This op-ed is part of AASYP’s Digital Dialogues 2021, which is a programme that aims to provide a platform and forum for future leaders from across the region to contribute to the policymaking and diplomacy sphere by engaging in issues relating to Gender and Diversity, Green Recovery, and Emerging Economies.
Australia’s youth demographic has long been disadvantaged in the economic realm. They are more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the labour force. This is a trend that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated. Business activity has detrimentally affected employment demand, while the simultaneous decrease in education and training has impacted labour supply. Social trends and perceptions also play an important role in setting and enforcing certain standards. Australia expects their youth to be increasingly experienced before entering the workforce, but little opportunity exists for them to be appropriately guided into attaining this experience. If this current situation is not rectified, youth will likely bear greater long-term economic and social costs that will heighten intergenerational poverty and inequality. As such, how can Australia’s education sector ensure that the Australian youth have skills that will enable them to thrive in a volatile world?
To ensure the Australian youth thrive amidst volatility, there are three main skills that must be acquired. The first is on digital literacy, where students must be able to attain a degree of proficiency such that they are able to find, assess, create and communicate information by utilising technologies that are currently in their field of choice. The second is cultural competence, where students must be able to attain a degree of proficiency in understanding how to effectively interact, work, and develop meaningful relationships with people of various cultural backgrounds. The third is critical thinking, where students must be able to demonstrate a degree of proficiency in engaging with problem solving, creativity and teamwork.
This op-ed argues that the Australian education sector can rectify the issue by constructing a curriculum that mandates practical experience that definitively addresses the three aforementioned skills, and that the sector’s first target audience should be existing tertiary students. This strategy comprises three phases, elaborated as follows.
Phase 1: Instilling a work-oriented culture
All Australian universities should construct an orientation program that emphatically promotes the key skills they believe students can attain upon completion of their respective degrees. Currently, all universities have mandatory consent and plagiarism modules that all first-year students must complete in their first semester. This orientation program should be compounded with additional modules that define, explain and evaluate the importance of digital literacy, cultural competency and critical thinking. This emphasis from orientation will ensure these skills remain at the forethought of students’ minds.
Phase 2: Consistent reinforcement
All Australian universities should implement reflective activities for students to undertake upon completion of the semester. The reflective activities should ask targeted questions that are delivered in a consistent structure and address a student’s personal progress in achieving the three core skills.
Questions should ensure students reflect upon how their subjects have achieved the following objectives:
- emphasised the importance of the digital space
- explored the importance of cultural competence in their field
- encouraged the undertaking of critical thinking
- improved student confidence at a personal and professional level
Phase 3: Compounding existing work experience
Universities should construct a targeted criterion for companies who take in students for work experience and internships. This criterion should be tailored to the industry a student is going into, and could assess factors including but not limited to their proficiency and digital literacy; understanding of cultural competence, including the perceptions and values relevant to this concept; as well as their leadership and critical thinking skills, which includes conflict management and problem-solving skills.
By mandating structured work experience before graduation, university students will have the opportunity to reflect upon potential gaps in their literacy and endeavour to address these gaps before they enter the workforce.
Looking forward, this strategy should be expanded to include other age brackets in Australia to ensure these skills permeate to as many individuals as possible. Phases 1 and 2, in particular, can easily be applied and tailored for a setting of a younger demographic, such as high school students. Moreover, the education sector should partner with educational consulting services to construct accessible online programmes for individuals in the more mature age brackets. This will ensure that all Australians have access to the support needed in order to successfully adapt to the digital revolution.
This article was written by Amy Duong, edited by the Diplomacy Team, and reviewed by the AASYP Publications Team.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the writer and in no way represent nor reflect the position of AASYP and members of the AASYP Publications Team. The AASYP Horizons Blog provides a platform for the free expression of opinions and intellectual discourse.