Investing in Filipino youth: A blueprint for a brighter future

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron - The Philippine Star

The youth demographic in the Philippines plays a significant role in shaping the country’s present and future. With 30 million individuals aged 10-24 comprising 28 percent of the population and a median age of around 26 years old, the Philippines boasts a dynamic, energetic and connected generation increasingly attuned to global trends.

One standout characteristic of Filipino youth is their role as catalysts for change and innovation. They spearhead social movements, championing causes like environmental sustainability, gender equality and social justice. Their active participation in shaping public discourse challenges entrenched norms and values.

Since my arrival in the Philippines in late 2020, I have had the privilege of connecting with a diverse group of young Filipinos through my YouTube series “EU You Talk,” featuring talents with familiar names, faces and voices that resonate with the public. They come from diverse backgrounds with varied interests and advocacies: humanitarians Marileth Agnes and Anshe Talavera; entrepreneurs Erwan Heusaff and Mikaela Reyes; gender and development expert Kate Ramil; university professor Manuel Enverga; student and actor Archel Barayoga; Olympic champion Hidilyn Diaz and a composite of interdisciplinary artists, designers and writers like Michelle Dee, Nadine Lustre, Antoinette Taus, Egg Fiasco, Alyssa Selanoca, Kakie Pangilinan, Jemina Reyes, Twinkle Ferraren, Carlo Valenzona, Veejay Villafranca and Mookie Katigbak – all devoted to their own unique crafts and passions.

Navigating challenges, embracing opportunities

Such stellar examples of Filipino youth have shown their success despite or because of the transformation of a complex landscape marked by rapid technological advancements, social inequalities and the looming threat of climate change. These challenges can lead to disengagement and missed opportunities, or the exact opposite.

A key factor is education. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) assesses 15-year-old students enrolled in Grade 7 or higher in Mathematics, Science and Reading for member and partner countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This assessment showed dismal bottom ranking of the Philippines – 78 out of 78 countries in 2018 and 77 out of 81 in 2022. Among ASEAN countries in 2022, the Philippines is only ahead of Cambodia (ranked no. 81) in Science and Reading.

While the Filipino youth are remarkably resilient and adaptable – eager to take charge of their lives, innovate and contribute to a better society – it is crucial to hone into the importance of focusing on education and other empowering interventions for the youth in the country. These are deserved national priorities.

Empowering youth: a multifaceted approach

Recognizing this pivotal role of youth, the Philippines has implemented several key initiatives. The Sangguniang Kabataan (SK), for one, is a youth council that provides a platform for active participation in local governance, fostering civic responsibility and political awareness among young Filipinos. Another example is the National Youth Commission (NYC), which spearheads programs promoting youth development and participation in nation building, ensuring their voices are heard and their concerns addressed.

For education and skills development, initiatives like the K-12 program and the Alternative Learning System (ALS) provide quality education, while programs like the Youth Entrepreneurship Program (YEP) and those offered by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) equip young people with vocational skills for a modern workforce.

The European Union’s commitment to youth empowerment

Likewise, the European Union (EU) remains a dedicated partner in empowering young people globally. The EU Youth Action Plan in EU External Action, adopted in 2022, aims to Engage, Empower and Connect by 1) amplifying youth voices in policy and decision-making processes; 2) combating inequities and equipping youth with the skills and resources needed to thrive and 3) fostering opportunities for youth to network, collaborate and learn from one another.

In the Philippines, the EU Delegation’s “Youth Sounding Board” (YSB) ensures that the needs and aspirations of Filipino youth are integrated into development cooperation initiatives. This includes programs promoting green economy engagement, comprehensive sexual education and political empowerment for young women in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The path to a brighter future together

Investing in youth is not merely an act of goodwill – it is a strategic imperative for the Philippines. By empowering young people with education, skills, opportunities and a voice in shaping their world, we unlock their full potential as drivers of innovation, social progress and sustainable development. A brighter future for the Philippines entails a prioritization and investment in the youth by:

• Expanding access to quality education and skills training: Ensure that all young people, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to thrive in the 21st century.

• Promoting youth entrepreneurship: Create a supportive ecosystem for young entrepreneurs, including access to financing, mentorship and market opportunities, to unleash their creativity and drive economic growth.

• Encouraging civic engagement: Empower young people to actively participate in political and civic life, ensuring their voices are heard and their concerns are addressed in decision-making processes.

• Addressing social inequalities: Tackle the root causes of poverty, discrimination and marginalization that hinder young people from reaching their full potential.

• Strengthening international cooperation: Collaborate with international partners to share best practices, resources and expertise for youth empowerment.

All this requires a joint commitment between government, civil society, the private sector and international partners like the EU to strengthen the existing framework in the Philippines where all young people may have the opportunity to thrive, innovate and contribute to building a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable society.

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Luc Veron is Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines.

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