Training Statisticians in Asia and the Pacific, 1

1.0.      Introduction

One of the first things that I needed was a clear statement of the mission of the Institute.  I could only be guided by the objectives and functions in Commission Resolution 51/1 on the statute of the Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP) which reads:The Institute shall strengthen, through practically-oriented training of official statisticians, the capability of the developing members and associate members and disadvantaged economies in transition of the region  to collect, analyze and disseminate statistics as well as to produce timely and high-quality statistics that can be utilized for economic and social development planning, and shall assist those developing members and associate members and disadvantaged economies in transition in establishing or strengthening their statistical training capability and other related activities.Subsequently as approved in the 7th session of its Governing Board in December 2001 at Bangkok, Thailand, the mission statement of SIAP has been formulated as: to strengthen the capability of national statistical systems in the region and to enhance statistical training capabilities and related activities at the country level through practically oriented training of official statisticians in order to produce timely and high-quality statistics that can be utilized for economic and social development planning.  What eventually evolved was an abridgement of the objectives and functions of the said Commission Resolution.Nevertheless both formulations point out two mandates for the Institute to produce timely and high-quality statistics that can be utilized for economic and social development planning, namely:

  • to train official statisticians effectively and
  • to enhance country statistical training capabilities.

The SIAP is an institute which trains officers of national statistical organizations (NSOs) in the member countries of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) on the concepts, methods, and practices in the production and dissemination of official statistics.  This paper examines how the Institute has carried out its aforestated mission from academic year 2001 to 2005 in the light of its capacities. The training environment (programmes, organization, facilities, and participants) will be presented.  Several challenges in the education and training of statisticians from developing countries will be identified and addressed, particularly in relating official statistics to socio-economic analysis in the context of government development planning. Then the relationship and linkages to ESCAP, and other UN and international agencies will be discussed as to how these influence the delivery of training services by SIAP.The developments in the training programmes during the period will be discussed in the context of recent trends and developments in the international statistical community and the economies of the member countries; the advances in information and communications technology and knowledge management; and strengthening the training impact on individuals and institutions.

1.1.      Training programmes

The Institute organizes courses conducted jointly with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) at the SIAP premises in Chiba and these are classified under the Tokyo Metropolitan Area (TMA) based programme. Yearly repeating curricula in this series are: (a) ‘Modules on fundamental official statistics’, with  duration of 6 months; and (b) three 2-month courses, namely ‘Applications of Information and Communications Technology for Production and Dissemination of Official Statistics, ‘Analysis, Interpretation and Dissemination of Official Statistics’ and the area-focused special course for officials from the Central Asian republics.SIAP has also been granting research fellowships in which participants are offered resources to complete a research project relating to statistics collected by their NSOs under the guidance of distinguished university professors or professional statisticians.The next category falls under the framework of the Outreach programme and consists of the Regional and Country courses.  The length of Regional courses varies from 3 days to 6 weeks and the participants come from member countries of ESCAP.  Examples in this program are: regular courses on ‘Sampling surveys’ and specialized trainings like ‘poverty measurements’ and ‘System of National Accounts’.  The Country courses are organized in cooperation with national organizations and the attendance is restricted to own nationals.  In general these are short courses on selected topics as for instance ‘Information Technologies’, and ‘Statistical Capability for MDGs’.In principle, all courses and fellowships are free for the participants. In the case of attendance of a course in another than the home country, reimbursement is made of additional costs in travel and daily subsistence (and/or accommodation). These attractive participation conditions are enabled due to the generous provision of facilities and financial contributions by the Japanese government and, on a more modest, but still substantial scale, other national governments and international organizations like United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank.Cash contributions of the Government of Japan constitute about 85 percent of total, apart from the fellowships for the TMA-based courses provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.  The statistical system of Japan, particularly its government statistical coordination agency, has been closely linked to the history of SIAP since its inception in 1970.  Even in the present scenario of shrinking official development assistance of the host Government, its unqualified and continuing support to SIAP has provided stability and momentum to the training needs of the national statistical organizations in the Asia Pacific region

1.2.      Organization and facilities

It has a lean staff with a director, deputy director cum lecturer, 5 statisticians/lecturers, 1 training assistant and a supporting staff of 3.  In addition to this UN staff, a special unit of 12 staff members, also provided by the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), lends organizational and administrative support.  For the conduct of its courses SIAP also employs the services of external lecturers to augment faculty capability.  The Institute is housed in a modern building in the new town of Makuhari, Chiba, which is located in the outskirts of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area.  SIAP courses are held in 4 lecture rooms and one computer room.  The computer room is equipped with a network of the latest model workstations, which are all connected to the central Internet and email-server.  The software packages installed on the computers are recent versions of applications that are commonly used in the environment of the NSOs.  The Institute has at its disposal a library of statistical materials and also offers the staff and participants access to the library of the Institute for Developing Economies (IDE) with which SIAP shares their office building complex.

1.3.      Participants of courses

Participation in courses, and especially for the TMA-based programs, is mostly based on a selection from candidates nominated by the individual countries.  In several cases concessions have to be made with regard to the prerequisites, because of a lack of sufficiently qualified nominees from certain countries.  Consequently, participant groups are sometimes relatively heterogeneous in educational level and work experience.  This imposes additional workload on the lecturers and, more importantly, leads to certain ineffectiveness as participants with the highest education/experience levels may be underserved and those with lower levels might get insufficient attention.[1]  However the cultural and ethnic diversity of the participant mix adds to the rich opportunities for the training environment to promote learning.During Academic Years 2001-2005, the Institute trained 2073 official statisticians from 50 countries of the region and an additional 63 from countries outside the ESCAP region.  There were 22 TMA-based courses which accounted for 17 percent of those trained while there were 75 Outreach Programme courses, with 80 percent of total trained, and the Research-based training programme (2 courses in TMA and 4, Outreach), 3 percent of total trained. 

The ratio of female to male participants rose from a low of 0.57 in AY 2002 to 0.96 (nearly one is to one) in AY 2005.  While participants from South Eastern and South Central Asia countries have predominated, the numbers of participants from Eastern Asia and Oceania have increased during the past five academic years.

SIAP conducted a survey in 1999 on the training needs of the NSOs in the ESCAP-region, which resulted in the conclusion that the education requests far exceeded the capacity of the Institute.  This situation continues to be so.

[1] E-Learning in Official Statistics.  A Viable Alternative to Human Capacity Building in ESCAP: Proposed Concept and Action Plan.  United Nations Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific. September 2001


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