Intending to scout out real and measurable impacts inflicted by the Corona induced shutdown on the lives of youths, the largest populace of the country, Young Bangla, the youth platform under the auspices of Centre for Research and Information (CRI), hosted the second online edition of ‘Let’s Talk on Post Covid-19 Youth Development’ on 21 May 2020. Spanning around 120 minutes, the discussion drew insights from a wide-ranging panel – from parliamentarians to academicians to researchers to social workers to practitioners to students’ representatives and youths working on an individual capacity to change the course of their community. As the episode kept advancing, it paved the path for practical insights on the concerns and challenges, which require attention from the policymakers, facing the youths in their education, workplace, career, and personal lives. On the other hand, first-hand insights from the young achievers on their voluntary community work also came up.
Apart from youths, other speakers reflected on the steps regarding planning and developing policies to address the concerns of the youths, alongside helping them overcome the burden caused by COVID 19, in the coming days. This report gives a glimpse into the pressing and emerging worrisome issues, affecting the youths, and offers a guideline for the policymakers to work on those problems, as recommended by experts and grassroots youths.
Keeping educational activities uninterrupted:
With the wake of the pandemic, the government has closed down all educational institutions to stop the spread. But, the concern for the timely completion of the academic lives of students also surfaced. Dr. Sakia Haque, a JBYA2018 winner, emphasized advancing online education, alongside the introduction of training systems to address this crisis. According to her, in the post-COVID19 scenario, students from poor families might have to discontinue their education, raising the possibility of a sharp rise in the dropout rate. Interestingly, a silver lining has been painted by the speaker in the event.
She came up with a proposal for the introduction of collateral-free loan schemes to be rolled out from different ministries offering students the opportunity to purchase computers. On the payback of the loan, the proposition was that each installment costs a small amount with a time frame of 2/3 months, minimizing the burden on students to repay. Heads of educational institutions can be tasked with the responsibility of the selection of the needy students and the distribution of the equipment.
On this proposition, Honorable Deputy Minister of Ministry of Education (MoE) Mohibul Hassan Chowdhury, MP said “It is challenging to provide a digital device or personal computer to every school student. That’s why the government is emphasizing on the televised method of distance learning. Those who missed the classes on television, they can watch those missed classes on-demand basis on the digital platform developed by the government. Distant learning is a mitigation strategy that is never a replacement of classroom education”.
Mr. Chowdhoury also added that the education ministry took a policy decision for introducing loan facilities for the higher education level students for purchasing the personal computer and in this regard, a discussion is going on between Would Bank and his ministry.
However, rural students are finding it increasingly troublesome to access relevant materials online due to poor Internet connectivity, triggering a disparity between urban and rural students in terms of digital accessibility. If this persists for long, a digital divide may intensify the possibility of disparity among students in rural areas. On the other hand, attending a 40-minute online class using mobile data is also highly expensive for them. In light of this pressing problem, steps to make access to the internet more affordable can result in some positive dividends.
While the introduction of classes, amid this closure, through national electronic outlets has appeared a bit effective, the need for the formulation of a clear and visionary strategy and revision of curriculum has been stressed.
To make education more accessible, during this shutdown, a more comprehensive approach has been stressed with reliance on electronic outlets for supplementary education and online for homework and assessments.
They emphasized on best harnessing all the online and offline mediums. While electronic outlets can provide supplementary education, digital spheres can provide homework and assessments. This will put less pressure on offline education such as classrooms and labs. When it comes to offline education, both teachers and students must follow safety and hygiene.
In this case, textbook content can be made more customized and to be relayed extensively through local cable channels, state-run media, community radio, and online platforms.
Mr. Chowdhury informed the panel that the ministry (MoE) started a discussion with telecommunication companies to make internet free of cost for the students though there are challenges. In this situation, the government’s key focus is to provide distance learning using broadcast and information communication infrastructure. In the future, there is an opportunity to improve and expand distance learning.
In Bangladesh, as of now, the rate of enrolment in technical education stands at 15% while a target has been set by the government to raise it to 30% by 2030. Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) accounts for below 10% of the education budget, constituting 1.32% of the national budget.
On this note, Mr. Chowdhury mentioned that this medium had been a neglected one till 2009 but during the last 10 years, a set of policies and projects, as envisaged and put in place by the government, to revamp this sector, resulted in an encouraging rise in the enrolment rate to 17 percent from below 1 percent.
