Unlocking Asia’s Digital Future with 21st Century Skills

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Bill Gates likes to call himself an “impatient optimist.” I do too. When I meet people like Hai, a 25 year old programmer from Vietnam with cerebral palsy, I am filled with pride and excitement. There is so much to be done, so many opportunities to pursue, a truly inclusive future to build.

Despite having the odds against him, Hai picked up coding skills at REACH, a non-profit that provides vocational training and employment for the country’s most vulnerable youth. Now working for a local web development company, he has doubled his family’s income. He is proud, unapologetic, and incredibly inspiring!

At Microsoft, we work tirelessly to provide every young person with the skills, knowledge and opportunity to succeed. We support organizations like REACH by providing the capabilities they need to improve young people’s economic opportunities and quality of life. We work together to build a better future. And that future cannot come soon enough.

The need to equip everyone in Asia with 21st century skills

It is an exciting time to be living in Asia – the new engine of global growth. The Asian Development Bank forecasts that the GDP growth in Asia Pacific will reach 5.7% in 2018 with developing markets being the main growth driver. Yet despite being a leader in global poverty reduction, an estimate by the UN Economic and Social Commission reveals that approximately 400 million individuals in Asia Pacific are still living in extreme poverty. Social and economic inequality is growing, not only causing a widening gap in earning potential, but also making people feel frightened and disenfranchised by progress, rather than empowered by it.

Technology is at the heart of these social challenges, creating a new digital economy and putting new demands on our workforce, as well as future generations. A report by the World Economic Forum estimates that 65 percent of children who enter primary school today will work in completely new jobs that do not currently exist. Addressing this issue involves changing the way we educate, how we train our workers, and what we do to prepare communities to succeed in this new environment. For far too many people, the opportunities that this new economy provides, are simply out of reach.

We believe that corporations like Microsoft have the responsibility and opportunity to make sure the future we are building is for everyone. However, the problem of unequal access is too big, too complex, and too important for any one organization to take on alone. That’s why, every year, Microsoft partners with thousands of nonprofits, policy makers, community leaders and other businesses who are taking action on this issue. By working together and working smarter, we make sure technology is used as a force for good and that everyone has access to the benefits it provides.

Unlocking young people’s potential, creating local economic opportunity

Our partnerships in 18 Asian countries focus on empowering our students and workers with the knowledge and skills they need to tackle the jobs of the future. Through our joint programs, we introduce young people to computer science principles that cultivate creativity, computational thinking, analytical reasoning and complex problem-solving abilities – skills that are essential for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Not surprisingly, a LinkedIn study has found that the most in-demand soft skills today include critical thinking and creativity, on top of communication capabilities.

Starting next week onwards, tens of thousands of youth in Asia will participate in an Hour of Code, learning the basics of coding and understanding how developing digital skills can “future-proof” their careers.

Many of them will be new to the idea of coding, so we introduce them to the concept through a tutorial built with Minecraft characters, Hero’s Journey. This beginner’s “crash course” is really fun and engaging for people of all ages, showing that coding can truly be for everyone.

Of course, not every young person that tries coding for an hour will become a computer scientist. But some will. And others will subsequently pick up on-demand skills and get employment in the growing tech sector, like out friend Hai from Vietnam. And doing so not only improves their own economic opportunities but also that of their families and the communities around them.

We all prosper when everyone has a chance to reach his or her full potential and to achieve more.

You can also find out more about the initiatives that Microsoft is launching to celebrate Hour of Code here.