I started my morning reading the Prothom Alo – the most widely circulated newspaper of Bangladesh. The headline says: “Opportunities of employment has decreased: Recent BBS workforce survey.” No big shock there. But it might make you think twice if you look at the findings in detail. Currently there are 2.6 million people unemployed in Bangladesh. More alarmingly, employment rate is highest among the most educated – 9 in every 100 undergraduates or post graduates are unemployed. Ironically, only 2.2% of the uneducated are sitting at home. The article actually says that in Bangladesh, you have better luck finding a job if you are illiterate!
And it makes sense. I see this every day around me. Most of the people I know who are currently unemployed (including myself), are either Master’s or Bachelor’s degree holders. Whereas those who are from less affluent families, have received no or very little education in their lives, are all earning money; no matter how little the amount is. The reason for this is high expectation.
I, myself, is an apt example of this crisis in Bangladesh. I started to work full-time the next day of my last exam of undergraduate studies. The job did not pay much. I knew nothing about the job market or work environment. All I wanted was to gain experiences. I worked as an intern for six months and it paid almost nothing. Eventually I got better opportunities and started to earn more. For various reasons, I decided to enroll in a Master’s program. I ended up quitting my job because I couldn’t handle both work and studying at the same time (many others can but I am lethargic). I also began to look for opportunities of further higher education in a European country. Anyone who has ever applied for higher education abroad from a developing country knows how time-consuming and depressing it can get (or maybe it’s just me). I got accepted to a university but with no scholarship. So I couldn’t go.
Then began my search for a job here in Dhaka. But unlike last time, I was not willing to start from scratch all over again. I cannot work as a lowly intern again! I cannot work just anywhere! I am a highly educated person now for heaven’s sake! I want to work in a specific sector related to my field of study and interest. And this is the problem. This is the problem that has been holding back 9% of the highly educated people. And I cannot blame them. I think the same way. But I can also see it was a wrong decision to only pursue higher education, especially when I focused more on it than trying to find ways to get a new job.
And the funny part is this figure of 9% unemployed rate among the highly educated is what BBS (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics) says . The real percentage ought to be much, much higher (anyone who is aware of the ‘accuracy’ of BBS data knows this). People in Bangladesh just accept it as a fact that if you have the money to pay for it, then you must get a higher degree, at least a Master’s degree. It is a social norm here. We don’t even stop to think and ask ourselves: do I really need this degree? We continue fooling ourselves thinking this degree will ensure a better future. In reality, what really matter are networking, proper connections and specific skills that one should have acquired.
This social norm as well as this type of unemployment scenario are partly the creation of the absurd education system of the country. It forces us to be confined within the boundaries of text books with mostly bad teachers. It teaches us to conform to the system, to follow rules, to think within the box. It teaches us how to be good kamlas. It teaches us nothing about how to deal with real life and how to improve networking skills. It doesn’t encourage us to be innovators and entrepreneurs. The enrollment rate is very high in primary level education in Bangladesh, which the government shows off to the world as a huge achievement of theirs. They have managed to increase the quantity of education, not its quality.
Thus we end up thinking, ok, so I just have to pay lakhs of taka then one day it’ll pay off. But does it for everyone? The way we race with extreme competitions to reach that finish line seems like a never-ending marathon. I am fully aware that finding a job is not the only point of education. But the system needs to be changed in a way that actually helps people to build their careers.