The country is faced with a serious skills gap, affecting the remittance earnings and giving employment opportunities to foreigners in major industrial sectors, says a professional body leader.
Shamsur Rahman, secretary general of the Institute of Diploma Engineers, Bangladesh, regrets a lack of quality education in vocational and technical schools where neither curricula are updated regularly, nor are there adequate teachers capable of providing the students with proper skills.
As a result of this vacuum in skills, he has pointed out, some 1.5 million to 1.6 million foreign nationals are working in Bangladesh’s industries, including in the readymade garment industry. “If our youth are given proper vocational and polytechnic education, they can replace the foreigners in these positions,” Shamsur Rahman told Prothom Alo in an interview.
He thinks it is possible to increase the country’s remittance earnings to three or four fold if the youths are given vocational training.
“Many Bangladeshi expatriate workers are engaged in low quality jobs abroad mainly due to lack of vocational skills. They will get better jobs if they have vocational trainings,” he said.
A former general secretary of Bangladesh Polytechnic Teachers Association (BPTA), Shamsur Rahman observed that there remains a social stigma as guardians often do not want to send their children to vocational schools.
The professional body leader shared his thoughts on technical education in the interview, the full text of which is given below:
Prothom Alo (PA): What is the current state of vocational education in the country?
Shamsur Rahman (SR): The situation is better now than it was before. The government has set some targets to increase the percentage of students in vocational education. According to government figures, in 2008 only 1.8 per cent of the total number of students was engaged in vocational education. In 2017, this went up to 14 per cent. The government has a target of increasing the percentage to 20 by 2020.
While we appreciate some government initiatives to increase the number of students in vocational education, we have a feeling that there are some problems with the implementation of these targets.
The government does not have a very clear policy to make vocational education popular.
PA: How do you foresee job prospects or marketability of this education in a country where so-called general non-technical education dominates the scene?
SR: Vocational and technical education has huge prospects both at home and abroad. Many developed countries are suffering from lack of workforce while we have a golden population. It is possible for Bangladeshi youth to get jobs in any developed country if they have good skills. We need to upgrade our vocational and technical education curricula to produce skilled manpower who will get good jobs in developed countries.
At home, they also have very good prospects. The government plans to build 100 new economic zones. These economic zones will require skilled workforce with have vocational and technical training.
There are some statistics that indicate 1.5 million to 1.6 million foreigners are working in Bangladesh industries including in readymade garment sector. If our youth are properly trained in vocational and polytechnic education, they can replace the foreigners in these positions.
We have conducted some surveys and have found that 60 per cent of the polytechnic graduates get jobs within six months of their graduation and 90 per cent of the graduates get jobs within one to one and half years of their graduation. At least 14 per cent of the graduates of the polytechnic institutions are self-employed - they establish their own businesses and create new jobs.
PA: What are the major challenges of this education system?
SR: In my opinion, the first challenge is a lack of clear government policy to make vocational education popular, especially among guardians and students. On the one hand, the government is saying that it wants to increase the percentage of the students for the vocational education system and on the other hand, the number of seats in the colleges for general education is on the rise. As a result, many seats in the polytechnic institutes remain vacant.
The second challenge is the shortage of teachers. In government polytechnic institutions, there is serious shortage of teachers and of course there is question of the quality of teachers.
The third challenge is the lack of proper monitoring. Monitoring system in many non-government educational institutions is very weak.
The fourth challenge is the lack of laboratory facilities. Many laboratories in the polytechnic institutions do not have modern equipment.
And the fifth challenge is that there is a lack of linkage between the vocational education institutions and the industries.
PA: Parents often do not want to send their children to vocational schools? Why does that happen?
SR: This is true. There is a serious negligence among guardians about the vocational education system. I think this is due to low social status of the vocational graduates. There is a false notion in the society that students who go to vocational education are not meritorious. However, this is not true either. Many talented students are going to vocational schools nowadays.
PA: How can we overcome this social barrier? How can we draw demographic dividends through vocational education?
SR: We need a campaign to remove people’s misconceptions. The government has a crucial role to play in this regard. The media also has an important role. We all should work together to clear the misconceptions in the society.
PA: What is the inherent capability of Bangladeshi children when they undergo vocational education and take up jobs accordingly?
SR: Bangladeshi children are thought to be good at vocational and technical work. Our children are inherently good at technical jobs. If they get adequate training, they will bring honour for the nation.
PA: What is your opinion about the overall quality of education in Bangladesh’s vocational education schools? Do they match global requirements?
SR: There is a question of the quality in the vocational education system. We cannot say that the quality is satisfactory. In the case of global requirements, I think we are far behind the global standards. There is a serious problem in terms of quality education. Many teachers do not have industry experience. Our teachers need training both at home and abroad.
PA: Are the curricula of the country’s vocational schools up to date? Are schools equipped with technical support?
SR: The curricula of our vocational and technical schools are good. However, they are not updated on a regular basis. As a result, students often do not get training with modern equipment. Some schools are equipped with technical support but many schools do not have adequate technical support. And in many schools, laboratories are not properly used as they lack teachers who have training in modern machinery.
PA: What are your recommendations to improve the vocational education system in the country?
SR: The government should take up an action plan to reach the target of increasing the percentage of students in vocational education to 20 per cent by 2020. Secondly, creating posts for diploma engineers in government and non-government organisations is also important. Thirdly, students of the vocational education system do not get stipends while general education students do. Introducing a stipend for vocational students can bring positive changes in this education system.