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Education system reforms, skill development crucial to reap benefits of demographic dividend

  • Published at 12:37 am August 6th, 2019
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Speakers of the roundtable on national youth policy, jointly organized by ActionAid Bangladesh and Dhaka Tribune, at the latter's conference room on Monday, August 5, 2019 Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Speakers at ActionAid-Dhaka Tribune roundtable also call for early implementation of National Youth Policy

Changes to the country’s education system and the development of skilled, job market-oriented manpower are crucial to getting most benefit of demographic dividend, said experts and youth leaders. 

They also expressed their disappointment at delays in the implementation of the National Youth Policy (NYP) 2017 and the finalizing of an action plan, though two years have passed since the policy was formulated. 

The comments were made during a roundtable titled “Translating National Youth Policy into Action Plan: Counting Young People’s Perspectives,” held at the Dhaka Tribune conference room yesterday. 

The roundtable was the second in a series that the newspaper is organizing in association with the Bangladesh chapter of international development organisation ActionAid.

Presiding over the roundtable, ActionAid Bangladesh Country Director Farah Kabir said every policy has to be devised with the aim of bringing positive changes to society and people’s lives.

“The state must ensure civic education and increase the budget for the development of its young population,” she added. 

Suggesting that all relevant policies be updated in order to adopt a timely and effective action plan for the NYP, she said: “Changes to the education policy is a must.”

Farah also said a vigorous nationwide network of the youth has to be put in place for the greater interest of their success, posting maximum demographic dividend. 

Emphasising the need for political commitment, adequate budgeting, and engagement of authorities concerned for properly applying the policy, she said: “Inclusiveness must be the key agenda while implementing the policy.” 

Delivering the welcome speech, Dhaka Tribune Executive Editor Reaz Ahmad said Bangladesh will benefit from demographic dividend till 2030, which is also the deadline to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

“But what will happen after that?” Reaz questioned, citing a recent study that found risk of mass job cuts in various sectors, including apparel, leather, and agro-processed foods, in the next 10 years.

Although mass automation during the fourth industrial revolution will render many jobs obsolete, it will also create new job opportunities for the country’s workforce, he added. 

“We need to focus on the future job market, keeping the demand at home and abroad in mind,” Reaz said, emphasising the need for developing skilled manpower in line with international standards.

Mentioning the expanding foreign workforce in Bangladesh due to the shortage of skilled local manpower, he said: “Why can’t we produce our own skilled manpower that will be as competent as foreigners now being employed in various sectors in Bangladesh?

“We must identify where the mismatch is” he concluded, urging reforms to the education sector and the development of a labour market-oriented workforce.   

Addressing the roundtable discussion, a Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Shah Ali Farhad said bureaucrats in Bangladesh draft laws or policies without the input of stakeholders far too often.

“However, the NYP is an exception. The engagement of the youth was more than that of the government in formulating the policy,” he added.

Regarding the delay in adopting the action plan for implementation of the NYP, Farhad said: “2018 was an election year, which is a very busy time for us. We are now going to hold division-level advocacy for the action plan by engaging ministries, government agencies and all stakeholders concerned, especially the youth.”   

Huraira Shishir, a member of Activista Bangladesh, said a lack of necessary skills is the main challenge that fresh graduates face when entering the country’s highly competitive job market.

The NYP does not have any detailed information about what kinds of jobs are emerging globally, Huraira said, urging the government to focus more on technical and tech-based education. 

Manabendra Deb, a leader of Bangladesh Krishok Samity, said formulating the policy was a good move, but delaying in its implementation is frustrating.

“We must amend the education, labour and agriculture policies for the proper implementation of the NYP,” he added. 

Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum member Toni Mathew Chiran said “There is no official data on the number of ethnic youths. How would the policy work for them?”  

Insisting on upgrading the education system, he said healthcare, employment and entrepreneurship must be given equal importance in the policy.

Citing the struggle of people with physical disabilities, member of Bangladesh Model Youth Parliament Alamgir Kabir said there is no scope for treating anyone differently in the process of inclusive development.  

“We must ensure meaningful participation of all youths in the country’s development process,” he added.

Sadik Khan, founder of Brihonnola, an organisation working for welfare of trans-gender people, said access to relevant information needs to be made easier to facilitate the growth of the young population.

Shamima Nawshin, senior program officer at Oxfam, said: “The government needs to form a National Youth Council, which will help the youth greatly.” 

Plan International Senior Manager Amina Ferdous Moni said the youth have to engage more in advocacy programs to formulate the action plan.

“Their participation has to be meaningful. I just wonder why it is taking so long to prepare a work plan for the policy,” she said, expressing fear that the youth policy may need to be changed if the delay continues.

Nurul Haq Nur, vice-president of Dhaka Unviersity Central Students' Union (Ducsu), said student bodies at the country’s universities and colleges have to be functional.

“If they remain active, we will get confident and skilled manpower to lead us in different sectors,” he opined. 

AictionAid Bangladesh Manager Nazmul Ahsan moderated the event, also addressed, among others, by Democracywatch Youth Program Coordinator Rafayat Ara, Female Empowerment Movement Founder Zaiba Tahyya, Narail Volunteers President Sadat Rahman Shakib, Wateraid Communication Officer Samia Mallik, Grameenkeeper Secretary Sidratul Muntaha, and VSO Bangladesh Program Manager Tazeen Hossain, among others.