The opportunity divide is more oppressive than the digital divide. While information technology is believed to be able to empower young people, its real benefits can only be achieved when it also unleashes future innovators and increases employability.
Disadvantaged youths from upcountry areas take part in the ‘Innovate for Good’ programme that uses technology to make a difference to their communities.
Young people face unemployment as their capabilities are incompatible with the demands of the job market, according to Siriporn Pajharawat, Microsoft (Thailand) director of Developer & Platform Strategy.
Citing the Quality Learning Foundation (QLF), Siriporn said that 6.4 million youths in Thailand lacked proper education and this is the crux of the opportunity divide that stems from missing skills, lack of experience and connections to employment.
Microsoft last year introduced YouthSpark, a global initiative designed to tackle the opportunity gap by creating openings for 300 million young people over the next three years. There are currently 14.3 million Thais aged 16-30 and that demographic is expected to grow. The programme's approach is to empower youths by expanding digital inclusion; to foster future innovators by giving youths the inspiration and necessary tools; and to boost employability and entrepreneurship. Microsoft is working with the government and NGOs as well as the business sector to promote Thai youths' access to education and technology through the "Innovate for Good", "THE YES" and "Give For Youth" programmes.
Through the "Give For Youth" scheme, Microsoft is working with the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) to provide technology for youths in upcountry areas. PDA chairman Mechai Viravaidya noted that at present, 30% of young people who are educated are able to find jobs, while the remaining 70% are self-employed. Yet he pointed out that the students with the lowest O-Net results scored less than 50% in all four subjects.
"It's a total failure of the Thai education system and it must encourage a change in our education institutes," he said.
Mechai Pattana School, run by the Mechai Foundation, has become a development centre for students, parents and members of disadvantaged communities. A website called chumchon.net has created opportunities and channels of ICT usage in order to eliminate poverty in rural areas by setting up a satellite centre for 30 communities around the school in 30 villages in Buri Ram and Nakhon Ratchasima provinces in the Northeast.
The centre is managed by trained youths and has an IT committee consisting of villagers. Teenagers who have received training in turn become trainers for students in other rural schools.
Students are given opportunities to sit on the school's administrative council and to learn by experience, such as spending time in a wheelchair to feel what it's like to be a disabled student.
They also run a "poverty-free" farm where each team take cares of 1 rai, growing out of season lemons and mushrooms _ so far they have generated an annual income of 72,000 baht.
Co-organised with the National Council for Children and Youth Development (NCYD) under the Royal Patronage of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the "Innovate for Good" scheme enables youths to collaborate, inspire and support one another while using technology to make a difference to their communities.
Srisak Thaiarry, executive director of the NCYD, said the council is also involved in "Tech Training to Help Extend Youth Empowerment Space" (THE YES) programme under which some 1,200 rural and disadvantaged Thai youths will be trained this year. As well as using online tools for accessing information, they have to share the knowledge for the benefit of their communities and this will lead to a greater number of youths taking part.
So far youths from Chiang Rai, Phuket, Phangnga, Nakhon Ratchasima, Buri Ram, Saraburi, Roi Et and Phayao provinces have taken part in the scheme.
"Not only in Thailand, but over next two years, when the AEC [Asean Economic Community] becomes effective, Thai youths must be able to stay at the forefront, especially in ICT," Srisak said, adding that ICT is one of the key areas in Asean's human resources development plan, along with science, education, language and jobs. "If we can develop ICT, other areas will follow."
As the chairman of the Committee for Asean Youth Cooperation, Srisak said that the members of Asean+3 have agreed to hold the "Child and Youth Friendly Asean" contest. Each country will organise contests in two categories: below 15, and 15 and older. Contestants have to create a video clip on the theme of "child and youth friendly Asean" and the winning team will enter the Voice of Asean Children and Youth regional contest at the end of this year.
Big challenges lie ahead with the upcoming launch of the Asean Economic Community.
About the author
- Writer: Sasiwimon Boonruang
Position: Life Writer