Dr. Nazneen Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow, BIDS, mentioned that the crisis has already wreaked havoc on the economy and labor market. According to her, the current TVET system hardly complements the emerging skill system and the industries. In other words, it is not market-driven.
In response, Mr. Chowdhury admitted that the usefulness of the current technical education scheme appeared quite futile to meet the market demands.
“Our technical education is struggling to match the pace of ever-shifting market demands. Many graduates find that the courses they completed become out-dated at the time of applying for a job. The process of curriculum designing and training development is not also industry-driven. We still emphasize on theoretical aspects in technical courses. Such theoretical learning does not add value outside the classroom. Many uncertified technicians possess skills but they are not well-paid. So we are aware of the challenges awaiting. We are trying to bridge all the gaps. We need cooperation from all sectors,” he added.
Mr. Chowdhury also opined that even beset with all the challenges, this medium of education has been gaining traction among both students and parents, bearing fruition for many to earn their livelihoods. A key reason for this shift has been attributed to the growing rise of technical skill-driven professions like (home-care, elderly-care, child-care, etc.).
In their address, the youth speakers stressed on increasing the budgetary allocation for this sector in a post-pandemic period. According to them, scopes are aplenty to open up opportunities to make this education more accessible and make relevant training more effective. A call has been placed for conducting a nationwide digital training needs assessment (TNA) incorporating SSC VOC, HSC VOC, TSCs, Polytechnic of private and public sectors.
As mentioned earlier for general students, the provision for loans can be created for students about technical and vocational education too. The introduction of another scheme has been proposed for students to pay for post-secondary education and the associated fees, such as tuition, books and supplies, and living expenses.
For private university students, the issue of online classes raises a set of other concerns including increased educational expenses amid a complete absence of students’ representation in the decision-making process. Given such worries, young speakers requested the government to take necessary initiatives including the likes of setting a limit for the fee so that universities cannot overcharge the students for a certain period.
Focus has also been laid out on setting up more institutions of excellence to provide ICT education. According to speakers, the expansion of training on digital literacy, ICT education, data digitization/BPO, and software development would bring in some measurable outcomes. In this regard, the formation of a separate high-powered Digital Education Division has been proposed under the Ministry of Education.
Polytechnic institutions, under the Ministry of Education, currently, offer only three ICT related diploma programs. Rolling out a set of additional programs on AI, cyber-security, robotics, big data management, and other 4IR technologies, according to speakers, can open up more opportunities for youths to deal with the needs of the job market. Conducting training for teachers to address 4IR education was also pointed out as a potential challenge during the discussion. Stress has also been laid out on orienting teachers with a new methodology of teaching to nurture critical (soft) skills for ICT students.
Career counseling for soft skill transfer with the introduction of digital classrooms, offline classrooms, and broadcast media, under a joint initiative, with a special focus on reaching out to the grassroots, has also been stressed.
The welfare of Returnee Migrant Workers:
According to the discussion, with the return of migrant workers, caused by the global economic downturn amid Corona, the task for equipping the returnees with adequate training regarding skills development can be implemented under the supervision of National Skill Development Authority (NSDA) or Ministry of Education (MoE). Alongside the involvement of other ministries including the likes of Ministries of Overseas and Employment, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Local Government and Rural Development, Education and Youth and Sports, has also been pointed out to make the initiative more effective.
Honorable State Minister, Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS), Md. Zahid Ahsan Russel, MP informed that the government has announced a BDT 2,000 crore scheme to assist returnee migrant workers, unemployed youth, and rural populations.
Youth speakers proposed that vocational guidance, that provides details on key overseas labor markets, can also be taken to students of TVET and general education too.
Md. Faruque Hossain, Former Secretary and Former Executive Chairman, National Skills Development Authority (NSDA) said as a leading authority, NSDA needs to take into account different strategies and initiatives to address the challenges lying ahead in the fight against the menace caused by the pandemic. According to him, regarding designing and offering measurable training for the returnee migrant workers, coordination among the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), and NSDA will become an issue of high importance. He also called for undertaking an assessment process immediately to dig out the skills they already possess and to find out the new set of skills relevant to serve the demands in the local job market.
In the discussion, it appeared evident that on the back of this countrywide corona-induced lockdown, a vast number of workers employed in both formal and informal sectors are passing days in fear of losing jobs. In this crisis time, young people are highly vulnerable to unemployment.
