The system of education in this part of the world hardly renders young aspiring young learners materialise their dreams. Only a select few can make it to the choicest corridor of disciplines in their higher studies. For the rest, notwithstanding talent or no talent, it is either a near miss or a heartbreaking disappointment. Even a gifted man of APJ Abdul Kalam's calibre, had to abandon his dream of becoming a fighter pilot by just a whisker---he became ninth when the top eight candidates were recruited as trainee Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots. It was good he did not qualify to be a pilot because he was destined to accomplish a far greater job ---to be the 'missile man' of India as also the 'people's president' of that country.
Not all, however, scale greater heights than the levels of their dreamt-of careers would have allowed. Let alone the geniuses who have advanced theories, invented machines, life-saving medicines and healthcare methods or discovered new frontiers of knowledge, the average educated and intelligent people mostly have to live a proxy life. Incompatible as the careers may be, they have to adapt themselves to those for the sake of survival.
This explains why a science or arts graduate or post-graduate takes to a banking career. On the other hand, some people with a literary bend of mind have to study science subjects, engineering and medical science. Only a handful of them return to their first love of literary or musical pursuits responding to the call of their passion. Thus Humayun Ahmed becomes the most popular novelist in Bangladesh and Anupam Roy of West Bengal turns out to be a celebrated singer.
With all its killing punch and hostilities, the pandemic gave a rude shock to all, particularly to those who lost earning members or were left without employment. True, an unprecedented crisis brings the best out of some people. Indeed, it happened in case of a few who could think out of the box and dared take risks. Enterprising spirit helped them become successful entrepreneurs.
However, their number is few and far between. What about the army of graduates churned out mostly by the National University (NU)? According to the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, 66 per cent graduates of the NU-affiliated colleges remain unemployed. But mid-level managerial positions in industries, factories and business farms or companies are either vacant or poorly staffed. In the RMG sector, in particular, such positions are occupied by foreigners. It exposes the lack of required knowledge and skill sets of the local graduates for employment to those positions.
This is a poor commentary on the higher education offered here and the cooperation between the academia and businesses. This has ever remained an endemic problem. On Sunday last, the Bangladesh Investment Authority (Bida), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Grameenphone launched a programme titled, 'Graduate Employment in Private Sector Program' with the aim to upskill graduates.
Now the important question is if the general graduates can be trained to acquire the skills needed for a fast transforming Bangladesh into a digitised country. Clearly, there is a mismatch between the skill sets required by industries and businesses on one side and the curricula of education starting from secondary to higher studies, on the other. The knowledge gap in scientific and technological fields cannot be overcome merely by skill training. What they actually need is retraining in areas suitable for them depending on their subjects.
In this context, the recently conducted census could be an effective tool to have a clear picture of the educated youths and make a comprehensive plan. The hard reality is that the majority of the youths who have completed general graduation or tertiary education in subjects without demand in the employment market will have to be satisfied with modest employment and therefore, they must be imparted compatible skill training.
Admittedly, isolated training programmes will not do, what the country needs first of all is to focus on the curricula with the provision for extraordinarily meritorious students to go for higher studies and allowing the run of the mill to study technical, sector-wise, business subjects depending on their aptitudes. Parts of the skill training for their careers ought to be completed in the classrooms not after they have obtained their graduation certificates. This means they will primarily learn in classes the trades they are prepared for building a career.
In this effort, the academic institutions will have to receive active cooperation and support from industries and business farms. They will update each other under different collaborative pogrammes of the challenges facing businesses and the solutions found through research and studies. This will equally apply for charting new territories that will emerge with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) taking off and setting a pace for itself. The bottom line is that creativity will always have its special place and the more talented will advance this cause. But for the rest of the team, they will have the ability to deliver as the doctor orders.
So the need is to cure the disease that is inherited from the out-of-date syllabus and curricula. Those have to be redesigned or remodelled suiting to the need of career building for the students of average talents. It is no mystery that most private universities are keen to offer studies in business administration and engineering subjects. Public universities cannot do so but have to restrict admission and recast their curricula.