'Employers find graduates unappealing' screamed the headline of the front-page lead story of this paper's July 06 issue.
What the news report in question highlighted was the large gap between subjects taught at the tertiary level of education and the skills in demand in the domestic job market.
The issue is an old and much-discussed one. Yet there has been no move on the part of the policymakers to address the situation. Such apathy has only contributed to the unabated rise in the number of educated unemployed people and the slow growth of industries using skills beyond the traditional ones.
Another negative effect has been the rise in the number of foreign professionals and other skilled hands employed by the local industries like apparels, pharmaceuticals and leather goods manufacturers. Some local and multinational manufacturing and services organisations have been hiring foreign management professionals as they find the quality of the locally available hands not up to their requirement.
Prior to criticising these organisations for showing undue bias towards foreign management professionals and other skilled hands, it would be more pertinent to look into the systemic flaws in the country's education system that has been in place for decades.
It is hardly debatable that our education system is old fashioned despite occasional attempts made to make it modern and updated. The education system has remained more or less unchanged barring a few adjustments made at the secondary level from time to time. The higher secondary and tertiary levels have undergone no major changes except addition of a few new subjects.
One notable change that the tertiary level of country's education witnessed has been the mushrooming of private universities for the last two and a half decades. Both private and public universities have been churning out graduates in their thousands every year. Unfortunately, what most of those new graduates have taught during all those years does not adequately match with the demand of the employers across the board.
That is why the rate of unemployment among the educated youth in Bangladesh is very high. This is happening when nearly 0.5 million foreign workers, including management personnel, are employed both in industries and services sectors and these people are remitting a sizeable amount back home every year. Some foreign workers will be always there, but their number should not be as big as what is being reported.
The truth is that there is a big hole in the country's education system. The policymakers have been aware of it. Yet they have not taken the trouble of addressing the issue. For it is quite a difficult and time-consuming job. It will not be so easy a job also to replace a very old system with a modern system since it would strike at the root of many vested interests.
The country should go all-out for a need-based education system. But it is easier said than done. The education system would require a major shakeup at all levels, the tertiary level in particular. Any move in that direction is likely to face stiff opposition from vested quarters.
If the country is really interested in introducing need-based education, its policymakers would be required to look beyond the classrooms and curricula. They would have to ensure involvement of a few more important stakeholders. For without their involvement, the objective of need-based education would go largely unmet.
The policymakers would have to know constantly the requirements of the employers, including the government. The government does employ a few thousand graduates, generalists or otherwise, every year while thousands remain unemployed. A few of them, however, decide to be self-employed and start business, depending on their ability to do so. Others in their thousands go on trying their luck in the job market which is very limited in size.
There is no denying that the freedom of having education in any discipline can no way be curtailed or denied. But the issue of employability of fresh graduates cannot be overlooked. Through proper assessment of needs of the local employers, job opportunities for an increased number of fresh graduates could be created.
This can be done only through coordination between a relevant government agency and private employers. At the moment there is no such official agency that would gather information on the needs of various trades in the private sector regularly. Once educational institutions are aware of the marketability of particular skills, they might be interested in opening relevant branches of education.
So, as suggested by some experts, there should be a dedicated government agency to conduct needs assessment of domestic employers and encourage the relevant educational institutions to prepare curricula accordingly.
Besides, the providers of tertiary level education should also talk to private employers who are employing foreigners in jobs that can be filled up with locals. There must be some problems with the local hands. Once aware of the problems, the relevant educational institutions could redesign their curricula to make their graduates adequately efficient.
However, everything depends on how the government, educational institutions, students and their parents are looking at the issue. If they decide to be indifferent, things are likely to be worse for the educated youths in the coming days.