Elderly people over 65 years of age are seen as dependent citizens. If 7 per cent or more of the population is of that age bracket, it is seen as an aging society. If it is over 14 per cent, then it is an elderly society. In 2029 Bangladesh will be an aging society and an elderly society by 2047. It will take 10 years for this change to take place in Bangladesh. It took 24 years for the same change in Japan. So the change in Bangladesh will be faster than that of Japan.
It took France 115 years to reach the level of an elderly society. On the other hand, like Bangladesh, the change will be rapid in South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and China. But these countries are relatively wealthier than Bangladesh. So will Bangladesh fall back if it fails to adjust to the changes?
It is important that initiatives immediately be taken to make the youth more work-oriented by means of technical and IT training. Technology is the main driving force of the fourth industrial revolution. In the near future most of the industries will be dependent on automation. Manpower equipped with technical skills will be essential. So to take up the challenge of automation, there is no alternative to training the young human resources of the country in the use of technology.
Curriculum, education and teaching methods must adapt to the fourth industrial revolution. Technical training and skill development must be given priority in the education system. But there are no signs of this in the government’s plans and curriculum. We are still following the British colonial legacy of an education system that churns out clerks. That is why the hundreds of thousands of students who graduate every year, inevitably join the burgeoning ranks of the unemployed.
There is a startling bit of information. Around 29 per cent of the able youth in the country are neither involved in studies nor have any job. That means a large chunk of the youth is of no use. Speedy and effective measures must be taken to involve them in education, training and productive activities.
Coronavirus has posed as a threat to many achievements of the country. This has given rise to apprehensions that Bangladesh’s overall development may be at risk in the near future. If balance and acceleration can be injected into the labour market, then it will be easier to find alternative means to tackle this threat.
Women’s participation constitutes only 36 per cent in Bangladesh’s labour market. If this participation of women could be increased along with technical skills, development work will certainly surge ahead.
It is not possible to provide all youth in the country with jobs. And there is no need for that either. On the contrary, if young entrepreneurs can be created, they themselves will provide jobs to others. Proper investment in youth by training them in the technology sector will increase productive enterprises and the benefits of technology will be manifest.
Before the demographic advantage exhausts, plans must be taken to enhance the productivity of the youth. They must be equipped with technological education and skills. Women must be drawn into versatile work in keeping with the demands of the labour market. Technological skills will be a big asset in this regard.
Investment in children’s health and education must be increased. They must be made tech-savvy from now and equipped with skills so they can adjust to the technologies of the future.
The labour market in the coming days must be technology-friendly. Technological skills must be developed from now for the sake of employment security. The scope of studies and training must be expanded accordingly. That is why even in the primary and secondary level, IT and digital skills must be given emphasis. The private sector must come forward along with the government in this connection. If a large percentage of the population can be made tech-savvy and skilled in the use of new technology by government and non-government initiatives, not only will employment increase, this will also offer security to the elderly in the days to come.
The average life expectancy of people in Bangladesh is increasing. That means the number of elderly is increasing too, along with the decrease in youth. So optimum use must be made of this demographic advantage while it is still there.
* Firoz Choudhury is assistant editor of Prothom Alo and can be contacted at [email protected]