The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruptions putting everyone to the test, however the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) youth have exhibited signs of strong resilience, adaptability and creativity during the pandemic. The ASEAN Youth Survey 2020 by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Sea, a global consumer internet company, was recently conducted across 68 574 ASEAN citizens between 16 and 35 years old.
Joo-Ok Lee, head of Asia Pacific at the World Economic Forum, says the survey was originally designed to offer statistical insights towards understanding ASEAN youth perspectives and contribute to shaping policies for them. He says the insights call for timely multi-stakeholder actions to empower youth with digital skills, improving digital infrastructure and funding to capitalise on the digital transformation brought by the pandemic and realise the potential for the region’s inclusive and sustainable recovery.
“The survey found during the pandemic, 87% of these youth increased their use of at least one digital tool, 42% started using at least one new digital tool and 33% of entrepreneurs took greater advantage of e-commerce opportunities with one-in-four of them using these opportunities for the first time. A total of 48% of youth say they learned to be more resilient and felt better prepared for future uncertainties with many reporting having learnt to think more creatively finding new business models and ways to improve their income during the pandemic,” says Lee.
Online education boomed not only among full-time students, but also workers confirming ASEAN youths’ strong aspiration for lifelong learning and underlining their general growth mindset. Of those surveyed, 64% of full-time students and 38% workers say they used online education tools more actively during the pandemic with a total of 41% of youth reported having learned new skills during social distancing and 44% of women saying they had learned new skills compared to 39% of men.
However, the potential of ASEAN youth has been limited by a lack of digital skills, inadequate digital infrastructure and funding shortages. A total of 69% of these youth found remote working and studying during the COVID-19 pandemic a challenge, including 7% who said it was impossible with a lack of digital skills and inadequacy or unavailability of quality and affordable internet connection cited as the most binding constraints.
Some 19% of respondents reported a lack of funding as a key constraint and among them, entrepreneurs and youths in the gig economy faced the greatest funding constraints needing more external funding sources. Only 33% of those who faced funding constraints said they relied more on bank loans, while 31% relied on government support, 23% turned to online financing and 14% had to turn to informal financing.
Dr Santitarn Sathirathai, group chief economist at Sea, says to fill the region’s digital skills gap, the ASEAN Digital Skills Vision 2020 pledge programme under the Digital ASEAN Initiative continues to gather collective pledges to fulfil eight digital skills training targets for ASEAN’s small and medium-sized enterprise workers, students, regulators and the region’s citizens. He says currently 23 organisations have committed to the pledge and in doing so will train more than 16 million people in digital skills by the end of this year.
“Our analysis has shown that digitalisation has become a necessity rather than a luxury and will play a crucial role in supporting young entrepreneurs and consumers during economic recovery. It is crucial the public and private sector come together to raise digital literacy for everyone to ensure no one is left behind during these challenging times,” says Dr Sathirathai.