Putting students on the world stage

The first-ever National Australia-ASEAN Youth Forum gave over  70 secondary students across Australia the opportunity to debate and find consensus with their counterparts across Southeast Asia, writes Hamish Curry, Executive Director of Asia Education Foundation. The location - Sydney's iconic Opera House. The focus of discussion - digital connectivity.

In 2019, it’s no longer news that young people will face significant disruption in the world of work due to globalisation, technological developments and ever increasing cultural and social diversity. To be able to engage effectively on a world stage our students’ future success is dependent on how well our education system can support their development of global competence.

At the Asia Education Foundation we believe that developing knowledge and familiarity with the Southeast Asian region will provide young people with the global awareness to contribute to a stronger social cohesion across communities in Australia.

As the socio-economics of the Indo-Pacific continue to develop, more and more global opportunities will arise for our young people. Thus, our students need to be equipped with not only intercultural knowledge, but also well-developed communication and intercultural skills to engage with our region.

As many Australian State Departments of Education release international engagement strategies which directly link to global competence and the need for greater intercultural learning, school communities are having intrinsic conversations as to what constitutes a world-class education.

The current challenge is giving students the opportunity to put these skills into practice in a safe learning environment that reflects the contemporary world that they’re currently in and relevant to the sort of real-world opportunities they will encounter. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says this could include intercultural collaboration on analysis of global issues, understanding difference and a shared respect for human dignity.

Young Australians take the stage to put their understanding of digital connectivity into practice 

On 20 November, Universal Children’s Day, in Sydney, Asia Education Foundation (AEF) in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Australia Now initiative hosted the inaugural National Australia-ASEAN Youth Forum exploring digital connectivity.

Designed to deepen student understanding of our digitally connected world through an intercultural context, this full-day learner-centred program simulated a meeting between all ASEAN member states and Australia. After a national search, nearly 70 Years 9–11 students from across the country were chosen to take part in the youth forum held at the iconic Sydney Opera House.

The Australia-ASEAN Youth Forum acknowledged the role of young Australians' participation in conversations about the global issues of our time. Through the theme of digital connectivity, students explored regional issues such as digital trade, digital innovation and digital infrastructure.

DFAT Director for ASEAN and Regional Programs, Ms Elena Rose, delivered the opening address at the Forum saying “The Australia-ASEAN Youth Forum is an important part of the Australian Government’s initiative Australia Now – which is focusing on ASEAN this year. This initiative is connecting future innovators, leaders and social change makers across Southeast Asia. It is connecting you with one another as you forge a new generation of leaders who will help to shape peace and prosperity in our region.”

Distinguished experts on the day included Penny Burtt, Group Chief Executive Officer at Asialink, Farah Tan, Senior Consultant, Strategy & Transformation Office at Deloitte and Courtney Edwards, Services and Digital Trade at DFAT, who shared their expertise leading the delegates through their committee sessions.

“It’s time to listen closely to the perspectives of our younger generations,” said Penny Burtt, Group CEO of Asialink. “Given the significant global challenges on the horizon, it is vital that young Australians feel comfortable problem solving with their counterparts in the Asian region.”

As part of these interactive committee sessions, Australian students linked via video with their delegate counterparts in Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand to discuss these issues of digital connectivity across the region. Playing the part of in-country experts, these international students provided delegates with invaluable information and insight to feed the development of their final declaration.

With video link

“Discussing with my [international] contemporaries about how we can innovate and decide our own futures with regards to digital connectivity has been an extremely enjoyable and valuable experience” said Australian delegate, Bradly McGee from Launceston Church Grammar School.

Over the course of the day, highly skilled facilitators guided collaboration between students as they sought consensus on a range of issues.

Secretary General on the day and Education Manager at AEF, Ms Sophie Fenton said “Forums like this provide students with a platform to engage in meaningful discourse about issues that are being played out on the world stage. And that world stage is shrinking, as digitalisation connects people across the globe more immediately and more comprehensively than ever before. To thrive in a small world, we need to have an understanding of how others live in different cultures and how they think. Arguing from the perspective of the ASEAN member states, students have the opportunity to develop the ability to read and understand diversity, so that they are better positioned to engage in the small world of their future.”

This AEF program provided students and their schools with a great opportunity to develop a deeper awareness and understanding of global issues as well as an opportunity to put these skills into practice to better appreciate what it means to be an active local and global citizen.

An accumulation of the learnings from the day resulted in a final declaration which student delegates voted on as part of the Forum. One recommendation was a call for “…all ASEAN nations to invest in research into cybersecurity in order to strengthen multilateral digital trading systems.” A key concern for many students was on education, resulting in a recommendation which asked that “digital education be implemented into primary and secondary schooling through government programs.”

The Forum again highlighted that young people deeply care about how people engage with the disruption that technology is creating and we will navigate its impact.

Students were true delegates, putting aside their differences, uniting as young people from around Australia and Southeast Asia to offer their knowledge and ideas for a more connected and collaborative world.

To find out more about our upcoming youth forums and student engagement opportunities, please visit Asia Education Foundation.

View all the images from the event on our Facebook page

The Australia-ASEAN Youth Forum was funded by the Australian Government under the Australia Now Initiative and implemented by the Asia Education Foundation at the University of Melbourne.

More Information

Natasha Redden, Communications Manager, Asia Education Foundation