I received some letters in office from young persons seeking government jobs. They were worried about the forthcoming BCS exams. They had completed the preliminary test and were waiting for the written exam. One of them wrote, "The 45th BCS written exam is to be held all over the country including Dhaka in a span of 15 days from 27 November till 11 December. But the opposition parties are observing continuous hartals and blockades."
"There are incidents of buses, trucks and trains being set on fire in various places around the country. Under these circumstances, does any environment prevail for the stretch of exams from 27 November till 11 December? Will the state provide us with protection to go to the exam centres? The government should either provide us with security or hold the exams at a later date when things are normal."
Another one wrote, "I live in Feni and have to stay in relatives' houses when I go to Dhaka. I am worried about the distance of the exam centre from the house, whether I can reach the centre on time, whether I can get transport in time, and so on."
A third student said, "On the 5th, immediately after completing one exam, I have to take another one the very next day. Previously there would be at least 7 to 30 days between tests."
As there is a dearth of jobs in the private sector, educated youths are turning to the BCS exam. To the students, the BCS exam is more important that the university semester exams. Yet even those exams aren't being held on time due to the election related conflicts.
We can turn to a recent survey in this connection. In the 'Youth Matters Survey 2023' conducted by Bangladesh Youth Leadership Centre (BYLC) and BRAC University's Peace and Justice Centre, nearly half of the educated youth, 42 per cent to be precise, want to leave the country and go abroad. This interest has been generated due to uncertain socioeconomic circumstances and political future, not job market in keeping with skills, inadequacy of quality education and training, lack of scope to be innovators and entrepreneurs and fear for personal safety.
The political parties use their youth in their collective and individual interests, but do not spare a thought about how their expectations and aspirations can be met or how they can build themselves up as a skilled workforce
In this survey run on 5,609 young men and women of eight divisions of the country, 75.5 blamed the socioeconomic conditions and political future for the interest in leaving the country. And 50.9 per cent of the youth feel that the country does not have jobs suited to their skills.
There is a lack of adequate opportunities for studies and training, think 42.3 per cent of the youth, and 40.8 per cent feel that there is little scope for innovation and entrepreneurship in the country. And 33.9 per cent want to leave the country in fear of their personal security.
The results of Prothom Alo's 2019 survey can also be taken into cognizance here. In this survey, 74.5 per cent of the youth expressed concern about their aim in their lives. Two years earlier, that is in 2017, this percentage was 63.1. Poor educational standards and future job prospects were also a matter of concern for the youth.
In the Youth Masters survey, 55.3 per cent of the youth believe there is no peaceful environment in the country at present. And 63 per cent feel that the country's overall condition has deteriorated in the last five years. Corruption was seen by 88.9 per cent as the biggest obstacle to good governance. And 29 per cent of the youth felt that democratic rights were diminishing in the country and this was obstructing good governance.
The most alarming part of this survey was that 71.5 per cent of the youth felt that it was not safe to freely express their opinions. Yet youth had been at the leadership of the 1952 language movement, the 1969 mass uprising, the 1971 liberation war and all other movements and struggle in the country.
In the recent past, it was our youth that spearheaded the quota reform movement and the movement for safe roads. Yet now when over 71 of that youth say that they cannot express themselves freely, then one can understand the depth of the crisis.
In the survey, 74 per cent of the youth expressed their hope to be able to vote in the forthcoming election. But there are no signs of their hopes being fulfilled. When taking their BCS exam is a risk for the youth, one can hardly hope they will be able to cast their votes unhindered.
After 2008, the majority of the youth could not cast their votes. After all, 153 candidates in the 2014 election won uncontested. And though all parties contested in the 2018 election, the voting rights of the people couldn't be ensured.
The political parties use their youth in their collective and individual interests, but do not spare a thought about how their expectations and aspirations can be met or how they can build themselves up as a skilled workforce. One black law after the other is enacted in the country to stifle the voice of the youth, but there are no visible initiatives for proper plans to fulfill their dreams.
Where nearly half of the youth of a country want to go abroad to settle overseas permanently, where most of the youth are deprived of free speech or casting their vote, it is not difficult to guess the future of the country.
* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir