According to UNDP, only 14 out of 195 countries spend less on education than Pakistan
Pakistan currently has the largest generation of young people in its history. According to a recent United Nations Development Program report, 64 percent of the total Pakistan population is below the age of 30. That makes it the second youngest country in South Asia after Afghanistan and one of the youngest in the world.
This “youth bulge” provides unique challenges as well as opportunities for the country’s social and economic progress. The critical question is will Pakistanis grow older before they get richer? The answer to this question lies in the country’s development and implementation of a strategy to educate and utilize the potential of Pakistan’s young population.
Fortunately, the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly expressed its intent to develop Pakistan’s human capital through education and training. The vision is there. But it will be difficult to implement because of the current lack of technical education for the country’s youth.
Almost 10 percent of the youth in Pakistan are unemployed and have no vocational and/or technical skills. This area needs urgent attention.
Pakistan’s vocational education and training (TVET) system is facing multiple challenges including access, quality, equity and relevance to industry. According to government estimates, about three million young people enter the job market each year but the TVET sector can accommodate less than half a million trainees annually in its more than 3500 institutes across the country.
Even the graduates of these institutes find it hard to get jobs because the training system is outdated and the quality of education is not up to the mark. This adversely impacts youth seeking meaningful employment and employers seeking competent employees.
The government is aware of this situation and has initiated massive reforms in the technical education system to make it relevant to the needs of the industry. These reforms are being implemented with the support of the European Union and the governments of Germany, Netherlands and Norway.
Under these reforms, linkages will be established between industry and technical education. Workers in sectors such as car-mechanics and plumbers will be prepared to get formal certification from technical institutes to be able to get better jobs. The teachers in TVET system are being trained to satisfy the private sector requirements and technical education is being linked with formal education to ensure the employability of the TVET students.
These positive actions represent real progress. Given the fact that the current PTI government promised 10 million jobs in its election manifesto, however, the speed and scope of reforms must be enhanced.
The government should engage the private sector to boost the relevance and capacity of the technical education system. Big and small industries should be encouraged to collaborate with technical education institutes to define the curricular requirements and provide skill development and employment for students graduating from these institutes.
In this regard, Pakistan should learn from developed countries like Japan and Germany. These two countries positively transformed their economies after World War-II through a laser-beam focus on technical and vocational education. Japan became a giant in the field of technology and one of the world’s leading economies by developing a skilled and trained workforce.
Germany, the fourth largest economy in the world today, prides itself on its Vocational Education and Training (VET) system. More than one-third of all students who graduate from secondary school in Germany enter a vocational training program and about 51 percent of the country’s workforce, are skilled workers trained in the VET system.
There are definitive lessons that can be learned by studying and replicating the successful practices of these vocational education leaders. In addition, in my opinion, the following measures should be taken in the near future to accelerate the process of reform in Pakistan’s TVET system.
First, funding in the federal and provincial budgets for education, skill development and training should be increased. According to UNDP, only 14 out of 195 countries spend less on education than Pakistan. More TVET institutes should be opened across the country to provide the required skills and training to young students closer to their homes.
Second, the participation of women in technical education should be expanded substantially. Pakistan is far behind other countries in terms of female employment. No country can develop without achieving the full potential of its females. Special programs should be developed through the TVET system to educate and train young women
Third, the government should engage the private sector to boost the relevance and capacity of the technical education system. Big and small industries should be encouraged to collaborate with technical education institutes to define the curricular requirements and provide skill development and employment for students graduating from these institutes. Industries being established, as part of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) should also be enlisted to provide internships and training for students of the TVET system so that the full impact of CPEC can be brought to bear to the advantage of Pakistan.
These measures and others will not only improve the TVET system. They will also ensure greater earning power for Pakistani youth and bring much needed strength to Pakistan’s economy in the near future.
The right approach to technical and vocational education will elevate the status of Pakistan and its people on the world stage. The time for implementing that approach is now.