Syed Mafiz Kamal, Senior Analyst, Centre for Research and Information (CRI) hinted that this pandemic hits the youth hard mostly.
According to him, given that youths account for 45% to 50% of the entire workforce, the possibility of doubling up the unemployment rate runs high. By the next 6 months to 1 year, as he suggested, steps need to be taken to check any rise in the rate of unemployment. As 85% of the labor force has been engaged in the informal sector, the government needs to pay attention to the sectors that soak labors like agriculture, construction, light engineering, transport, and food processing. Immediate job creation can be another priority in the post COVID19 pandemic since every year a huge number of young people are entering into the labor force too.
Youth speakers urged the government to create a national one-stop-center for job seekers. According to them, an extension in the age limit for appearing in the public service examination by two years can help the aspirants to a greater extent.
The government may approach the private sector to create scopes of placement, internship, apprenticeship in every industry for potential youths. Internship opportunities and scholarships can be increased by all the ministries. The National Youth Service Program of the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS) can be massively expanded.
Ejaz Ahmad, President, and Founder, BYLC has hinted that the COVID19 pandemic will send ripples in industrialization as well as the scopes for employment on ordinary sectors will get a blow. According to him, as the presence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will grow faster than ever due to the pandemic, several skills development programs can be introduced to help the youths cope up with this technological advancement. He pointed out that as outsourcing is likely to take over traditional job markets in the coming days, steps are required to create freelancers and independent professionals. The country can take advantage of these emerging realities giving a special focus to boost up the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector.
Honorable State Minister, Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS), Md. Zahid Ahsan Russel, MP informed that his ministry undertook a Tk 70 billion project to create self-employment and alleviate poverty. It aims at making a huge portion of the population who left the cities due to a lack of jobs amid the coronavirus lockdown and are staying in their villages. MoYS has targeted to self-employ 1.2 million youths. Youths interested to be self-employed will get training, mainly on agriculture and fisheries, so that they can even create jobs for others instead of getting frustrated, the state minister said.
Mr. Russel said another project to ensure the employment of 200,000 youths in 2020 and 2021 was underway. It was named Bangabandhu Youth Development to mark the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The young entrepreneurs will get soft loans of up to Tk 100,000 under the project. Directorate of Youth Development (DYD) runs over 80 trade courses from its training centers in 64 districts. The construction work of 100 youth training and recreation centers are in progress.
According to the discussion, youth-led Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) can benefit from easily accessible, mortgage/collateral-free, facilitated loans to cope up with the corona induced shock. The introduction of an easy-to-avail process in getting registered with different regulatory authorities will come to the help of young entrepreneurs too.
To help youths become self-employed, offering easy credit and training can provide them with the scope to buy vehicles and make it to the transport sector.
Mr. Hossain stated that the government is forming two companies; one called Human Resources Development Fund Company under the Finance Division to support private sectors and training providers working in skills development sectors. And the other is a start-up company under the ICT Division. Once formed, both companies will work to provide youths with venture capital support.
Capital credit/loans can be introduced for the youth-led cooperatives and companies too. Moreover, arranging for training can become effective for those with aspirations for setting up food processing units, storage, and transportation services at the village level, as such ventures offer a direct linkage with farmers and also connects those involved in cold chain facilities and markets, both online and offline. Youth-led and community-owned processing and storage units can be horizontally expanded with a vertically linked structure. Rural Development and Cooperative Division (RDCD), under MoLGRD , can take up the lead at the implementation level.
Ferdous Ara Begum, CEO, BUILD highlighted the potentials for Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects to boost up SMEs. She presented with an opportunity where PPP projects can outsource supplies and services for the local SMEs. On impact, SMEs can generate their business immediately, for example, the transport sector, light-post management, electricity billing, internet service, courier service, waste management, and other business outsourcing opportunities.
However, according to her, to avail of this scope, a reformation is required in the current PPP policies while intensive efforts need to be put in place for capacity building. An immediate mapping exercise can help figure out such services and supply chain areas that the government organizations can provide the SMEs with.
Mr. Russel announced that the ministry had just launched an e-commerce platform. The platform – paikarisale.com will help both growers/producers and consumers. Trained entrepreneurs from DYD will buy products directly from grassroots producers in the first place and afterward they will process and sell those to urban consumers. The platform will ensure that growers receive fair prices while the consumers can buy quality products at a competitive rate tool.
