Feb 13, 2011

Young and directionless

With 63 percent of the population below the age of 25 years, the government has an urgent task at hand

By Dr Noman Ahmed

On 25 January 2011, the Centre for Poverty Reduction and Social Policy Development (CPRSPD) and Planning Commission Government of Pakistan organised a round table to address issues of youth from various perspectives. The discussion held in Islamabad, was attended by people from different cross-section of society, including diplomats, UN bodies, donor agencies, large and small scale NGOs, entrepreneurs, and members from bureaucracy contributed to the deliberations.

Education, skill development, social networks, economic entrepreneurship and urban development were the core themes around which the discussions revolved. Outcomes from the day-long event need a serious review.

Pakistan is a country of young folks at present. The projected statistics inform that 63 percent of the population is below the age of 25 years. This figure alone offers many derivatives. The youth requires certain essential inputs to make their large numerical count worthy and positive for themselves and the society. Literacy as a skill and means to access education is the foremost. An extremely gloomy scenario is observed in this respect. At the very outset, the youth gets divided at the doorway to education on ideological and socio-economic grounds.

There are multiple options and avenues of education existing in the country. Religious seminaries that are spread far and wide in the country are the basic and perhaps most accessible educational system for youth hailing from least developed locations. Barring a few well-managed madrassas, the others offer rudimentary skills. Rot-learning, outdated teaching methodologies, denial to contemporary tools and means of communication leaves this vast lot of young people unprepared to face the normal challenges of life. No wonder, ignorance and frustration -- common in this section of the youth -- are easily exploited by our religious leaders.

Those who study in government schools are at a natural disadvantage. Such ill-equipped and poorly-staffed outfits barely prepare their pupils to face the daunting challenges of practical life. With little or no motivation from family or schools, very few of them are able to swim against the tide to achieve a respectable status in working areas.

Children who study in private schools do normally well due to corresponding inputs in the form of education, grooming, motivation and favourable circumstances. However, this last group is a drop in the ocean. And then there are those who do not enroll for education or drop out at an early stage. Expectation of such disadvantaged lot to become a useful member of society further diminishes.

The trends and dynamics of globalisation show that creative ideas and their translation into practical innovations constitute a most desirable pursuit. In contrast to developing a mindset of job-seeker in the public or private sector, young people must be guided to take up challenges of most extraordinary kind. The conditions in Pakistan are also ripe for the most unusual and radical of enterprises.

From basic production to sophisticated knowledge-based outputs, there remain infinite opportunities that await imagination and application. Numerous examples can be cited to derive inspiration. Some non-governmental organizations are active in generating social and political consciousness among the young people.

The Youth Parliament of Pakistan is a vibrant organisation that is preparing the youth to understand the social and political situation of the country. It is also making efforts to tap energies of the youth to debate and ponder over matters of common interest. Many organisations facilitate young entrepreneurs to expand initiatives of social and cultural value.

Most of them have learned to survive and function with very little state support. The state must ensure peace, maintenance of law and order, and political stability to let youth explore their potential lest the youth becomes fodder of extremist elements.

The clock is ticking fast. The youth of today will become the aging population after three decades. The demographic dividend can be only reaped by enabling the youth realise their potential through support of state and private stakeholders. At a limited scale, NGO-led projects aim to support individuals with creative ideas in enterprise development. Our youth has all the potential to take risks and accept challenges that are usual in commercial environment.

From media, fashion, information technology, travel, tourism, food, to more complex and demanding sectors such as manufacturing, exports, and trading can be utilized for youth through a focused approach. The sooner we realise this the better it would be for us as a nation.

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