for Southeast Asia: Skills for Post-COVID Recovery and Growth, to be launched at tomorrow’s Steering Group meeting, outlines the OECD’s efforts to conduct a comprehensive assessment and improve skills performance in Southeast Asia. This will help to ensure that workers’ skills are aligned with labour market needs.

Second, the OECD supports the region’s transition towards a sound and inclusive digital economy. In recent decades, ASEAN’s digital skills have accelerated sharply. The OECD has been promoting financial education and financial inclusion, which are critical to the success of the digital transformation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, countries like Singapore and Viet Nam have accelerated the digital content of their education sectors. The OECD can learn from their efforts to expand access to digital learning tools, and to embed digital literacy into national curricula.

Third, the OECD provides measurement tools to build robust education systems and indicators. At a regional level, the OECD and the ASEAN Secretariat are exploring ways to enhance the production of statistics on learning outcomes across the region, in partnership with Member States, to ensure that the implementation of the ASEAN Work Plan on Education 2025 can be reviewed effectively. At a country level, the OECD is working towards involving more ASEAN Member States in its large-scale assessments such as PISA and TALIS, which can produce data on teaching and learning outputs and outcomes, and the policy contexts and levers that shape them.

Last but not least, the OECD provides tailored analysis and policy recommendations to upgrade national education and skills policies. For example, our latest Multi-Dimensional Review of Viet Nam outlines measures to strengthen skills development and innovation to ensure that workers can harness technological change and capitalise on future opportunities.

Dear Friends:

This is the last time I will address the annual Forum of the SEARP. I am extremely proud of our work together and of our efforts to support Southeast Asian countries to advance their domestic priorities, policy reforms and regional integration efforts. Thank you all for your continued support and commitment.

Please continue to count on the OECD as we work to strengthen human capital and skills development policies in Southeast Asia for a strong, resilient, inclusive and green recovery.

Thank you.


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