The world population is around 7.8 billion out of which the youth population is about 1.4 billion, that makes it 17-24%, averaging around 19% of the total population, which will reach a peak of about 21% in the year 2035 and continue to grow in some countries till the year 2050.
Pakistan’s population is about 215 million, which makes it the fifth most populous country in the world. Currently, 135 million, i.e., 64% of the population is below the age of 30, and about 30% between the ages of 15-29 years. This is the age group that is defined as the youth of the country. At present Pakistan has more young people of a median age of around 23 than ever before and they are estimated to increase at a growth rate of 2.1% up to 2035. After 2035, it is calculated that this population will age twice as fast as the western countries, which provides a very small window of 15 years for Pakistan to utilize this tremendous workforce for achieving prosperity. Pakistan is lucky in the sense that it has an opportunity in the shape of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), developing during this window, which has tremendous opportunities to utilize its youth to change Pakistan into a prosperous Pakistan.
Pakistan’s future lies in its young population. The education of the young population is the most effective instrument for a country to transform its future. There are many problems with this young population in Pakistan, first that 30% of this youth is illiterate. Out of the remaining 70% literate, only 6% have an education of up to 12 years and out of this 6%, only 39% are employed.
Pakistan should seriously think of ways to utilize this youth force as a tool for development by creating opportunities through the right policies. Some constructive policies are needed to engage this youth, otherwise, there is a risk that they might become marginalized, intolerant, vulnerable, and violent.
Pakistani youth like everyone else is full of potential, ideas, and energy. A suitable environment can help them realize their potential. It is, therefore, very important to solve the needs and aspirations of these young people. They need a good atmosphere around them, which can be created by the three E’s; education, employment, and engagement. The first of these three pillars is education, which is the primary pillar and leads to employment and engagement. We need to comprehend these three E’s, their specific challenges, and solutions in detail.
The education of the youth of the country is very important for a prosperous Pakistan. The current policies of the government of Pakistan are insufficient to achieve the target of sending all the kids to school up to 2035. Today about 25 million kids are out of school, and COVID-19 has made the situation even worse. It is estimated that the figure is going to increase up to 28 million by the end of 2020. If Pakistan continues with the present policy, it will not be able to achieve the target set for 2035 and the target of full enrolment by 2050, thus denying itself the opportunity to reap the benefits of its youth bulge.
A recent UNFPA report of 2019 mentions that only 14 out of 195 countries spend less on education than Pakistan, while only 9 have a lower Human Development Index than Pakistan. Pakistan should increase the investment in education by 4-5 times than the present, particularly at the primary and secondary level, by building more quality schools, hiring more competent teachers, and reshaping the curricula on a more scientific basis. Besides this, emphasis should also be on vocational training schools and colleges, they should be increased to teach marketable skills, to create skilled and productive manpower.
Higher education may also be dealt with seriously, basically by increasing the quality, not the quantity. The universities not fulfilling the requirement of the provision of quality education may be warned to fulfill the requirement within the stipulated time, and after that, more drastic measures may be employed.
Education, especially science education leads to prosperity and stability directly. Science, technology, and innovation play a central role in human development. The development of a comprehensive S&T based system is crucial for the science education of youth and for achieving a competitive edge for Pakistan. The emphasis on education should be paid in those parts of the country which are lacking in facilities and quality of education.
Pakistan, despite being the fifth most populated country in the world does not have any significant share of the world in science and innovation output. Pakistan has a very small base of scientific manpower in every scientific field and lacks in trained manpower and scientific infrastructure. First, we have to revise and strengthen our science policy where we should take guidance and advice from the scientific and technical community to set high-quality objectives, free of political interests. Second, we should build accountable and quality institutions for new innovative technologies and realistic outcomes through solution-oriented research.
A research-based curriculum should be developed in Pakistan to make the students more productive in science, engineering, and agriculture. We should develop curricula keeping the youth engaged, mostly depending on an experimental learning model where we should create opportunities for young people to participate in hands-on activities.
