Youth development is essential. They play a crucial role in the advancement of a nation. It is often emphasised that the very foundation of a nation is its youth. But, despite constitutional guarantees and impressive economic growth and development, Bangladeshi youth faces formidable challenges in gaining access to quality education, employment, as well as equal opportunities.
In recent years, the United Nations (UN) has been highlighting the urgent need to positive development as well as pivotal role of the youth. Thus, the UN observes the International Youth Day (IYD) on August 12 to create awareness on vital cultural, educational and legal issues that confront them. The UN declared the IYD in 1999 with the adoption of the resolution No. 54/120.Notably, the International Youth Day was observed for the first time in the year 2000. The 2019 theme is: “Transforming education.” It emphasises determined and organised efforts to make education and learning more inclusive and equitable to all the youth of the world.
The IYD 2019 resolves to transforming education as a “powerful tool” to realise the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In fact, inclusive and accessible education is essential for achieving development, conflict prevention and social justice etc. South African iconic leader Nelson Mandela aptly said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
The UN reflects that “education is a ‘development multiplier’ as it plays a pivotal role in accelerating progress across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, be it poverty eradication, good health, gender equality, decent work and growth, reduced inequalities, action on climate or peaceful societies.”
Scholars point out several methods to the healthy and positive development of young people. Positive Youth Development (PYD) is usually defined as the Five Cs of competence, confidence, character, connection, and caring, leading to youth contributions (Journal of Early Adolescence, February 2005). The goal is to improve outcomes and success of the young people.
Since the 1980s, Bangladesh has been experiencing a youth (age 15–24 years) bulge. And youth constitutes about 36 per cent of the country’s population.This demographic transition offers a window of opportunity for Bangladesh as the proportion of working age population will continue to rise. But it will not remain open for very long as population will age with the increase in longevity. Anticipating this, the government of Bangladesh established the Department of Youth Development (DYD) in 1978 to provide skills development, training and employment so that the country can reap demographic dividend.
The first National Youth Policy of Bangladesh was formulated in 2003 and later revised in 2017 to improve the situation of the youth. It defined the vision of the government to “develop youth into righteous, progressive, self-respecting and positive human beings.” In fact, an educated and skilled workforce is vital to long-term sustainable development.
Unfortunately, however, the current public investment in education and health in Bangladesh is meagre 2.09 per cent and 0.92 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to the Centre for Policy Research. In its Labour Force Survey 2016-17, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) found that the youth unemployment rate in the country is as high as 10.6 per cent. What is more disturbing, about 29.8 per cent young people are not pursuing education, employment or job training.
Also, the unemployment rate among the young grown-ups with advanced level of education is around 13.4 per cent. An estimated 2 million young people enter the job market in Bangladesh every year, according to the World Bank. Therefore, providing training and employment to the youth remains a big challenge for the government.
A lot of unemployed youth remains frustrated, misguided, and engaged in criminal activities including drug abuse. According to the Bangladesh Narcotics Control Department, alarmingly, out of 7 million drug addicts, roughly 85 per cent are male young persons of around 15 to 30 years old.
Due to the lack of quality educational facilities in remote rural Bangladesh, rural learners are disadvantaged and lagging behind. They face numerous problems such as resource constraints, trained teachers, and quality learning materials. Hence, it is imperative to reducing rural-urban discrepancies in education, and ensuring equal opportunities in education, training and employment.
Mostly due to financial constraints and gender preference, many young girls in rural areas are out of high schools. A newspaper reported that 1 out of 5 children dropped out in Bangladesh in 2018 mainly due to economic problems and child marriage.
We may conclude that youth development is indispensable and crucial for sustainable development and inclusive growth. Besides monitoring of youth development strategy, adequate government and private investments are now needed for their secured future. Unless this is done urgently, the demographic transition may turn into a curse rather than a dividend.
Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.