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Skilling The Youth To End Unemployment

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I recently came across a request for donations, by the VC of a university in Pakistan for the institution, due to shortage of funds. The entire text message was an ample reflection of our misplaced priorities with respect to the most crucial national resource i.e., human capital. A number of associated parameters indicate a highly troubled future for us, if we do not act fast to address the challenge.  

Parameters 

The following facts would reflect the severity of the situation. 

1- As per the latest Human Development Index of the United Nations, Pakistan ranks at 154 out of 189 with India at 131 and Bangladesh at 133 and Sri Lanka at 72.

2- Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set by the UN in 2000 for 2015. Under MDG1, Pakistan was to achieve employment for all; however, we badly flunked on this count. The MDG2 targeted 100% primary school enrolment, 100% education till grade 5 and an 88% literacy rate. Even today, we are at least 60 years behind from the first target, 5.1 million children are out of school and the literacy rate is only 58%.

3- The campaign for MDGs was followed by another program in 2015 called SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). They include No Poverty, Quality Education etc. As per the relevant compliance index, Pakistan is already at 134 with a score of 56.17 with India at 117 with a score of 61.92. 

4 Although post 18th amendment, education expenditure increased from 3.4 Billion USD in 2010 to ~9 Billion USD by 2018, still only 35% of the children who finish primary enroll in middle school. 

Resultantly, the Global Human Capital Report of 2017, alarmingly, ranks Pakistan’s Human capital at 125 out of 130

5 We claim to be an agricultural country. Still a significant portion of our annual imports’ volume comprises grains, pulses, tea, cotton, sugar etc. As to exports, more than 80% comprise raw or semi processed products, while at least 40% of the goods’ exports of India (~320 Billion USD) comprise an advanced degree of value addition. For Singapore, this ratio is 80% of ~440 Billion USD i.e. the goods exports value.  

Other countries and us  

In the last century the world went through phenomenal advancement in science and technology. Many countries were able to deploy them effectively for accelerated development by investing in human capital i.e. people. Many like Singapore, South Korea, Japan and China were able to achieve major transformations in short periods with special focus on producing required technicians and tradesmen through TVET (Technical Vocational Education & Training).   

Singapore, in the 1960s, was undeveloped. Due to its small size and lack of natural resources, no major development was possible without a knowledge-based economy. Therefore, since inception, it has focused on developing its human resources. Thus, while in the 1970s, it was exporting textiles and basic electronics; in the 90s it was producing advanced electronics and other value added products. The 200 times increment in the education budget from 1959 till 2016 fully explains what fueled the journey. As to TVET; 65% students who study after secondary school go to vocational institutes and polytechnics. This further reflects the priority of the leadership. No wonder that the latest World Bank Human Capital Index ranks Singapore at the top. 

European economies, with a strong tradition of a guild system, have also developed by focusing on technical & vocational training. Germany has been the industrial and intellectual hub of Europe since long and 51% of its workforce is trained in the TVET system.

India also realizing its significance has almost doubled its education budget from ~48 Billion USD in 2014-15 to ~88 Billion USD (currently). Since 2015 it targets to create a skilled workforce of 110 million by 2022. The resolve has been further reinforced in the education policy of 2020. Orissa alone since 2016 has skilled ~1 million youth and would train 1.5 million more till 2025.

In Bangladesh, 14% of students receive technical vocational education. Around 12% of its current education budget is allocated for TVET and madrassa along with significant allocations for primary, Secondary and Higher education. Similarly, in Sri Lanka 150,000 youth taking TVET annually stands out viz-a-viz its population of only 21 million. 

In the above perspective, it emerges as a major concern that despite being the 6th most populous country in the world, only one in five of our children continue education beyond primary and a bare 16.3% complete secondary level. Also, the enrolment in technical and vocational education and training institutions is around 0.5 Million; thus only around 7% having formally acquired technical skills and 2.5% any on-the-job training. This should suffice to get us going full throttle in this regard that the Global Competitiveness Report (2018-19) of World Economic Forum which ranks Pakistan at 110, with no other South Asian country below it, reports Pakistan at 125 out of 141 in Skills. 

