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BANGLADESH: Skills Development Challenge

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By Afsan Chowdhury *

With eight million with no education at all, something is going wrong somewhere

Education remains a key factor in development now and historically. Studies of institutions show that it's the educational institutions including the universities that have survived and continued over time. The most advanced countries are also those which have the best universities, by logic the best education systems.

Education and skills are both needed in today's world and Bangladesh needs to make adequate investment in this regard. Not only should children complete their education but they should also have the necessary skills to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex future.

The report on education and skills training is not a cause for celebration yet. In the south and the west, over 91 million people aged 15 to 24 have not even completed primary school and don't have the basic skills for employment and prosperity. "This is equivalent to more than a quarter of the region's youth population and the greatest number of unskilled young people of any region in the world. One-half of the population in South and West Asia is under 25 years old. As the effects of the global economic crisis continue to be felt, the severe lack of youth skills is more damaging than ever."

"Few countries in the region are on track to meet the six Education for All goals set in 2000, and some are a long way behind. In South and West Asia, about 13 million are still missing out on primary school and 31million teenagers are out of secondary school, missing out on vital skills for future employment. There is also a learning crisis: Worldwide, 250 million children of primary school age cannot read or write, whether they are in school or not."

Global Monitoring Report Findings on Skills Training:

-A quarter (27%) of young Bangladeshis never completed primary school and do not have the skills they need for work. That totals over 8 million 15-24 year olds in the country;

-This problem is not going to be solved any time soon;

-There is no data for Bangladesh out of school children, but it is likely to have large numbers;

-There are 250 million children of primary school age who cannot read or count whether they are in school or not. In Bangladesh, for example, less than 50% of teachers are trained;

-There are 44 million illiterates in Bangladesh alone -- the fourth highest rate of any country in the world.

-But there is good news as well. Bangladesh is one of only three low income countries where more girls are in secondary school than boys, largely due to the huge success of stipends for girls in school. Alongside other policies and projects, the programme has been very successful in raising female secondary enrolment rates, from just 25% in 1992 to 60% in 2005.

But more must be done particularly in enrolment which is still very low. One way is to encourage young mothers and pregnant women to return to school -- something particularly relevant in Bangladesh where 30% of 15-29 year olds are pregnant.

Poverty is also a major discourager of education. The poorest 17-22 year olds are over four times more likely to have fewer than 2 years education than the richest

Investing in skills and education makes good business sense as a dollar invested pays back ten times over a lifetime, bringing prosperity to a family and society as a whole.

To achieve the goal of quality education and skill development the government must take the lead to be supported by others. As many as twenty-two ministries and agencies are involved in skills development and a National Skills Development Council was set up in 2008 to bring them all under the leadership of the prime minister.

Bangladesh also aims to increase female enrolment in technical and vocational education by 60% by 2020,

The country's skills development strategy also strongly targets marginalised groups. Closely linked with other policies, including the second National Strategy for Accelerated Poverty Reduction, it emphasises varied types of training needs and recognises the importance of linking microfinance and skills development for those in rural communities. With a quarter of young people today in the country who do not have a primary school education, these programmes for skills development must be scaled up and fast.

Brac has independent school programmes but also runs skill development initiatives particularly for the very poor. Brac's Targeting the Ultra Poor -- 20% people of Bangladesh -- project provides poor rural families with an asset, such as a cow, from which to earn a living. It also provides training in microfinance and marketing to improve the profitability of the investment. As a result, income per household member has almost tripled. Building on the success of its programmes in Bangladesh, Brac is expanding them to other parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa.

Training for Rural Economic Empowerment (TREE), designed by the ILO, has helped women enter non-traditional trades such as appliance and computer repair. The approach combines technical and business training with training in gender issues and gender sensitisation sessions for trainees' families, communities and partner organisations.

The challenges are clear. Over 91 million young people in South and West Asia need to be given alternative pathways to learn foundation skills. All young people need quality training in relevant foundation skills at lower secondary school. Upper secondary curricula should provide a balance between vocational and technical skills, including IT, and transferable skills such as confidence and communication which are indispensable for the work place. Skills strategies must target the disadvantaged -- particularly young women and urban and rural poor.

The big issue is that $8 billion is needed to ensure all young people attend lower secondary education where basic foundational skills are to be taught. Everyone, governments or donors or the private sector, must help fill the funding gap.

* The writer is Senior Adviser, Communications, BRAC. E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 [Source: The Daily Star]

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