Technology and a trained workforce are the major tactical factors for the socio-economic improvement of a country. Pakistan is trying to educate its youth through different programs, in which the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programs are very important. This program is running different certificate courses and diploma programs but still, they are inadequate compared to the country’s needs. Recently on August 15, 2020, Chairman CPEC Authority has taken a very important step by announcing three months internship program for Pakistani youth to develop the required skills for the CPEC project.
COVID-19 pandemic has helped us identify gaps and pressed us to fill these gaps in the future. COVID-19 also proved that sharing information, experiences, best practices, and collaboration among countries/ communities on partnership and technologies should be enhanced through information and communication for mutual benefit. Pakistan has to increase the internet facility for the education of youth by speeding up and providing it to remote areas of the country. The communication tool can connect researchers to worldwide innovations and appropriate development.
Pakistan also has to develop information technologies in the private sector for its upcoming youth. A very important factor noticed during the COVID-19 pandemic was that the youth was very poorly connected to social media, only 15-20% have access to the internet, 55% to cell phones, and 94% do not have access to the library facilities. The youth has to be exposed more to technology and social media especially in the rural areas, this can also increase the standard of youth involvement and education in these areas. This was felt badly during the last six months. Only information technology kept us going, kept our system of education officially alive and working to some extent. We have to increase information technology knowledge and facilities and extend them to remote areas.
There is a need to provide incentives to the public sector in R&D of S&T and information technology to provide a backbone to the country’s development. The last and most important is human capacity building, knowledge sharing, and developing the technologies addressing the most important needs of the country.
The other critical area which needs to be dealt with on priority is employment. At present in Pakistan 4.5-5 million youth hit the job market every year. This means that at least 1.8-2 million jobs should be created every year to provide employment. Pakistan is already facing an alarming unemployment rate, as only 30-35% of the required jobs are created every year.
Simultaneously, one could say that Pakistan is lucky to have an infrastructure development project like CPEC, which will create 2 million new jobs till 2030. It will need all types of people from highly skilled to unskilled youth. On the other side, the Pakistani government has to encourage and provide support to entrepreneurship, which can lead to job creation. Second, the system of providing credit for small businesses should be made easy and more transparent to increase private investment.
The third E is engagement. We have to find out ways to increase awareness and global exposure of our youth about the surroundings and to engage them more in the social and political decisions. To increase social and political awareness we have to make available opportunities for our youth to relax, which means public places where they can meet people and each other and explore Pakistan and the opportunities it offers. At these community centers, sports facilities should be available. This will provide them the recreation and will reduce intolerance for the other cultures and points of view.
This will also develop in them trust for the political leadership and will inspire them to participate in the development and political activities of the country. The present government is working in this direction and few community centers have been established but still, there is a need to have more such facilities in different parts of the country, especially in remote rural areas.
In the end, I would like to say that the critical review of the policy implementation at all levels shows that a lot of discrepancies are there between policy formulation and implementation. Strong political will and commitment, good governance, and ample resources are needed to realize the full potential of our youth and for a vibrant and prosperous Pakistan, we urgently need to invest in our youth. Pakistan has to achieve more growth and also sustain it, to become an upper-middle-income country. More investment and the right policies could help the youth become the driving force behind Pakistan’s prosperity. It is the Government of Pakistan’s responsibility to provide opportunities to the youth of the country, for which they have to chalk out a comprehensive and aggressive program.
Recommendations for Youth Education
▪ Federal organizations that regulate and fund research, health, development, and well-being should combine to make programs for the youth.
▪ Partnerships between universities, chambers of commerce, and businessmen should be created to guide youth in entrepreneurial activities and job placement.
▪ Public and private funds to support research, encourage implementation to meet the diverse needs of youth.
▪ The government should institutionalize a uniform application process for the internship program to give equal opportunities to all youth.
▪ Career and incubation centers should be created at all universities and job exhibitions should be held at all universities.
▪ A loan on a lower interest rate for young entrepreneurs with sustainable business plans should be introduced and made easy.
▪ Community programs for youth should be based on a workable developmental framework.
▪ Communities should provide an ample array of program opportunities that appeal to and meet the needs of youth.
▪ Private and public funds should be created to provide the resources needed at the community level to develop and support youth.
▪ All community programs should be designed for youth, should undergo evaluation – to improve implementation, accountability, and to assess outcomes and impacts.