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Technical education must go hand in hand with general education: Speakers at YB webinar

With the wake of the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic, Young Bangla has organized several webinar consultations with youths on safety and social distancing, volunteerism in Corona days, and Volunteer Safety Guidelines. In continuation of these efforts, on May 21, Young Bangla organized another webinar with Honourable Ministers, Academicians, Researchers, Social Workers, Professionals, Student Representatives, and Successful Youths to discuss on youth development in the post-COVID-19 period. The proliferation of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is one of the few areas that young people consider critical to the development after COVID-19.

According to government data, about 2 million young men and women are entering the labour market every year (BBS, 2017). Most of them are not skilled at the required level. Besides, the industry needs about 2 million skilled manpower where TVET provides only 5,00,000. The survey found that 94.4% of TVET graduates are now employed as salaried or self-employed entrepreneurs while the employment rate of public and private university graduates of arts, science, and business in Bangladesh is significantly low. The expansion of TVET can be a key driver of post-COVID19 economic recovery, productivity, employment, and poverty reduction.

On 14 June 2020, Young Bangla, the youth platform of Centre for Research and Information (CRI), hosted an online edition of ‘Let’s Talk’ on “Covid19 Recovery: TVET for Youth”. It was around 90 minutes of discussions with a panel of parliamentarians, government officials, private sector representatives, students’ representatives, and young achievers. Panellists shared their insights, expertise, and experience centring around the subject. Their participation made this event fruitful and constructive where actions, policy, and planning related to “Covid19 Recovery: TVET for Youth” were discussed and highlighted.

Dr. Dipu Moni MP, Minister, Ministry of Education (MoE)

The COVID19 pandemic will fuel up global unemployment. According to the ILO, this phenomenon may leave up to 100cr people out of jobs across the world. Immediately, we have to conduct need assessment, skills-gap analysis, and industry skill assessment and start taking preparation for the future. Assessing the shifting nature of global and local market demands is a must. Based on detailed skill-mapping, we have to plan and develop new training programs.

Many technicians have gained skills by doing. Since they have no formal recognition/certificate, employers pay low-wages for their service. It is necessary to certify them as recognition of prior learning (RPL) so that they can find good jobs.

It is high time to look at skills from a new perspective. Having hard-skills is not going to be enough. Nowadays, employers look for a combination of hard and soft skills. Soft skills such as communication and emotional skills are crucial for a productive work environment. So the requirement of soft skills and equipping them with those skills through our training programs need to be considered.

In the future, we have to create opportunities for up-skilling and re-skilling as well. Employers have to arrange such programs at professional setups allowing workers to attain new skills.

Bangladesh intends to create a tech-based entrepreneur shortly. To this goal, MoE will introduce courses to develop entrepreneurs in the ICT sector.

MoE has a plan to integrate technical courses in general education by 2021. The preparation is underway. The difficult part of the plan is to develop a combined curriculum for that purpose. MoE will adopt some of the good courses and books from BMET. The Covid-19 has caused some disruption in the process. Teachers’ recruitment and infrastructure development have suffered huge blows. However, MoE will implement the plan for sure.

It is time to make TVET more lucrative for the young generation. TVET has made some great strides in the recent past. Previously, it was believed that TVET is meant for the underprivileged groups. That perception has changed over time and TVET is gaining more acceptance than ever. MoE is trying to promote the sector as a part of the mainstream education system. TVET has many success stories that need to be disseminated to all.

The country is now mostly under digital coverage. MoE is disseminating lessons to primary students through radio and TV channels. Almost 95 percent of primary students have been reached. Some 5 to 10 percent remained out of the coverage.

Now, MoE is giving online education at different levels. It is trying to minimize the cost of e-learning.

Bangladesh is in a unique position with a large young age population. To utilize the full potential of this demographic dividend, we have to ensure proper investment education and skill development.

Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury, Deputy Minister of Education (MoE):

The journey of TVET in Bangladesh is not a smooth one and it had to cover a rugged trail indeed. TVET was a highly neglected sector for a long time. The statistics on TVET enrolment was grim until 2009. The standard of our higher education is far behind in comparison to advanced countries. Developing countries usually focus on vocational education at the early stages but it is the other way round in our country. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman envisioned an education policy with the highest priority on vocational education. But the subsequent undemocratic governments shelved that policy. They followed education policies that were not helpful for a developing economy. This has led to the rise of a cheap-labour driven economy in Bangladesh.

