The way governments are working today is very different from how they used to. Nowadays, youth participation in developmental stories of countries are remarkable. In 2014, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel Laureate. Many of the traditional institutions associated with knowledge and wisdom are increasingly recognising the potential of younger people, and the energy for change and inherent wisdom they bring to the table. All these new changes of the 21st century have inflated the role of youth in all walks of life, from running businesses to being committed to community development.
Against the backdrop of COVID-19, youth are one of the most vulnerable groups as they are more likely to be unemployed or unable to secure stable work arrangements and contracts. On the other hand, youth have also responded through collective action and innovation. Under Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO), Malaysian youth did not merely sit still under partial lockdown, but have taken to cyberspace to opine and influence. Yayasan Sukarelawan Siswa (Student Volunteers Foundation, YSS) ran a series of online webinars called YSS Pillow Talk—a forum where YSS alumni shared their thoughts on topics ranging from student repatriation efforts to discussing the future of work. In this blog, we examine their thoughts on digital learning, responsible use of online spaces, and the future of work.
Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype and Microsoft Teams are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to apps that benefited due to the COVID-induced shift to online education. While Malaysia is one of the few countries in Southeast Asia with an internet penetration rate of over 80%, there are still lots of households that cannot support e-learning, especially in East Malaysia. The shift to online learning has also increased pressure on teachers.
With education moving online, Cikgu Dheventhiran Dass, an English and Science teacher at SK Taman Medan, used a myriad of different apps, from Google Classroom to Zoom, to engage students and make sure he had their full attention. However, in contrast to that, Cikgu Loriana Philip, an English teacher at SK Sungai Kapit says that she could only use WhatsApp to engage with her students as most of them went home during the MCO to places where they did not have access to high-end technology/apps other than WhatsApp. She says, “I cannot use anything fancy like Google Classroom or Zoom.” She would send and receive tasks to and from her students through WhatsApp. One other pertinent challenge of online teaching, as Cikgu Mohamad Fuad Bin Abd Wahab, an English teacher at SMK Tun Mutahir pointed out, is to keep the student involved in the learning process. Cikgu Loriana was not able to see what her students were doing on the other side, in the absence of video-based, real-time collaborative software. Many teachers are finding it tough to engage students, keep them motivated and make sure they learn well. Despite many breakthroughs worldwide, online learning has a long way to go in terms of adaptation by both students and teachers.
Responsible use of online spaces
Going digital has its pros and cons. Policy makers must evaluate the trade-offs of open sharing and making sure we have safe digital spaces to engage in. In many countries, cybercrimes shot up during lockdown. In April when Malaysia’s MCO began, Communications and Multimedia Minister, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, said Malaysia needs a national effort to fight fake news along with the pandemic. In May, YSS conducted a webinar titled Influencer Bertanggungjawab: Semak dan Sebar (Responsible Influencer: Verify and Share), in which young online influencers discussed the importance of being a responsible influencer in times of crisis.
One of the influencers, Mohd Imran Aqil, said that parents easily believe the fake news that goes around on WhatsApp. He says “There was news on WhatsApp that hanging mint leaves outside the house will help fight COVID-19 and mums believed it.” He adds that as an influencer, before spreading any news, one must research and verify if it is accurate. Damia Khalysa said that as an influencer, she has the power and responsibility to influence behaviour and that should be put to good use. During MCO, for instance, she felt it is an influencer’s responsibility to ask their followers to stay at home and take care of themselves. The awareness and responsibility demonstrated by youth in making online spaces more reliable, and in preventing the spread of fake news, is commendable.
Future of work, according to youth
When it comes to discussions around the future of work, it is usually governments, international organizations, policy makers and experts who speak about this—often the older people telling youth what they should and shouldn’t do for a secure future. This time, the story was different. In the YSS webinar on The Future of Work—Post COVID-19, young people shared what the future of work looked like to them, and what they felt they should they do to future-proof their careers.
Mohd Syafiq bin Mohd Khairuddin, a product manager at a telecommunications company, felt that more people are adapting to work from home options now, and the evolution of technology is going to revolutionize the telecommunications industry in Malaysia. He said, “With 5G technology in the next four to five years, working from home is going to be seamless.” He agreed that, going forward, it is important for graduates to look at everything as an opportunity. It is important to learn new skills that are aligned to the digital revolution. Navin Kumar Anbu, Maintenance Area Leader at an engineering company feels that it is going to be difficult to get back to work, with all the social distancing norms. He thinks that the future for companies might have to be more self-reliant on local markets, given the travel and import bans that are being imposed due to this situation. Siti Nurwala, engineer at a construction company, says that for them, the supply chain disruption during MCO has been the biggest challenge. She feels that, “Given the new normal, the supply chain issue has to be fixed.” She says that there are so many apps out there today that can help improve productivity levels and run businesses efficiently, and this could be the way forward, as the world becomes more digitalised.
The root of resilience
All the panelists focused on one main theme: the world is going digital and it is inevitable. It is thus very important for youth to equip themselves with new (and emerging) skills such as coding and data analytics to stay relevant. Across these webinars, youth did not just speak about technology, jobs and skills; they acknowledged that a mindset to stay curious, continuous learning, as well as the perspective to look at all challenges as opportunities, were essential for youth to survive—and thrive! —in today’s ever-changing world.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes young people as critical agents of change and UNDP has always been a strong believer in empowering youth and promoting youth action. Today’s youth are participating in community development and influencing policy more actively than ever, and it is therefore time that policy makers ensure their voice is heard and their role acknowledged. In this uncertain world, it is important for policy makers to follow a multistakeholder integration model for more inclusive developmental, and creating spaces for youth participation is a first step towards that.
The authors would like to thank Fazirah Naser, Senior Executive, Centre of Volunteer Excellence and Efforts, YSS and Millan Anak Stephen, Corporate Communication Executive, YSS for their inputs and comments.
About this blog’s conversation partner
Yayasan Sukarelawan Siswa (YSS) / Student Volunteers Foundation is an entity wholly owned by the Government of Malaysia through the Ministry of Higher Education, Malaysia. It was launched in 2012 and was established with the aim to inculcate the spirit of volunteerism and camaraderie among the students of tertiary education and also to produce global students volunteer icons. YSS trained selected student volunteers from the large pool of 1.3 million students of higher learning in Malaysia through high impactful students’ volunteer missions which are domestically and internationally held throughout the year. YSS focuses on capacity building of student volunteers and maintain lifelong learning and engagements.
This blog contains information and perspectives of the individual authors and does not indicate any formal endorsement by UNDP Malaysia or the conversation partner’s organisation, nor does it indicate provision of any technical support in their implementation. UNDP Malaysia is not responsible for content provided in any of the external sites linked to this article. This is purely for informational purposes only.