According to him, works are underway to make another program called ‘Youth Branding’ operational within a month. The program will take products from entrepreneurs who are unable to sell them in the market. On a pilot basis, the ministry, upon collecting, will arrange for bringing in such products in the divisional cities.
Youth in Nation Building and Community Development:
In the time of the pandemic, young people are demonstrating their continued leadership to serve their communities. In the discussion, it appeared that meaningful youth engagement is becoming critical to tackle post-COVID19 challenges. Formation of a national-level challenge fund allowing youth-led organizations to avail grants for innovative social services can serve as an impetus for the continuation of their cause too.
Inclusion of local youths, particularly those who are unemployed, in the government’s sectoral programs, such as the rebuilding of health and recreation facilities, can stand out as an effective step to check unemployment in the post-pandemic era. With the formulation of youth-led community Support Groups, youths can be deployed in rural infrastructure development projects, under the Local Government Division (LGD) of the Ministry of LGRD.
Scope for placements of community-level young volunteers with Village Development Units of Ekti Bari Ekti Khamar run by MoLGRD, community clinics by MoHFW, Community Support Team with Rapid Resource Teams on Covid-19 under MoHFW, Kishor-Kishori Clubs under Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, can also be considered. Helping the local economy through youth-led and decentralized education management can also be a tool that the ministry of education can count on, according to the speakers.
In light of such propositions, Mr. Russel said that under MoYS, over 22,500 youth organizations are working across Bangladesh. The ministry opens up a scheme called Youth Welfare Fund that allows the distribution of a certain amount of money among youth organizations as assistance for ongoing activities. For this year, a decision has already been taken that the amount for disbursement will be raised to ensure more financial assistance for those organizations working to tackle Covid-19 at local levels.
Health and Wellbeing:
According to the discussion, COVID19 induced worries to reduce opportunities for the youths to avail of appropriate and timely health care and services. In addition, the case becomes more complicated when it comes to youths with special needs. As a whole, the crisis poses a set of serious mental health challenges for the younger generation.
To address the above-mentioned crisis, the speakers pointed out some steps the policymakers may find useful.
Introduction of courses on primary healthcare, remedial health, hygiene, and health safety all educational institutions has been stressed. According to the speakers, the mental and physical health and wellbeing of youth can only be managed by deploying psychosocial councillors and more online counselling firms.
Dr. Muhammad Munir Hussain, Programme Analyst – Adolescent & Youth, UNFPA recommended that youth’s mental health issues call for a special focus on the National Health Response Plan. Scaling up the work under the Emergency Mental Health Service can come to great help. While this emergency health service incorporates adolescent mental health, the inclusion of youth has become a matter of high import too. Lessons to tackle anxiety and stress can be made available. The Ministry of Education (MoE) and Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS) can incorporate relevant soft skills in their learning and training process so that youth can learn and manage their day to day stress. Integrating soft skills in all spheres of education is also important because acquiring basic soft skills on an individual level can play a significant part to deal with such kind of emergency.
Stop Violence Against Women and Girls:
During the discussion, it appeared that the quarantine situation may raise the specter of particular physical and sexual violence against adolescent girls and young women. Adding to these woes, another assessment has been drawn up that in the wake of such violence, the victims may find it increasingly difficult to seek supportive services, including mental health services.
Shakila Islam, a JBYA2018 winner, reflected on her experience drawn from her work in Barishal and urban slums with local and ethnic women for the last three months. She revealed that with more women were falling prey to such violence, the requirement of counselling services has become ever more pertinent. She also hinted that child marriage might rise due to the economic crisis fueled by the virus.
Youth respondents called for launching a separate hotline service that can turn out as a resort for such victims to get necessary counselling. According to them, women’s safety at public places also seeks special attention, with the formulation of some essential guidelines that can come to some help.
Enhanced participation of youths:
The government has announced an additional BDT 2000 crore stimulus package to assist migrant workers, unemployed youth, and the rural population during the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Palli Shanchya Bank, Probahsi Kallyan Bank, Karmashangsthan Bank, and Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), each of these four entities will receive BDT 500 crore for the distribution as loans. The government has also decided to disburse BDT 1,500 crore for small enterprises while BDT 100 crore will be allocated for new entrepreneurs. Effective campaigns need to need to be launched to orient the youths with those packages while their participation has been identified as highly pertinent to ensure that such schemes bring in expected dividends.
Statistics shows that, total viewer of the live cast stood at 105,623, while the number of total likes, comments and share are 3430, 387 and 478 respectively.
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