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[ASEAN ISSUE #7] COVID-19 and Online Education in ASEAN (Part 1)

May 22, 2020

COVID-19 and Online Education in ASEAN (Part I)- ASEAN Online Education in the Post-Corona era -

As the world goes into a protracted battle against the coronavirus, many are preparing for the “post-corona” era. The pandemic is fundamentally changing the way we live, as people move away from the life “before coronavirus” and adapt to the life “after coronavirus”. Education is no exception to this change.

As countries enforce social distancing, most schools around the world have been closed. According to UNESCO, as of May 22nd, there are nationwide school closures in over 162 countries impacting around 1.72 billion students, or 98.4 % of the world’s student population.

In order to deal with this unprecedented education disruption, countries around the world are introducing a variety of non-face-to-face teaching methods, such as public broadcasting, podcasts, video conferencing, and indigenous online platforms. After the initial adjustment period, several countries have moved on to deliver full-fledged online classes. Some universities in Korea have substituted all of its courses for the spring semester with online classes.

However, in many places around the world, particularly in less developed areas, poor ICT infrastructure and lack of access to digital devices pose serious challenges to effectively carrying out online education. At an online forum organized by KAIST on April 22, Rebecca Winthrop, senior fellow from the Brookings Institution, pointed out that only about a quarter of schools in developing countries are able to provide online education services, and that the current transition to online education accelerated by COVID19 could result in exacerbating education inequalities between developed and developing countries.

ASEAN is also facing such challenges though there are apparent differences among the member states. Despite the rapid progress of the region’s digitalization over the past decade, there are only three states?Brunei, Singapore, and Malaysia?where the rate of Internet use exceeds 80 percent (of the total population) as of 2018. This digital divide between member states and between urban and rural areas within each state remain a great challenge. Addressing this challenge will be a prerequisite to implementing effective online learning in the post-Corona era.

Below is a summary of the current status of online education in ASEAN Member States.

■ ASEAN’s online learning environment (ICT Infrastructure)

The prevalence of e-learning varies from country to country in ASEAN depending on their respective digital infrastructure, online education system and development of online learning materials. While more than 80 percent of the population use the internet in Brunei, Singapore, and Malaysia, a more moderate percentage of about 50 to 70 percent use the internet in the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. And in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Myanmar less than 40 percent have regular access to internet service. What is encouraging, however, is that even in the countries with low rate of internet use, the number has steadily increased by an average of 30 percent over the past 8 years since 2010. As such, internet penetration in these countries are also expected to grow.

[Internet Use and Mobile Phone Subscription in ASEAN Member States]

CountryIndividuals using Internet (%)Household accessing Internet (%)Mobile Phone Subscription
(Per 100 people) (%)
Lao PDR?25.524.554.1
Viet Nam49.627.3125.6

*Source: World Development Indicators (World Bank), Digital Yearbook 2020 (We are Social)

The future of the mobile sector looks even more promising. As of 2018, the rate of mobile phone subscriptions exceed 100 percent in all ASEAN Member States except in Lao PDR. The rate of increase since 2010 is also quite impressive. According to the International Telecommunications Union, in Cambodia mobile broadband actually developed more rapidly because of the scarcity of wired infrastructure. Cambodia launched its first wireless 3G network service in 2007. In other words, even in conditions with inadequate wired internet connections, online learning has become possible using mobile broadband.

There are other challenges as well. Internet speed is also an important factor for online education to be both effective and universal. In the case of Lao PDR, while 90% of the population has access to 2G service, only 61% uses 3G service while a mere 1.5% of the population, mostly in urban areas, subscribe to 4G service. Given that it takes 32 hours to download 2GB file for 2G, 19 minutes for 3G, 16 seconds for 4G, and 0.8 seconds for 5G, the problem is not just about whether one has access to internet/mobile service, but also about the quality and technology of that service.

■ Current state of online education in ASEAN Member States

At the World Economic Forum on ASEAN held in Viet Nam in 2018, ASEAN participants described the 4th industrial revolution as an opportunity for ASEAN to make a quantum leap in economic development, and expressed strong commitment in developing services in the financial, health and education sector that would lead the 4IR.

Although situations vary from country to country, most ASEAN Member States have made efforts over the years to expand online learning, especially in higher education, through institutional improvements and technology development. Some countries have been promoting online education at the government level. In other countries individual universities have been taking initiative to incorporate e-learning courses in their schools. Naturally, there are also countries where online education is still relatively new.

Currently, online education in ASEAN countries are mostly observed at university levels. However, as countries respond to the coronavirus situation this year, many have established online learning platforms for elementary, middle, and high school students as seen below.

