Bangladesh would be able to reap the full benefits of demographic dividend when it equips the large young population with technical education and skill, panellists said at an international conference yesterday.
When a country has more people of working age than non-working, it is known as demographic dividend.
With the two-thirds of working-age population, Bangladesh has to invest a lot more in vocational training and technical education to transform the vast human resources into a skilled workforce, they said.
The enrolment rate of students in technical education is around 14 percent, and the rate has to be increased rapidly if the country wants to capitalise on the opportunities created by the demographic dividend, they said, stressing the need for creating a link between educational institutions and industries.
Institution of Diploma Engineers, Bangladesh, and Colombo Plan Staff College, in association with the Ministry of Education of Bangladesh, organised the three-day conference titled "Skills for the future world of work and TVET for global competitiveness" at IDEB in the capital.
Researchers, practitioners, educationists, entrepreneurs, industrialists and policymakers from home and abroad attended the conference and several parallel sessions were held yesterday.
The speakers said although Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is crucial to industrial growth and national development of the country, there is a social stigma attached to the TVET that only the poor go to technical schools.
"We don't want to send our children to polytechnic institutes. We send them to universities. This mindset has to be changed," said Ramhari Lamichhane, director general of Colombo Plan Staff College.
Underscoring the need for developing the curriculum of technical education, he said the country still follows the curriculum of 1990s.
"We have to incorporate critical thinking, cognitive abilities, ICT and communication skills in the curriculum," said Ramhari.
He said the earnings of Bangladeshi workers abroad are less than several South Asian countries like Sri Lanka because of lack of knowledge in ICT.
"Labour markets need higher educated skilled workers and we have to make stride towards that," he said, suggesting that the policymakers learn lessons from the countries like Australia and South Korea.
Saying the TVET is not given due importance in Bangladesh, Sungsup Ra, director of Human and Social Development Programme of South Asia Regional Department of Asian Development Bank, said, "You're not preparing your own students for the future."
For a better future of the country, he recommended training students with technical skills and designing curriculum to this end.
Many agencies are working for the development of technical sector without any coordination, he said, adding that the agencies must work in a coordinated way to get the benefit of TVET.
Anir Chowdhury, policy adviser of Access to Information (a2i) programme under the Prime Minister's Office, said around 3.3 million youths are now unemployed, while 11.6 million are classified as "not in education, employment or training (NEET)".
He said the country would require many technically skill people in future as the government has taken up many projects.
For that to happen, the number of enrolment in TVET will have to be increased rapidly, he added.
Speaking as the chief guest at a session, Abul Kalam Azad, principal coordinator of SDG implementation of the PMO, said, "We need to take preparation in such a way so that jobs will search for us."
"A desire changes nothing, a decision changes something but a determination changes everything. The prime minister has a strong determination to change the nation and turn the country into 'Digital Bangladesh' by 2041. You're the main driving force for the change and development,” he added.
In his presentation, Mohshin Habib, senior lecturer at International Business of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, said significant technological, economic, demographic and social shifts are disrupting business models and substantially changing the way “we work and live”.
"Routine work is increasingly being replaced by automation system, which, however, creates new needs for skilled workers to monitor and maintain the system,” he said.
AKMA Hamid, president of IDEB and chairman of steering committee of the conference, said many people who do not have ICT knowledge and skill would lose their jobs in five to 10 years due to automation system in industries.
"We have huge potentials which need to be explored," he said.
National Skills Development Council Secretariat, Directorate of Technical Education of Bangladesh Technical Education Board, International Labour Organisation, a2i and Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, are the co-partners of the conference.
Now, more than 65 percent of the population are of working age, between 15 and 64. By 2040, this window of opportunity to accelerate economic growth would start to close.