Policymakers in Canberra are beginning to lift their gaze beyond Partnerships for Recovery. The development community is looking to harness the energy of a new Government and Ministers. But given that our region is home to around 60% of young people in the world, it seems an apt time to pause and ask ourselves: is what we’re designing in Canberra meeting what young people in the Indo-Pacific want from Australia?
So this week, we asked three young professionals what they want from our development efforts.
In my country of Cambodia, 32% of the population are young people (10-24 years old). In a recent survey of students in Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh, we found a number of things that young people want from Australia’s development efforts.
The first thing that the majority indicated was education. Students expressed that there is insufficient schooling in rural areas of the country, so children have less opportunity to access education. Also, English should be one of the vital things to improve in rural Cambodia. On top of this, soft skills have been mentioned as a need at the university level for students to self-prepare for employment or further education (such as master’s degrees). Young people are aware of the crucial role of teamwork, self-learning, communication and confidence for their future career path.
The second thing identified was assistance with the technological needs of the country. This means things like laboratories in schools, modern technologies to ease the life of people, and industrial work equipment. For example, students in the survey noted the fast progress of using electrical vehicles in the country, but charging station access is limited.
Third, young people are concerned about politics and human rights in the country. Those surveyed suggested that Australia reinforces the Paris Peace Agreement to help bring the whole country together.
Finally, young people identified areas like the stability of agriculture to boost the economy and improving health and the environment as critical elements to the development of Cambodia.
With large youth populations across the Indo-Pacific, especially in Cambodia, it’s important that we listen to the areas that they think are most concerning to inform Australia’s future development efforts.
Socheat is an expert in development capacity building and education programs, based in Phnom Penh. She is a SEALI Professional Fellow, creative facilitator, certified coach, consultant and organisational lead of Alumni for Soft-Skills Development (ASD). At the Lab, we value Socheat for her ability to work with organisations and individuals to connect their professional aspirations with personal purpose. Socheat has incredible energy and drive, and we are in awe of her creativity and vision for youth-led development.
Australia has been at the forefront for multi-sectorial assistance in Timor-Leste since our independence – across infrastructure, security, public policy, and other relevant human development initiatives. Although this democratic country has made considerable progress in its transition out of conflict, and is today largely a peaceful democratic nation, fragility remains a challenge and our development still sits under the poverty line.
As a nation with a very young population, we see many limitations across education. Examples of this include a lack of access to quality extra-curricular educational services, and inequality in access to education generally for young men and women. These are major issues and have far-reaching impacts on young people in Timor-Leste – and the ability for them to reach their full potential.
It is therefore important for Australia to invest development efforts in education, through initiatives to both develop and strengthen quality teaching tools and pedagogies, as well as improve education curriculums (from pre-school to university levels). Our two countries can work together on development efforts in this area as we know that Australian education systems are advanced, internationally adapted, and have well-designed education curriculums.
Timor-Leste’s educational institutions – including professional, vocational, non-formal, and formal studies - should be strongly based on a qualified standards and have additional human resources applied. Additionally, skills-based education capabilities should be expanded to advance economic opportunities for the next generation. We believe that Australia is capable of delivering such educational support systems in our country.
Australia and Timor-Leste have a strong development relationship. I believe that education is of great importance to the large youth population of my country and is one way to improve our long-term economic opportunities.
With a Masters in Human Rights and Democratisation and a Bachelor of Law, Juvita’s expertise is vast. She specialises in leadership management, curriculum development, and interpersonal and capacity building programs. Currently she works with SAUP Unpaz (Southeast Asia Partnership University) on curriculum development and supports human rights training at the Human Rights Center at Timor-Leste's university in Dili. We value Juvita’s leadership of her own youth organisation, YLDP-TL, and enjoy tuning in to her podcast. Juvita is an amazing advocate for youth in Timor-Leste, with an articulate and unwavering voice, who cannot help but to empower those around her.
Working alongside young people in the region, something we consistently hear at Oaktree is the importance of education. Digging deeper, we often see that the primacy of education is intrinsically linked to a range of broader initiatives that young people in the region would like to see from development partners like Australia – the biggest concern being employment opportunities.
A recent participatory research project in Cambodia looking at barriers to education post-pandemic shed light on the common obstacles to formal employment, including gender, belonging to an ethnic minority group, education levels, family status, and access to jobs. The type of work available, income prospects and access to job information had a significant impact on academic performance among young people in the Cambodian provinces. The research showed that these two outcomes are interlinked: investment in education programs can only support education outcomes to a certain extent. Families and communities need to be supported so that young people are able to fully engage in their education.
As development practitioners, we need to ensure programs are holistically designed to consider and adequately address the broader situational context. For Australia, this includes looking at the things like access to education and the creation of sustainable jobs. We also need to consistently address recurring and new obstacles to early childhood learning, nutrition, infrastructure and access to schools, gender equality initiatives to keep girls in schools longer, and scholarship opportunities (among other initiatives).
If Australia is serious about listening to the concerns of young people in the region, they will invest in education and employment programs in tandem.
Jessie is an aspiring community and international development practitioner and is currently the Cambodia Partnerships Manager at Oaktree. They are a first-generation immigrant with Cambodian and Chinese heritage who has worked with a number of not-for-profits and start-ups in the areas of partnership and program management. At the Lab, we value Jessie’s passion for centring lived experience to achieve social justice.