Rabiul Islam completed his diploma in Architecture and Interior Design from Kurigram Polytechnic Institute in December 2015, but he is still to get a decent job.
The 25-year-old is now doing another course under a scholarship programme, financed by the Islamic Development Bank, in Dhaka in the hope of securing the job.
“I completed a diploma course, but I could not acquire the skills which are in demand in the job market. May be one of the main reasons is that we hardly had any practical classes,” a frustrated Rabiul told The Daily Star recently.
He added that only 10 to12 students from his batch of 96 are in comparatively better jobs. The others either gave up studies or were pursuing higher degrees.
Like Rabiul, thousands of others his age are not employed even after completing their studies. And this is how Bangladesh is failing to maximise the opportunities of its demographic dividend -- a situation when working age population surpasses the non-working one -- due to a lack of proper planning and coordination, experts said.
Some 68 percent of the country’s population are of working age, between 15 and 64, according to the 2017 data of the United Nations Population Division.
This provides a one-time “demographic window of opportunity” before the dependency ratio rises again with the growth of the elderly population.
However, according to experts, it is not automatic or guaranteed that this one-time demographic window of opportunity will actually lead to a “demographic dividend”.
A nation achieves demographic dividend once in its lifetime, they said.
They also said that the demographic dividend would be harnessed if three conditions -- improvement in health status, investment in education and health, and an economically enabling environment -- are met.
Experts said Bangladesh still lags behind in ensuring these prerequisites for the maximisation of the demographic dividend.
According to Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS), there are around 10.67 lakh students in 6,865 technical and vocational institutions while the number of students in 145 universities is 10.28 lakh.
After completion of formal education, most of these educated young people need several-year long informal study to get preferred jobs.
According to Bangladesh Labour Force Survey 2016-17, the number of educated unemployed people is 10.43 lakh -- 39 percent of the total 26.77 lakh unemployed population.
Of the total unemployed people, 80 percent are between the age 15 and 29, according to the survey conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
It is said that some 20 lakh working age population are being added to the unemployed population every year. Of the unemployed, a big number of young people in the country stay as Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) people.
Currently, overall 29.8 per cent of the working age population aged 15-29 are NEET.
Experts believe that these people are a cause for concern as they could cause social unrest.
Among the NEET youths, 13.0 per cent are male and the rest 87.0 per cent are female.
Talking about the issue, Prof Mohammad Mainul Islam, chairman of the department of population science of Dhaka University, said, “There is an overall gap in coordination in maximising the opportunity of demographic dividend.”
He said, “We see that the allocation for health and education in the latest national budget is not satisfactory.”
Zaid Bakht, ex-research director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), emphasised on ensuring the quality of education. “Budget allocation [for health and education] is important,” he said.
But proper utilisation of the existing budget is more important, he said.
According to the World Bank, Bangladesh received $15.5 billion in remittance last year. On the other hand, over $5 billion is sent out of the country every year by foreign nationals working mostly in the export-oriented garment industry.
On this, Zaid Bakht said, “It is for a gap between the industry and the higher education institutions. As the institutions in the country cannot produce adequate number of skill manpower for different positions in different companies, the industries are appointing foreigners. So the coordination among the industries and the higher education institutions is mandatory.”
He stressed on keeping the curriculum up-to-date at all the levels of education.
PROLONGING DEMOGRAPHIC DIVIDEND
World Bank data shows that the total births per woman in Bangladesh, aged 15 to 59, also termed the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), was 6.72 in 1960.
As a result of accelerated family planning activities, according to experts, the TFR came down to 2.07 in 2017. It is the latest World Bank data on this.
The global standard TFR is 2.1, according to the UN Population Division.
About prolonging the demographic dividend, Prof Mohammad Mainul Islam said, “There is a need for rethinking about the government’s family planning programmes.”
The population must increase a such a way that the minimum fertility rate is maintained so that the democratic dividend is prolonged.
The adolescence fertility rate and child marriage rate are on the rise. These issues need to be addressed, said experts.
According to United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) population report 2019, some 59 percent marriages in Bangladesh from 2006-2017 involved minors.
The adolescent (15-19 years) birth rate in Bangladesh is still high as approximately 750,000 adolescent girls are giving birth annually, according to the report.