Find a young Cambodian on the street and ask them about ASEAN. Most will know that ASEAN has 10 members, and that Cambodia is hosting the upcoming Summit – but not much else.
Hout Somnang, 19, a first-year student at the Institute of Foreign Languages, said that although Cambodian students might be interested in learning about ASEAN, there aren't any opportunities. Secondary schools, espec-ially, don't teach about ASEAN.
“Teens need to know about ASEAN and how other member countries work,” he said. “It's because unemployed foreigners who are educated have better job skills than Cambodians, and then they are able to take up many of our job opportunities.”
Education is another sector young people are hoping the ASEAN Summit will address.
Keo Bunteang, 22, a fourth-year student majoring in International Relations, said he was worried about the low standard of education in Cambodia in comparison with other ASEAN member states. He worried that this will result
in low productivity for the Kingdom when it enters the ASEAN market.
“[ASEAN members] will become our boss, and we'll still be the followers,” he added.
He also reflected that in order to educate young Cambodians on ASEAN, the government should implement the basics of ASEAN into secondary school and university curricula.
ASEAN provides benefits to its member states and citizens through economic growth, regional co-operation, provisional assistance between nations and also the promotion of regional peace, according to the aims and purposes stated in the Establishment of ASEAN.
Cambodia can especially reap benefits in the areas of learning English, receiving scholarships for study, and also getting internships - all funded and provided by ASEAN.
But in order for the Kingdom to compete with other ASEAN member states, Cambodia needs to improve language capability, technology capacity and even our sense of national and cultural confidence.
Chheang Vannarith, Executive Director of the Cambodian Institute for Co-operation and Peace, said young Cambodians have limited knowledge regarding ASEAN – and that they won't find information about it in school, either.
“Without knowledge about ASEAN, young Cambodians will lose job opportunities in the market [in Southeast Asia],” he said.
He added that Cambodia lacks the human resourced to compete in the international ASEAN job market, but that does not mean Cambodia lacks competence.
Instead, he emphasised that Cambodia has a lot of room for growth within the ASEAN market - and that the government must put forth as much reform as possible to prepare Cambodians for the ASEAN job market.
Cambodia recently made a successful stride in this respect, as host country for the 20th ASEAN Summit.
On March 15, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised a meeting of more than 3,000 students, spanning representatives from 18 universities, to learn about the history, function and purpose of ASEAN.