Employers are now badly suffering from the crunch of basic skills like business English; Numeracy and IT & Computational skills etc. Similarly, they are finding the workforce lacking in critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. Probably, in addition to poor education; stunting, another major silent retarder of the nation’s potential, also contributes to this effect. 38% children below 5 are stunted in Pakistan.  

What is to be done?

We have a burgeoning horde of out-rightly illiterate and semi-literate youngsters with negligible employability. This should be enough to give us sleepless nights. As explained above, nations have already discovered a remedy for such a situation i.e. skilling the youth to rapidly increase their employability. By deploying it effectively, like others, we can take a long leap forward in socioeconomic development.  

At present, in Pakistan, there are only 3,950 training institutes with around 80,000 enrolments in Technical and the rest in vocational institutes with ~ 18,000 trained teachers out of which ~6500 are providing technical education. Estimated annual requirement for skilled workers is around 4 million i.e. at least 7 to 8 times of the current capacity.

 The following measures may help in the earliest achievement of this objective. 

1- The education budget undoubtedly needs to be at least doubled; however, its irrational distribution has also remained a major challenge so far. The current arrangement of ~80% being spent on school education needs immediate and major intervention to achieve a rational distribution. This is possible through online classes, recorded lectures and mobilizing university students and retired teachers. Similarly the current practice of allocating 85 to 90% for operating expenses leaves negligible amounts for higher education and development. This can be addressed to some extent by optimizing the utilization of the existing schools and the teachers by looking for solutions, amongst other options, in the limitless possibilities created by the new technology. As to TVET; the focus of this article, it averages out at around 2% of the total allocation against education. 

Pakistan is in a kind of gridlock with respect to its education budget and especially its distribution as explained above. As to the conventional solution i.e. doubling of the budget, we all know that it is not possible in near future. Therefore, the gridlock needs a radical intervention through a combination of wise management and technology for sparing funds and rapidly utilizing the freed up funds for TVET which would subsequently help in industrial development and wealth generation to enable us to build up from there. Alternatively, continuing with the conventional course may make us wait for a few more decades at least.  

2- Declare an “education emergency”, especially for TVET, followed by the constitution of an “advisory council” consisting of leading educationists and other associated stakeholders such as industrialists and representatives of business associations like PPEPCA, APTMA etc, Trade unions and the foreign institutions actively supporting the country in this regard such as USAID, GIZ, UNESCO, DFID etc with an objective to assess the requirement and help in implementing an agreed plan. This should preferably be a statutory institution. Major tasks of the council may be as follows: 

i) Determining requirement of technicians and skilled tradesmen and syllabi required. 

ii) Drafting a law requiring all the companies to spend their CSR budgets on TVET, on the job training and internships and possible tax benefits for them.

iii) Establishing a skills’ fund for extending soft loans for setting up modern polytechnics including at least 100 centers of excellence of TVET.

iv) Developing affiliations with polytechnics of Singapore, China and Germany etc.

v) Encouraging foreign investors in introducing long-term apprenticeship programs in their enterprises.

3 Some large organizations in Pakistan have established in-house apprenticeship programs operating successfully since long. They may be encouraged to extend the programs on a commercial basis for others as well. 

4According to various sources the private sector spends almost double of the public sector’s expense on education. This necessitates that the government may look for all possible synergies with them to jointly harness the available resources more effectively; especially with respect to TVET.   

The above steps would definitely result in rapid economic growth, reduction in unemployment, increment of exports and massive influx of FDI due to our skilled manpower, i.e. a genuine “Tabdeeli” in the entire economy. With the ever increasing population and large ill-developed cities bursting with youth having negligible employability, is failure in this objective even an option?

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