Redhill ASEAN Youth Survey 2021: Malaysian Youths Hope For A Better Post-Pandemic Future
February 25th, 2022 at 4:39 am
An interview with Redhill Communications
Towards the end of 2021, Redhill Communications conducted a survey to explore the roles of Southeast Asia’s youths as key drivers of economic, cultural, and socio-political change. They found that although many have been on the fence about how COVID-19 has been managed in the country, most Malaysian youths are still optimistic about the future, appreciating basic state provisions such as healthcare and education.
Now in its third year, Redhill’s ASEAN Youth Survey attempts to take a snapshot view of aspirations and concerns on governance, the economy, education, healthcare, life choices, and online activity – through the eyes of nearly 3,000 people aged 18-35 across seven ASEAN nations. We discussed the report findings with Pranav Rastogi, Managing Director and Imran Arif, Director of Content and Research from Redhill Communications who shared the issues, challenges and hopes of our youths.
Most Malaysian youths had a positive or neutral perception of representation in the country. How does this solidarity create hope for the future?
This solidarity bodes well as it shows that youths in Malaysia now, more than ever, believe that they can take more active citizenry in the country. This is largely due to the youths today being more politically cognisant than ever before. Although youth in Malaysia have a decades-long history of activism, the rise in social media engagements and online discourses have opened discussions to wider segments of Malaysia’s youth population; including those who discuss politics in more casual terms, not just those who have been inherently more politically active than their peers.
In line with broader demographical changes, certain developments in the political ecosystem are very likely to draw more youth participation. For example, youth-focused and youth-manned political parties such as MUDA may help improve the youths’ relatability to their representatives, more so than with the youth wings of the country’s more established political incumbents. Movements such as Undi18 – which was instrumental in reducing the voting age in general elections from 21 to 18 – showed that youth-led activities can generate significant impact, which will help provide a base for more socio-political actions by youth in the years to come.
Most Malaysian youths remained neutral when asked if it was easy to upskill or gain new skills locally. How can the youth overcome these barriers to skills development?
Our observation about the more neutral perceptions is that – due to the youths growing up in a more digital age and hence having more natural digital affinity than previous generations – the need to reskill and/or upskill is not that serious, as compared to their older peers. This is also due to many youths entering the labour market for the first time, or at least are not as far along in their careers than their older counterparts to demand a drastic change in skillsets, especially when programmes for reskilling and upskilling in Malaysia have been largely focused on what is needed for digital economy sectors.
A larger conundrum that we see youths facing is general employability. Having grown up in a digital age, we believe that Malaysian youths would prefer to apply their skills and knowledge to more tertiary, services-oriented aspects of the economy, rather than secondary economy sectors such as manufacturing and construction (which Malaysia has long relied on outside labour forces for, which itself was impacted by pandemic lockdown and tightening of immigration procedures). This is a space we are looking at because, even though there was a general contraction in the services sector, this is being balanced against the rise of the gig economy and the use of digital platform services.
Overall, overcoming barriers to skills development in the new normal is not an onus that should be thrust on the youths themselves. We believe that many have a base of soft skills needed to adapt to a more digitally-focused economy – the greater question is whether there would be enough job opportunities in Malaysia for them to apply such skills to.
Most Malaysian youths were willing to discuss matters pertaining to mental health. Does this create hope for mental health to remain a priority in post-pandemic healthcare?
The pandemic has helped to drive mental health awareness, both globally and in Malaysia. However, while more attention is being given to spotlight the need to help people address mental health issues, it is still uncertain as to whether it will be made a priority, especially when compared to treating more observable physical ailments. We see that this is because – despite how the pandemic has changed how we look at it – talking about mental health remains somewhat of a taboo.
Additionally, healthcare infrastructures did not make mental health treatment a priority before the pandemic, which made it difficult for all segments of the society (particularly those who cannot afford to go the private route) to get the treatment they need. This makes it hard for healthcare systems to mobilise during disruptive crises such as the current pandemic, as they are already being addressed to counter the more immediate threat of the coronavirus.
However, one silver lining is digitalisation; more specifically, how healthcare systems are focusing on improving their telemedicine offerings. While the priority of telemedicine services is now largely on reducing the need for in-hospital care for physical ailments, we believe that the continued growth of such services can, in due time, provide a platform for providers dealing in mental health to reach more people in the country
Most Malaysian youths believe they are still able to handle education-related stress. How can education providers help tackle these issues amid pandemic stress?
One of the biggest trends emerging from the pandemic is e-learning. The positive side to this is that the pandemic has provided a litmus test to education providers to retool educational experiences for students to be more for the inevitable digital age, which would be better for the long-term. The downside to it is that this evolution has been accelerated (rushed, even) due to the pandemic – psychologically, this can impact students who have been forced into remote learning (amid the prevailing health and economic concerns of the pandemic) but are bereft of engaging in extra-curricular activities and socialising with their peers, both of which are important parts to the educational experience apart from just learning their curriculum.
The pandemic will not last forever and there is a light at the end of the recovery tunnel. However, education providers cannot solely look at how things will get better afterwards. The reality is that we are still living in a pandemic which will then move towards an endemic phase where e-learning will still be a part of the reality for many students. As such, more efforts should be placed on the aforementioned aspects of extra-curricular activities and channels for peer socialisation that were upended because of the pandemic.
Additionally, education providers – as well as the wider education landscape in Malaysia – should consider bolstering their offerings for students for this day and age, especially on how students can apply digital skills to the wider world, especially for future employment. This form of digital education has been talked about for years, but perhaps the pandemic will prove to be the catalyst to make it a reality for more students in Malaysia.
Most Malaysian youths agreed that building a family would be financially challenging. Will the pandemic make it harder for them to achieve other long-term financial goals?
At the onset, the pandemic has placed Malaysia in a very difficult economic position which has trickled down to the monetary impediments its people have in building for their futures. However, this is a problem that was exacerbated by the pandemic, not inherently because of it.
For youths to be able to realise their long-term financial goals – whether it is to build a family, purchase property, buy a car, furthering their education, planning for their retirement – more holistic economic fundamentals, such as whether wages are keeping up with rising inflation, are greater determinant as compared to more extraordinary circumstances such as the pandemic.
What the current crisis will eventually highlight is how quickly the nation can rebound from the economic setbacks of the past couple of years, but whether it will help to pave the way forward for a new normal that raises Malaysian consumer purchasing and investment power remains to be seen.
Most Malaysian youths disagreed or remained neutral when asked if domestic internet regulations helped protect against online bullying. Does the pandemic make it more challenging to tackle online bullying?
It is indeed more challenging due to our growing reliance on the internet. The pandemic has helped catalyse more online activity and with it, the inevitable rise of malicious actors operating via digital spaces. Unfortunately, it has become a pertinent issue in the country that must be addressed but we are thankfully seeing a more concerted effort by Malaysia’s government to manage the problem.
The drafting of such laws and their enforcement is just one part of addressing the cyberbullying problem. To combat it more thoroughly, the safe and responsible use of online platforms must be made a priority within the national education system. Beyond that, the onus of delivering such education cannot be left to just the system; it must also begin at home, where parents must also keep a watchful eye on how their children are engaging in digital spaces.
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