There were many hurdles at the outset. The enrolment rate in TVET increased to 17 percent from below 1 percent. The general mindset towards TVET was not positive at all. Earlier, it was taken for granted that TVET is for low-achievers. That mindset has changed to some extent. It is now accepted that general education and TVET are not divergent rather they can complement each other. The young generation, aware of the current global context, is growingly interested in TVET. TVET courses are being redesigned. It is needed to create an opportunity for up-skilling for graduates/masters from general education. MoE will allow such flexibility in TVET courses. Currently, in public TVET it is not possible. There is an age limit in enrolment. There are certain conditions to be met before enrolment in public institutions. MoE is trying to eliminate such barriers and make public institutions more flexible in offering the course to different age groups.

To change TVET curricula is a huge challenge for us. Many courses have become obsolete, on which MoE will work on. High skilled manpower is required for certain industries. Many of our RMGs and other industries hire skilled manpower from neighbouring countries. To enhance the employability of the youth population, MoE will introduce more professional courses, which have demands in local and global markets.

Certain industries will embrace mechanization/automation in the future. But demands for some of the manual labour/skills will not die out shortly. Demands for electrical work, plumbing, elderly-care, etc. will not wane soon. The assumption that advanced technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) will rob away the employment of many is not going to happen overnight. We do not have enough skilled technicians in welding, automobile, etc. Full automation is not going to take place soon. We lack skilled manpower in many other basic trades. Since Bangladesh has a large population, it has to ensure that labour-intensive industries grow in the country. The labour-intensive industry will absorb large manpower.

Dr. Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, Secretary, Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment (MoEWOE)

Overseas employment is a major source of employment. As we all know about 2 to 2.5 million youths are entering the labour market every year, while 35% to 40% of labourers of this total new labour force are going abroad as migrant workers. Most of them are unskilled or semi-skilled and therefore they are subjected to cheap labour. They become vulnerable easily because of discrimination, exploitation, and unfair competition.

Though the outbreak of COVID19 resulted in Bangladeshi migrant workers’ returning from different countries, the number is not alarming yet. But, if this pandemic persists, hundreds of thousands of migrants will return to Bangladesh. For many of these migrants, it will be not a happy homecoming as they will have lost their source of income.

According to Dr. Ahmed Munirus Saleheen, Secretary, Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment (MoEWOE), has taken a distinct socio-economic reintegration program of migrant workers. The Honourable Prime Minister also declared BDT 500cr for returnee migrant workers. Besides, there is also a BDT 200cr stimulus package declared by Wage Earners’ Welfare Board (WEWB). Under these packages, returnee migrant workers will receive easy low-interest credit from Probashi Kalyan Bank (PKB) to invest for their future.

He also informed, apart from this socio-economic reintegration program for returnee migrants will also need up-skilling, re-skilling, and alternate skilling training. For this purpose, BMET is working on reviewing, updating, and developing curricula. BMET is planning to introduce skill training that will help returnee migrant workers to get involved in self-employment activities. Now the question is our technical institute has that capacity and preparedness to perform this or not.

Although significant works have been done to develop national competency standards, there are issues of international accreditation, mutual recognition of skills, and linkage with the international market those are necessary to expand our international labour market. Recognition of prior learning of returnee migrant workers is another important area to look after.

Our institutional readiness to address the “New Normal” situation needs to be pondered on as well. To address this immediately, we need to invest in teachers’ and trainers’ capacity development and review and update the way training will be imparted. The way of delivery could be virtual, offline, or blended. Students’ and trainee’s capacity to access the learning platforms and to learn are also challenged to rethink. MoEWOE is jointly working with donors, INGOs, and local institutions to address the above issues.

Habibur Rahaman, Associate Coordinators, Young Bangla-CRI

We have had discussions and consultations with the youths at different times before. Here are the solutions they shared with us:

COVID-19 will accelerate the 4th Industrial Revolution and Green Economy shortly. Besides, the demand for soft skills and ICT skills will increase. So TVET will be able to play a timelier and quicker role than the general education system.

Post-COVID19 is the high time to promote technical education and training, against lack of aspiration, as a major source of employment and employability.

Immediate need assessment, skills-gap analysis and industry skill assessment need to be conducted to find out up-skilling, re-skilling, and alternate skilling requirements in the post-COVID-19 situation. BBS, in association with MoE, BMET, BTEB, NSDA, and ISCs can conduct this immediate assessment. Many youth organizations want to be involved in this assessment and work.

TVET students have to spend 3 times more than general education. This cost pressure needs to be reduced from the students through various multi-stakeholder investments (such as government and private financing, donor agencies, education loan facilities).

A student loan or stipend maybe designed for dropout students to encourage them to enter TVET and pay for the associated fees, such as tuition, books and supplies, and living expenses.