[E-learning platform in use by ASEAN member States during the Covid-19 pandemic]

CountriesE-learning Platform
Cambodia (Ministry of Education) MoEYS - Online learning broadcasting via Facebook by Ministry of Education
Indonesia Rumah Belajar - Online learning platform providing learning-teaching materials and online learning management system SPADA - Free online learning for students of tertiary education
Malaysia (Ministry of Education) MoE-DL - Online learning platform, providing learning-teaching materials by Ministry of EducationEduweb TV - Online Platform providing teaching materials by the government
Philippines (Ministry of Education) DepEd Commons - Online platform for public school teachers supporting continued distance basic education learning
Singapore (Ministry of Education) Singapore Student Learning Space - Online platform, providing learning-teaching materials by Ministry of education
Thailand (Office of the Private Education Commission) Digital Learning Centre - FOnline learning platform for general public and elementary-secondary students by Office of Private Education Commission (OPEC)
Viet Nam National and local TV channels : Local and national TV stations broadcasting lessons for grades 1 -12 students

*Source: ASEAN Information Centre

In Singapore where the smart industry is the most developed, e-learning is already quite widespread in universities. National University of Singapore offers about 40 to 50 online courses a year. To support these efforts, there are about 10 studios in the university where on-line lectures are recorded or live-streamed, and the Centre for Instructional Technology offers a variety of education materials that can be used online. Also, the school is using Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to further enhance students’ access to online lectures outside the university.

In Malaysia, the Ministry of Education carried out a policy to transform its schools into “smart schools”--87 schools nationwide benefited from the pilot program that was implemented from 1999 to 2002. Development of online curriculum, online learning materials and Learning Management System (LMS) are currently in progress.

The Philippines government have been implementing its mobile e-learning initiative known as “Text2Teach” since 2003. This online education project is being carried out on a national level using the country’s mobile infrastructure.

In Thailand, efforts are being made to strengthen the online education content for universities through Thai MOOC and Thailand Cyber University Project. Recognizing the importance of the quality of the lectures, in addition to good infrastructure, Thailand has focused much of its efforts in improving and developing high-quality online content through seminars and training programs. Meanwhile, because a full-fledged online course is not permitted in Thailand, most online courses are run in a ‘blended’ format where part of the course also include offline lectures. There may be various reasons behind this, including concerns about deterioration in students’ academic performance, but it also appears that schools are worried that a widespread use of online classes can lead to a sudden increase in the number of cyber universities which could significantly affect the number of new students in offline universities.

Indonesia has implemented various policies to expand online education in the country. SPADA, which is a MOOC-based learning platform, offers online courses from 51 universities across the country. In 2017, 6,917 students were registered with SPADA. Many universities in Indonesia also offer online courses to their students?Universitas Indonesia, for example, offered 1,676 courses online in 2016, which was nearly twice the number of online lectures (867) that were offered in 2014.

Despite the high enthusiasm for education in Vietnam and the rapid economic growth of the country in recent years, e-learning does not seem to have been actively introduced into its public education system. Similar to Thailand, university courses cannot be composed of online lectures only in Vietnam. Therefore, online materials are currently only used to supplement offline courses.

Cambodia’s Institute of Technology which operates a dedicated e-learning operation center, offered 23 online courses to about 2,500 students in 2017. Although online courses only make up about 3% of the institute’s curriculum, the proportion is expected to grow as improvements are made in the infrastructure and new online learning materials are developed.

In comparison, while the University of Technology in Myanmar does not have a separate office that manages online courses, online courses make up 11% of the schools’ lectures. In 2017, 21 online courses were offered to 2,547 students.

It is true that there are still many disparities between the 10 ASEAN Member States in terms of online education infrastructure, quality of learning materials and how much they are used. Fortunately, since the launch of ASEAN Community in 2015, discussions have been taking place on the need to mitigate the digital divide among and within the members. Also, various efforts are being carried out to strengthen online education capacities of the countries. Prospects are indeed bright for many improvements in the future.

Even before the launch of the ASEAN Community, Korea has worked with ASEAN Member States to strengthen partnership in the field of online education. Next Week, ASEAN Issue will continue with Part 2 of “COVID-19 and ASEAN Online Education” which will look at ASEAN-Korea cooperation in E-learning, including the ASEAN Cyber University Project which was one of the deliverables of the 2009 ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit.

[References]COVID-19 Impact on Education (UNESCO)Measuring the Information Society Report 2018 (International Tlecommunication Union) 이희원, 싱가포르 국립대학 이러닝 센터 (가르침과 배움, Vol. 34. pp.57-60)서순식 외, 아세안 고등교육 이러닝 수준 진단 연구 (한국교육학술정보원, 2017)이진구, 정영란, 아세안 국가 고등교육의 이러닝 수업운영 사례연구 (Journal of Cyber Education Vol. 9, No. 1, pp.9-21, 2015)장상현 외, 아세안 사이버대학 모델(안) 및 설립 전략 연구 (한국교육학술정보원, 2019)

[ASEAN ISSUE #9] ASEAN Tourism Ministers Reaffirm Commitment to Strengthen Cooperation in Responding to COVID-19 Pandemic [ASEAN ISSUE #8] COVID-19 and Online Education in ASEAN (Part 2)