Since its independence, Bangladesh has made steady progress in various socio-economic metrics. Despite such improvements, youth unemployment remains one of the major policy challenges in the country, which has further magnified during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) ranked Bangladesh second out of 28 countries in 2018 in the Asia-Pacific region for having the highest level of educated unemployment rate. In its publication titled Asia-Pacific Employment and Social Outlook 2018, ILO reported that the rate of youth unemployment had doubled between 2010 and 2017.
The national labour force survey (LFS) 2016-17 revealed that 11% of the youth are unemployed and their share in total unemployment is nearly 80%. According to the same survey, 13% of the Bangladeshi youth with tertiary education and 28% with secondary level education are unemployed. Such disappointing statistics show that the educated youth did not receive enough attention from the policymakers.
Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) estimated that approximately 1.3 million jobs were created in Bangladesh during the period between 2015 and 2017. World Bank predicted that Bangladesh's labour force will experience 2.1 million new entrants every year between 2013 and 2023. This shows that the economy experiences a shortage of 800,000 jobs every year. The aforementioned statistics are from pre-Covid-19 period. Due to its enormous stress on the economy, the pandemic has undoubtedly worsened the situation.
Research shows that young people who have been unemployed for an extensive period are expected to earn lower wages over their lifetime because of missed opportunity to develop skill and work experience.
Diagnosis of youth unemployment in Bangladesh
Youth unemployment in Bangladesh is largely a result of demand and supply side constraints.
From the demand side, investment has not risen rapidly to accommodate the large youth population. Between 2009 and 2022, private investment grew from 22% to only 25% of GDP. Apart from lack of reform and implementation of industrial policy, cost of doing business has increased due to lack of access to utility and skilled labour, high energy tariffs and cost of credit, and increased corruption. Such factors have limited growth in investment which in turn restricted labour demand.
The training and education that the youth in Bangladesh receives may be inadequate. The Asian Development Bank's survey reported that 92% of young technicians and associate professionals, 62% of young professionals and 65% of young managers in Bangladesh did not attain the level of education required for their jobs. To a large extent, the tertiary educational institutions fail to impart adequate skills and knowledge to the students which are demanded by the employers.
The root causes of inferior quality of education at the tertiary level can be traced by analysing the learning outcomes of primary and secondary education. The vast scientific literature on early years of education and lifetime earning suggests school quality is one of the major determinants of adult earnings and productivities.
National statistics show Bangladeshi students have poor learning outcomes at the primary level. For example, the National School Assessment (NSA) 2015 revealed that 39% of grade 3 and 90% of grade 5 students had failed to achieve grade-relevant competency in mathematics. They also showed poor mastery and performance in Bangla and English. Such poor learning achievements are likely to severely constrain an individual's ability to perform in the labour market.
Low educational outcomes largely stem from inadequate pedagogical inputs, including lack of quality teachers and financial resources. This has been discussed below:
- The education sector in Bangladesh suffers from a lack of academic staff, both in terms of quality and quantity. According to the 2019 Bangladesh Primary Education Annual Sector Performance Report, 7,818 Head Teachers' posts and 32,853 Assistant Teachers' posts are vacant. Teachers often lack the adequate qualification necessary to become a schoolteacher. Only 67% of the teachers in primary schools have tertiary level education. To compensate for the lack of qualifications, the teachers are trained by the government. Although 95% of teachers have received training, the quality of classroom instruction remains inadequate.
- Apart from teacher quality, learning is adversely affected by low teacher-student contact hours, mostly because of high student-teacher ratio. Analysis from the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in 2018 showed that the student-teacher ratio was 38:1 at the national level, which was as high as 63:1 at the district level. In other words, in some districts, there are 63 students for every one teacher, which puts substantial strain on the teaching quality.
- Finally, the budgetary allocation in the education sector is low. Bangladesh, on average, spends 2% of its GDP in the education sector, which is disappointingly small. The international conventions such as the Education 2030 Framework for Action (EFA) prescribes expenditure of 4-6% of GDP.
Educated young people can make significant contributions to the prosperity of a nation. However, a large pool of Bangladeshi educated youth is deprived of engaging in economic activities.
The young workforce needs to be equipped with relevant skills while ensuring complementary income generating opportunities are in place where such skills can be utilised. Unless addressed, this will give rise to a dual problem: 1) missed tax revenue and 2) enormous burden on the social security system.
Given that over two million people enter the workforce every year, it is imperative that national capabilities are enhanced to accommodate the large educated youth in the job market and ensure sustainable prosperity of Bangladesh. To address these issues, pragmatic policy measures will be required, which may include the following:
- Increase budgetary allocation
The diagnosis has revealed that primary school teachers earn less compared to other jobs. Since there is a high student-teacher ratio at government primary schools, it is imperative to hire more teachers and increase the number of schools to reduce classroom size. This will ensure efficient and proper learning outcomes. Hence, the government needs to increase budgetary allocation in line with international framework.
- Enhance the training of teachers (ToT)
Since the government training institutes lack capacity, partnerships can be established with the public sector or non-government organisations (NGOs) with a proven track record in the education sector. The training curriculum also needs to be revamped to ensure that effective learning of the students.
- Invest in technical and vocational education and training (TVET)
The youth need to be equipped with modern skills to enhance their competitiveness, which could be attained through the implementation of realistic TVET strategies. Thus, the government has to increase spending on proper infrastructures, training modules, efficient trainers and other key inputs to enhance the capacity of national resources that can effectively contribute in empowering the youth with sound technical skills. The TVET strategies should be revitalised through close cooperation with national and global representatives from different industries so that the strategies respond to the current market requirements.
- Create a conducive climate for investment
The government has to undertake activities to reduce the cost of doing business in order to enable ease of doing business. The youth should be encouraged to invest in small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Such endeavours can accommodate individuals with varying skills. This will require the government to create an enabling environment for smooth access to an array of auxiliary services, including low-cost credit, subsidised inputs, removal of bureaucratic hassles, and product market.
[MD Kamruzzaman is a policy analyst and a development researcher. He can be reached at kzaman.md92gmail.com and https://www.linkedin.com/in/mdkz/]