Love in the time of unemployment

Mashiul Alam | Update:

M.alamFor over a decade now, Bangladesh’s GDP has exceeded six per cent. In fact, it recently went over the seven per cent mark. The economy is growing, poverty and malnutrition is falling, there is a reduction in child and maternal mortality rates, education is spreading, the indicators of human resource development are also looking up. In other words, Bangladesh is going ahead.

But a dismal picture emerges when it comes to the employment of educated youth. The most educated young people in this country are hardest hit by unemployment. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, in 2010 the rate of unemployment among graduates and those with higher degrees was 9.9 per cent. In three years this went up by 6.5 per cent to reach 16.4 percent in 2013. Three years on, this went up further, though the accurate statistics is not available as yet.

A large part of our higher educated youth is hit hard by this reality. They are frustrated. It is sad, indeed, to see their predicament. As they emerge from college and university armed with their degrees, the job search begins. For most of them, this is a lengthy, difficult and stressful time. They complete their education with a sense of entitlement to getting a job, but this sense is shattered in no time. They are disillusioned, angry and hurt. Their despondency affects their parents too. As the father approaches retirement, the worry grows. The spontaneity of youth is replaced with anxiety and apprehension.

There is another risk factor for these young people if they are in love. There really doesn’t seem to be any slot for lovers in socio-economic research, statistics and surveys. There is no study which reveals how many couples break up as they pass out from college and university. No one perhaps attaches much importance to this.

However, this is an important issue. There are about 50 million young people out there armed with Honours and Masters’ degrees. Every year they grow by 450 thousand. It would be a matter of interest to see, if even one fourth of this demographic are in love with each other, how many of them break up during this period of unemployment.

Young romance is not dealt with sensitively in our society. Their love and emotions have no relevance to the state, the government, or any institutions. To the state, an individual is a citizen who must be loyal, must contribute to economic growth and pay taxes.

Most parents consider such emotions of their offspring to be foolish and try to effectively put an end to such relationships. And when it comes to their daughters, they are even stricter. When a girl passes out and doesn’t get a job, and when her boyfriend is unemployed too, the parents simply get her married off to a suitable, and employed, young man. This is the main option for an unemployed female graduate.

Does this aspect of unemployed youth merit a place in a newspaper column? Actually, after another column on unemployed youth written by this writer appeared on 12 January in Prothom Alo, a considerable number of young people responded with the complaint that no one really bothered about their predicament.

The question is, what can the state do about their emotions? Being in love is hardly a qualification for employment. A young man cannot be given a job merely on the basis that his girlfriend will be married off to someone else if he remains unemployed. He has to prove his competence for the job.

There is a glaring discrepancy between the system of higher education and the job market. At least three large industrialists have told this writer that they are open to provide jobs, but are not getting qualified and competent persons. One of them lamented, “What sort of graduates are you producing? They cannot even write a single correct sentence, neither in Bangla nor in English. They are not qualified in any way at all.”

The poor quality of our education and the lack of target-oriented education planning, has created a crisis in the job market. At a seminar last month in the city, the chief economist of the World Bank’s Dhaka office Zahid Hossain said, the country’s education has failed to meet the demand of the job market. There is a dire lack of human resources with the quality of education and skills required by the industrial sector. As a result, persons are being hired from outside.

This goes to show that the young people are more eager to obtain certificates and degrees rather than gain competence and skills. They cannot be blamed alone. The education imparted by the colleges and universities is far below the mark. The poor standard of the students is just half of the picture. The standard of the teachers, of the textbooks, academic discipline, studies and research, the environment of the institutions of higher education, all have taken a nose dive.

Every year on average in this country, about 450 thousand young men and women with graduate degrees and above, try to enter the job market. But our job market is not capable to accommodating such a massive number of educated youth. Whether or not the policymakers have any concern about what is to be done, is a matter of speculation. It is extremely important for the policymakers to determine what education qualifications are required for the various levels in the job market, and whether they is any need for thousands and thousands of young people to get admitted to the undergrad and graduate levels every year. There needs to be an evaluation of the outcome produced by the hundreds of universities being established by the government and private sector.

Former chairman of the University Grants Commission Professor Nazrul Islam told this writer that at first the actual human resources requirement of the country’s labour market must be determined. It must be determined as to how many people with what qualifications are required at the various levels in various sectors. This calls for extensive research and study. He feels that higher education should only be for the meritorious as their scope of employment is limited. More stress should be placed on profession-based job-oriented education and training through more polytechnic institutes, vocational institutes, nursing institutes and such. More educational institutes and training centres are also required to create skilled human resources in the production and service sectors including textiles, readymade garments, tanneries, poultry, fisheries and more.

A few young people with higher education told this writer that the relentless search for jobs, the rejections, the break-ups, the dismay of the parents, the anger, the failure and frustration, all build up within the young people. They are ticking time-bombs waiting to explode. Alarmingly, there are over 20 million such unemployed educated youth, almost equal to the entire population of Australia!

As this piece of writing draws to an end, a letter pops up in the writer’s e-mail. It reads:

‘Sir, Assalamalaikum. I hope you are well. I read your piece on 21.02.2017 about losing out at a time when we should be gaining. Tears welled up in my eyes. I felt someone at least was sharing my pain. Sir, I have a name, but at present I’m known as unemployed. I crossed the age for government service this month. I had been waiting for the 38th BCS circular but in vain. My dreams have turned into nightmares. There may be many years to listen to the suffering of the unemployed, but none to resolve the problem.

‘Sir, the unemployed have but one thing to do and that is to wait. If the age limit to enter government service is extended to 32 years, we can dream again. But that initiative is moving too slow. The truth is, sir, we are not only a burden to the country, the nation and our families, but to ourselves as well. It is like death. It is hard to express this suffering, but I have tried to convey my feelings in these few words. Sir, I thank you for speaking of our unspoken pain. I wish you the best of health.’


Mashiul Alam is a writer and journalist. The article originally published in Prothom Alo print edition has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.

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