Untapped: Youth voices for change

“…team-work and conflict resolution are crucial skills to my future success, and the future success of Australia in the ASEAN region ” - Lochie, Sydney Technical High School. The work of the Asia Education Foundation is framed by our mission to inspire students to make these sorts of observations and learnings as a result of participating in our programs.

Over the course of the day, a cohort of 70 students from schools across Australia wrestled with their roles as delegates representing one of the 11 ASEAN nations to discuss and debate from their respective country positions on trade, climate change, and refugees. What struck us at AEF and many of the teachers and experts there that day, was the wonderful spirit of cooperation, empathy, and awareness these young people had about the ASEAN countries, the complexities of the issues, as well as each other. So when Lochie nails his insights on why these experiences are important to him and to the region, we feel even more convinced that the voices and skills of young people are incredibly untapped.

Those who are familiar with the work of the AEF will know that we don’t host events we provide young Australians with experiences. When you have the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, who came to share her insights and interact with the students, and leading experts on trade, climate change and refugees there to support the thinking, along with a rigorous process for debate and decision-making on a Forum Declaration, young people step up.

Overwhelmingly in their feedback they wished for more time, more depth, and more impact: “I had admired everyone’s confidence and respect for each other as we disputed. This just goes to show that the future is bright and I really do hope that I get to see these people again as I had a wonderful time here!” - Anna Q, Canley Vale High School. We couldn’t agree with Anna more, and we want to enable deeper and even better experiences like this for young people and begin to build momentum on national and international connections with them.

Just so it’s clear, this isn’t an isolated encounter though. We’ve found the strength of these youth voices in all our programs. For example, two weeks later we were in Perth facilitating the Global Goals Youth Forum to more than 80 students from 13 schools, helping them design innovative solutions to the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Students efficiently formed into mixed teams focusing on one of the 17 Global Goals and engaged with processes in design thinking to culminate in a ‘Marketplace of Pitches’. “Working with others from different schools and with different mindsets was a privilege and a pleasure.” - Jacque, Greenwood College.

We know young people are naturally keen to cooperate and given the right contexts and support they will keep pushing their own ambitions. Forums such as these enable students to build the global competencies that are receiving much more attention, even from the OECD. We can support them to share their ideas and tap into their passions for moving towards a more inclusive and sustainable world. “I really enjoyed the collaborative nature of the day and the tools I have been given to make a change. I hope I can push for change in my school.” Rachael, Perth College.

We’re not satisfied though. Young people deserve to use education as their learning lab for the world they want to engage with. They need the networks, the time, and the processes. We will be working harder to make all three accessible opportunities for them.

To view all of the images from this event, please visit our Facebook page.

The ASEAN-Australia Youth Forum was funded by the Australia-ASEAN Council, which was established in 2015 to generate opportunities for Australian business, education, science and innovation and the arts to work with partners in Southeast Asia.

If you would like your students to take part in a forum in your state or host a forum at your school in 2018, please email aef-support@asialink.unimelb.edu.au or call + 61 3 8344 4800 to speak with a member of our team.

This article originally appeared on the Asia Education Foundation website.

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