Around 717 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 live in Asia and the Pacific, comprising 60% of the world’s youth. Youth also accounts for 19% of the region’s population, making us a major stakeholder in Asian development and a significant demographic asset for development.
Despite these impressive numbers that reflect youth’s potential contribution to development, youth’s involvement in development work is insufficient. For example, as students we are the major stakeholders in programs for advancing education, yet we are rarely involved in the creation, planning and implementation of education reforms, designing curriculums, or simple choices related to education facilities and priorities. The exclusion of youth from these discussions has a deleterious and compounding effect, as it limits our ability to learn to contribute, as well as become motivated future leaders.
One of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is quality education. We are called to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and to promote lifelong learning. As a member of AIESEC, the world’s largest youth-led organization, I am thankful for ADB’s commitment to encourage us, youth, to help achieve the SDGs. After all, if young people are the ones primarily affected by a lot of today’s problems, we should also be a part of the solution.
Financially supported by AIESEC, I was able to join ADB Youth For Asia’s mission to involve students in advancing higher education in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). The Second Strengthening Higher Education Program (SSHEP) is an ongoing program to facilitate direct consultation with students during the education process in the country. SSHEP also contributes relevant data to improve learning environment for students. Lao PDR is a low-income country with a population of around seven million people, of which 60% are under the age of 25. The country is working hard to change from its current status as a ‘least developed’ country to become ‘well developed’ by 2020. The government recognizes education as a priority area in its development agenda, and the government officials I met were enthusiastic about the ADB support to SSHEP.
I visited seven colleges and universities, where I was part of the data collection team on education, including the current state of educational facilities, students’ views on the quality of education, and potential areas for improvement. Aside from data collection, we also carried out an awareness campaign among students on the importance of education. I felt honored to share with the students my own experiences from when I was still a student in Sweden.
The Lao students were eager to give their insights on education, and were very enthusiastic and generous in providing support throughout our mission. Not only were the direct beneficiaries from learning from the mission, I also learned a lot about the current state of education in the country, and I’ve never been more inspired to help these students in any way I could.
I realized that as we strive to improve education in Lao PDR and in other countries, it is important to remember that students should not adapt to the way we teach. Instead, we should understand their aspirations and their situation, listen to their opinions and wishes, and make an effort to design programs and facilities that would best help them in their journey as students.