My profession and my personal interest keep me in regular contact with the youth of Bangladesh. I am in touch with them through the internet and also because of the Math Olympiad. And the thoughts of the youth with whom I am in contact, are reflected in the results of the Prothom Alo survey published on Monday. The survey revealed frustration among the youth, caused by a sense of uncertainty concerning their future.
A large percentage of the youth see government service as their only destination in life. Over 400,000 young men and women aspire to join public service, but 398,000 fail to meet their aspirations. They simply get caught up in the vortex of preparing all over again and facing failure once more. We saw this eagerness for government jobs also in the recruitment of primary school teachers this year. There were 2.4 million applicants for only 13,000 vacant posts.
The reason behind this desperation to get government jobs is the lack of employment as well as lack of investment. With the fall in private investment, the private sector is not expanding. And as meritorious students are not so interested in private sector jobs, this sector is reaching out to foreign workers. While a huge percentage of the youth of this country remain unemployed, the number of foreign workers is on a steady rise. It is estimated that over a few hundred thousand expatriates are now working in Bangladesh, remitting millions of dollars back to their countries.
The reason behind this appointment of persons from overseas is the lack of qualified persons at home. The private sector employers blame our education system for this predicament. Former chairman of the University Grants Commission Nazrul Islam agrees with this. He wrote in Prothom Alo that the education and the employment do not tally in this carry. This is a cause of concern.
The fourth industrial revolution will bring about radical changes in the field of employment and we seem to be totally clueless about this. So rather than trying to teach our students ‘any subject’, we should concentrate on ‘how to learn a new subject’. If not, our youth will suffer further.
We are at the end of the second decade of the 21st century and yet one of the most important tools of the third industrial revolution, high speed internet connections, has failed to reach all over Bangladesh. Despite their extreme interest, our youth fail to be as effective as they could simply due to lack of high speed broadband.
Mobile phones have ushered in a tide of employment for the youth in this country. But now that this connection has moved beyond just talking and gone into data analysis, we are lagging behind.
Broadband is a double-edged sword. On one hand the lack of broadband shrinks job opportunities, and on the other, interested youth are failing to prepare themselves as a global workforce due to the lack of broadband. We are losing out on both accounts. And yet we see our youth spending most of the time on internet. Instead of opening new doors and avenues for them, we have restricted them to ‘like-share-comment’.
Over the past decade we have noted that a small advanced section of our youth has been endeavouring to create jobs and entrepreneurs rather than find jobs. Yet they meet with obstacles at every step. If any youth wants to take up an IT-based initiative, he is forced to resort to lies when it comes to legal documentation. Instead of being able to complete the procedures over his laptop, he has to show a fake house rent deed to get a trade licence.
The concept of business is still restricted to trading and we have failed to move away from this mindset. The youth look for venture funds, loans on easy terms and an entrepreneur-friendly environment.
However, foreign investors have confidence in our youth. They are standing by our IT entrepreneurs. Shohoz, Pathao, Chaldal, Shajgoj and other such initiatives are getting funds from overseas. It is our local investors that turn their faces away.
The youth are lost in the surrounding circumstances. They do not know how to negotiate when it comes to their jobs. Distance also forces young people to turn down job offers. Traffic jams have made the distance between Uttara and Elephant Road or Mirpur to Mohakhali too far.
It all comes down to policy and priority. The universities need to rethink about the competence and skills of their graduates. They must carry out reforms. They have to ask themselves about churning out thousands of graduates in certain subjects and instead concentrate on creating competent and skilled graduates. They have to go to the industries and find out what the requirements are now.
The government must ensure high speed broadband nationwide, to ensure that people don’t have to rush all the way to Dhaka to meet their simple needs. Immediate action must be taken to replace the expatriate employees with local ones. Long-term pragmatic plans must be devised and implemented for education and employment in the coming days.
Unless we are able to do all this, increasing numbers of our youth will simply surge forward to an uncertain future.
* Munir Hasan is the head of Prothom Alo’s youth programme and general secretary of Bangladesh Math Olympiad Committee. This piece appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir