4 Ways to Catch up With The Digital Economy in Asia

Opinion21.02.2017
computer and desk

At present, the ASEAN digital economy generates around $150 billion annually for the region. Connectivity and Online services make up the biggest portions of this revenue followed by user interface services, content rights, and enabling technology and services. Should ASEAN continue its efforts to grow the region’s digital economy, the region could potentially see an additional $1 trillion in GDP by 2025. Projections also include Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand ranking in the top 20 of global digital rankings with all other ASEAN countries ranking in the top 40 worldwide. In this case, ASEAN could very well be the global leader in digital revolution by 2025. However, the journey to strengthening Asia’s digital economy is not without its challenges. While the region is home to some of the most advanced technology, there are also a number of traditional development issues like poverty and corruption that the region is still tackling.. To move the digital economy forward, the following are four areas of public policy, especially education policy, that would be worth focusing on:

Language education

Asia has a rich and diverse array of cultures and  languages with a long literary tradition that education systems need to preserve. On the other hand, the region is increasingly integratred into global trade and supply chains, it is a popular destination for tourism and the digital economy will further hasten that trend towards international integration. Quite a few countries in the region do require students to learn a few “global” languages like English orFrench. Within some public school systems in the region, students are also made to pick up not just one but a second foreign language. However, this is not consistent throughout the region, and the quality of teaching often falls short of equipping students with sufficient language skills. Moreover, the languages that are needed in the business world today are changing. English remains indispensable, but especially in Asia, Chinese is becoming more and more important as Chinese companies are building up impressive digital businesses. French is losing relevance fast, while Spanish is gaining ground. Japanese and German are both interesting specialisations due to their companies’ global presence. It has been noted that in growing the region’s digital economy, a lot of digital entrepreneurs still struggle with language barriers. It would therefore be worth it for governments to explore building much stronger language skills for its younger generation so that they can take advantage of opportunities in the region’s digital economy once they join the workforce.

Digital Marketing

Marketing is one of the most important aspects of running a business that entrepreneurs would benefit from getting right. However, marketing itself has gone through quite a few transitions in the last decade, especially with the digital revolution that has taken place. Traditional marketing channels and media are not what have been historically described in marketing textbooks or lectures. At the college and university level courses offered need to reflect the growth spurge in the digital economy. While private universities tend to adapt much quicker to changes in the economic environment, governments should encourage public universities to strengthen their capacity to design and implement programs that would be more relevant and useful for those who do wish to work in the digital economy.

Tech Startups

Asia is a hub for some very successful tech startups in the world. However with startups or tech startups for that matter, the success rate within the first two years is quite low. That is not unusual, economic data across countries and across decades show that 60% of new businesses fail.  While there are a lot of bright minds with ambition, it does take more than just ideas, money, and ambition to take a startup from concept to success. At the college and university level, some public universities in the region do offer specialized business courses to their students who major in otherwise mainstream fields. However, given the snail’s pace of some the region’s public university programs when it comes to adapting their programs to changing social and economic needs, it is worth providing incentives for universities to adopt more innovative education programs that can help encourage and prepare their students to join the tech startup scene. Moreover, governments can also support vocational programs, ideally supervised by private business associations like chambers of commerce, that seek to provide tech startup hopefuls with the knowledge and capacity to implement their business ideas.

Information Technology and Computer Science

Information Technology and Computer Science have traditionally been very specialized courses suited for individuals who prefer to interact with computers and codes rather than people. On the other end of the spectrum are the business students who sometimes struggle with technological concepts and their applications. The digital economy needs the best of both these worlds to flourish. For this, the merging of business skills and tech skills need to be better incorporated into education and vocational programs. Emphasis on real life applications of technological ideas in a business environment should be reflected in education programs supported by local governments.

With Asia poised to be the next global leader in the digital economy, it is also inevitable that industries tied to this economy will experience a greater demand for workers with specialized skills. To better prepare for this rapid change and to combat the problem of labor shortages, it is therefore crucial that governments in the region be proactive with their education policy and programs. This should be reflected in the public education systems in the region as well as vocational programs designed to serve the needs of the digital economy.