Sufi Faruq Ibne Abubakar, Founder, Gurukul

The definition of literacy has changed greatly in this pandemic situation. Now literacy doesn’t mean whether you can write or read. It means your capacity to understand what you read, to acquire new knowledge and skills.

Timelier Curriculum can satisfy current skill market demand. We also experience that for 16 years there was no curriculum review and upgrade. Things are much better now. We can easily introduce any new curriculum. But it is difficult to have an up to date curriculum since the recent government mechanism takes much time to develop, review, and update curriculum. Curriculum development, reviewing, and updating, including addressing industries’ feedback and technological alignment, must be completed by 6 months from the starting date. Strong PPP can play a greater role. Nineteen ministries are providing TVET, still, there are many backdated curriculums. We need to set up an independent curriculum accreditation board under the authority of MoE. The private sector will develop and propose a new curriculum based on market demand. That accreditation board will scrutinize, test, and approve that curriculum within 6 months. This kind of initiative will expedite developing a market-driven curriculum within a short time. This will inspire the private sector to invest more in market-driven curriculum development.

Appropriate education materials: In TVET there is a lack of quality education materials. In this case, the government will host and endorse the content and education materials developed by private sectors. That will help ensure quality education materials.

Education in Bangladesh is charitable. That’s why the private sector is less interested in investing in education. It is time to make a policy decision that makes skill development as a profitable sector. This will encourage the private sector to set up TVET institutes and to ensure quality TVET education.

Assessment is another challenge. Lack of infrastructure to assess and capacity of assessors is really important to address. Otherwise, the quality of students will remain as poor as it is.

Mirza Nurul Ghani Shovon, Chairman, Informal Sector Industry Skills Council (ISC)

There are many issues like developing curriculum, standardizing the documents, bringing efficiency in assessment of what the Industrial Skill Development Council and National Skill Development Authority (NSDA) is doing, and what else can be done.

To address the current skill gap or skill mismatch issues, HPM Sheikh Hasina has established the National Skill Development Authority (NSDA) and the Industrial Skill Development Council. The government is also formulating necessary policies to ensure that these two entities function well. To this end, the government also established the National Human Resource Development Fund (NHRDF) and made necessary budget allocation. However, the operation of NHRDF has not yet been started. I think the government should take action to activate NHRDF’s operation.

We need to act immediately because the SME sector secures 24% contribution to the country’s economy and employs around 7.7 million human resources and this sector was hit hard during the COVID-19 outbreak. This sector needs attention. HPM Sheikh Hasina has announced BDT 200 billion stimulus package to save the SME sector. Banks have to come forward to implement the stimulus package. We can see that banks are not responding accordingly. There is a scope for entrepreneurship development among the TVET receivers. Like every other sector, the SME sector also suffers due to a lack of skilled human resources. We are missing the train to explore the enormous potential of the light engineering sector. We can also bring back the highly skilled and high performing expatriates and utilize their experience and expertise in developing different sectors lacking skilled human resources. Political commitment is also crucial in this regard.

Concluding Remarks by Mohinul Hasan Chowdhury MP

To understand the current demands and scope of improvement in overall human resource development, is there a necessity to assess or to conduct a survey? Do you have any plans for this?

There is a gap in terms of synchronizing the curriculum with industrial demand. To update the curriculum, we need to know the industrial demand and we are yet to learn the industrial demand. Currently, we are focusing on maximizing enrolment. We could not assess the private and other sector skill demand yet. We have to communicate with the major employers in different sectors and learn the current skill demand and then we can update the curriculum.

Concluding Remarks by Dr. Dipu Moni MP

Both in terms of employment and self-employment, there is a demand for medical service delivery. Health service technical education demand has been created and some institutions are providing this specialized education but the current approach is not an integrated approach. We want to learn your thoughts or plans on this issue.

There is a gap between the industry and academia. We have to have real-time and continuous collaboration. This structure is missing. Based on the industrial demand, our curriculum has to be changed constantly.

We need health technologists, caregivers. We need elderly and child caregivers. I believe in this sector there is a scope of entrepreneurship. We can identify many fields like medical waste management. New fields of TVET education are identified and we are constantly following the employment demand trend.

From this discussion, we realized that there are many scopes of improvement and follow-up, starting from curriculum update to efficient an assessment to efficient method of instruction to accreditation to integration to multi-stakeholder coordination, mutual recognition to a public-private partnership, industry-academia coordination. Above all, we have to implement the skill development framework with close coordination and consultations with relevant stakeholders. Now what we need is to initiate a concerted effort.

Reach:

Statistics show that the total reach of the live cast stood at 119,456, while the number of total likes, comments, and shares are 677, 1000+, and 280 respectively.​

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