Covid-19 has impacted education heavily besides business, sports and economy. Millions of students in Bangladesh are unable to join in-person classes and are unlikely to return to schools any time soon. As no recruitment for government jobs has taken place since last March, youths' careers are in serious jeopardy because their loss of academic years due to covid-19 is not being compensated, driving them out of the race for government jobs owing to the age ceiling.
According to the existing policy, candidates aspiring for government jobs are allowed to apply until the age of 30, while for children of freedom fighters the limit is 32. This age restriction places just one more quite unnecessary burden on hardworking students, discouraging them and jeopardising their future career prospects in a real way.
We surely can do better than presenting our less privileged youth with such a dreary dilemma. Can't we? Surely every young Bangladeshi girl or boy should have some fair chance at education and job sector, without which we all know they have very little chance of lifting themselves up, as we need them in order to lift up our whole nation.
Those myriad poorer students living in remote corners of the map are struggling to keep up. They are frustrated, they are concerned primarily because their age is progressing but their academic education is not.
Besides, all rural schools are closed for more than five months. Similarly, in tertiary level, due to lack of infrastructure or lack of students' response only a minority of universities are taking online classes. According to the University Grants Commission (UGC), only 63 out of 151 public and private universities are carrying out their online academic activities.
Even though some universities are running classes virtually, the attendance is often very poor. BioTED, a training and research institute, has conducted a study and has shown that 44.7% students cannot attend virtual classes due to lack of logistics. Therefore, it is evident that a plenty of students are unable to carry on studies amid the ongoing global pandemic. In fact, not all the public universities are capable of successful transition to online classes, let alone doing assessments in time.
Notably, education is terribly affected by the uncertainty around coronavirus, and so too is the future of the millions of students. Although after a nationwide lockdown in March, some private universities introduced online classes within a couple of months of lockdown, public universities begun conducting remote learning in June, but attendance was poor.
This certainly brings session jam back for the students. How about the future of those who dream for government jobs but cannot even apply just because they are facing session jam, thus losing the qualification of applying to government jobs?
Looking at different countries, the maximum age for entry into government service is 35 years in India, 45 years in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, 59 years in North America, and 35 years in Italy, Qatar and Taiwan. If the economically advanced countries can set at least 35 years age limit for government jobs, what leads the policy makers of Bangladesh not to change its stance in this regard?
Apart from it, according to the World Bank, the average life expectancy of Bangladeshi citizens is 72 years. When the average life expectancy in Bangladesh rose from 45 years to 50 years, the age limit was increased to 30 from 27. Now the average life expectancy has gone up again. Setting the upper age limit for government jobs to 35 is really quite plausible or soon will be. In 2011 the government increased the retirement age for government officials from 57 to 59 years, yet did not feel the need to relax the age limit for entry.
On top of all this, as long as age, not merit or experience or qualifications or keenness, or any other seemingly useful criteria, remains the primary qualification for government jobs, the talent and actual skills of the students is unequivocally devalued and wasted. Recruitment, therefore, should be done primarily based on skills, not age.
Imagine a student who dreams of becoming a public servant, ends up being disqualified just because of session jam, early marriage or coronavirus outbreak. This not only demoralises the job seekers but can also increase our unemployment rate.
I have carried out a survey online on whether the age of public services should be extended. A total of 1766 students from 12 different universities participated in the survey. Out of them, more than 1594 (over 90%) students want the age restriction to be eased and the remaining 172 (10%) students want no change in existing system.
Most noticeably, responding to the coronavirus outbreak our neighbouring country, India, has increased the upper age limit of Grade III and IV from 38 to 40. Why despite a radical shift in every aspect of our lives, the maximum age of eligibility to apply for a government job will still have to remain static? It has to change to somewhere between 32 and 35.
As it stands now, coronavirus and accompanying confusion and uncertainty poses a dire threat to millions of Bangladeshi students' career. What about the job seekers whose graduation is delayed not so much because of coronavirus but because of our government's weak response to it? Taking the Covid-19 context into account, this policy is worth changing.
Will the government and policy makers offer them an opportunity to make full use of their talent, skills and knowledge?
Mahde Hassan works as a faculty member of IELTS at Saifur's Private Ltd, and is an undergraduate student of English at East West University. Email: [email protected]