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POST TIME: 31 March, 2019 10:35:36 AM
Employability and education
Syed Mehdi Momin

Employability and education

There are many in the intelligentsia who are holding on to the view that knowledge should be pursued for its own sake. Scholarship is an end in itself and should not sully itself with such mundane concerns about employment and earning. Yours truly begs to disagree. Education for its own sake sounds perfectly all right on paper. However life is not lived on paper. Real life demands that a good degree must be translated to a good job.   As a matter of fact liberal arts subjects are being pursued by fewer students these days and it is only natural. The growing cost of universities combined with the increasing demand for students in career-ready fields such as engineering, finance, computer science, and medicine has left many people challenging the liberal arts as a viable choice. However whether liberal arts subjects are still relevant can be a subject of another article. In this article our goal is to explore the ideal relation between education and employability.
If we observe closely we will find that there exist two contrasting views in the employment scenario in this country. The employers cry hoarse about non-availability of talent in the market and we hear about a huge number of youth who are unable to find a well-paid job several years after completing their degrees.

With the ever increasing population there can be hardly an argument regarding the purpose in Bangladesh. There is no doubt that good citizenship, personal growth and developing solid value systems are vitally important. Yet it is clear that for the most part will be about employability in this country. Of course philosophers and thinkers are important for any society, but they too need to be employed like the wage labourers and the talented and the less able. There is a whole generation enrolled in schools waiting for teachers to show up in classrooms and do the job they were hired to do. Researchers are wondering how they are going to make their meagre grants deliver global impact, while students in higher education are wondering whether their degrees earned in Bangladeshi universities are worth much after all. Especially after the damning research by the TIB exposed how corruption is all pervasive in the realm of higher education in the private sector.

There are shortages everywhere — teachers, researchers, laboratories. However, while the investment in classrooms and schools is great, it is time to release learning from the classrooms only. Learning should go to the student and must extend way beyond the walls of a classroom. There should be efforts towards building open libraries, letting village school buildings become community learning centres after school time with open access to solar-powered connected computers. Creativity and research attitudes must be encouraged from the very beginning.  Unfortunately our sector is bound by regulations all the way from nursery to higher. Capacity is restricted because of the binding constraints of impractical and often contrary regulations. Universities cannot hire faculty from abroad despite shortages. It seems there is lack of proper planning, appropriate guidelines, and corrective measures while sanctioning new institutions and disciplines. Thus a large number of institutions are being established taking only profit into consideration and with little emphasis on quality of education. Many government institutions have become battlegrounds for political rivalry resulting in poor governance leading to poor quality of education. Most of the technical education institutions including the better known ones are understaffed and lack in qualified, competent and suitable faculty members. The institutions mostly follow the traditional method of teaching giving little thought to the fact that information nowadays is readily available on the net and thus students would not get interested unless they get something extra by attending classes. In most classrooms it is much more about content delivery than knowledge delivery. The assignments given quite often are routine and do not involve any research or innovation. It is a great challenge to motivate and attract students to serious learning. Moreover, the evaluation system has not been made robust enough to find out the knowledge level of the students. The philosophy of the semester system and the continuous evaluation process are not being understood by the students and also by the faculty members. Thus they are applied in a routine manner and the students concentrate only on grades and not on learning.

 If we take a look at the whole education system starting from the elementary level we find that the problems lie at every stage of our system. At the school level we find that the present day syllabus does not stress simple and subtle concepts, but involves tiresome details. Most entrance tests for admission to better known institutions emphasise speed and memory and not calm and collected thinking. When students join undergraduate programmes, they are more exhausted than excited; they show confidence, but not capacity, they show familiarity, but not understanding. Too much of pressure in the last few years in school makes them feel that they have achieved the goal in life after securing admission in a good institution through highly competitive admission tests. Thus when they come out of universities or highly regarded professional technical institutions, many of them do not have adequate knowledge to implement projects or carry out research independently. It is a fact that the employers look for ready-made professionals who can directly be asked to do a specific job whereas all institutions here are better suited for providing training of minds and not training for jobs. Since job requirements are continuously changing it is quite difficult to produce tailor-made professionals unless there is regular and structured interaction between academia and industries.

  Thus an all-out effort is needed to produce readily- employable technical or professional manpower in the country. The improvement of infrastructure, redesign of curricula, improvement of teaching-learning methods and attracting well qualified teachers are only a few steps that can be initiated by individual institutions. The main challenge is to create an academic environment and system that promote and ensure learning. However, there are many external and societal factors that need to be addressed. The process is quite challenging, but not impossible to achieve with honest effort.

Unfortunately youth unemployment and underemployment have reached critical levels and are expected to continue to rise. Yet, as said earlier, many employers cannot find enough people with the skills they need to grow their business. There exists an urgent need to forge stronger links between academia and business, education and skills, theory and practice, supply and demand to fight the employability crisis. For many young people, education is not providing the skills they need to gain the employment they aspire to. Many job aspirants lack the technical and professional skills demanded by the changing job market. This disconnection is impacting a range of stakeholders - young adults, employees, employers, educators and policymakers - the greatest impact being for the young people.

Many faculty members are not flexible in their approach to teaching. Maybe, there is a disconnection between what is taught and what the employers need. Also, changes in the society have brought a sea of difference in the attitude and approach of students.  Obsession with digital technology and social networking does not leave them with much time or inclination for studies. They cannot concentrate, do deep study and think well and constructively. Universities and all institutions have been unable to update their syllabi in tune with the high speed changes that are taking place particularly in the world of technology. Hence, the students churned out are not equipped to meet the current industry requirements and often companies have to incur additional expenses (time and monetary) to train new hires. One of the approaches to tackle the problem of lacking job readiness is partnerships between the industry and academia. It is high time now for the system needs to reboot itself and joint initiatives by the industry and academia will play an important part in plugging the talent gap in the years to come. Training individuals for the jobs of the future and allowing them to visualise what it possible today will not only make a difference in their lives but will enrich our communities now and for the future.

   In such an environment of high interaction, the existence of any business/economy is dependent upon not only the optimal utilisation of current available resources, but also on innovation and communication. However, there is often a gap between what college students learn in theory and what is actually practiced in industry. This further attracts cost when industries conduct training programmes internally to make their fresh talent employable. Industries also struggle to maintain bottom-lines in a competitive environment and this gap further creates a dent on profitability. There is an opportunity here. Those involved in college recruitment can help address this tension by facilitating the relationship and by providing a basic framework for understanding why difficulties occur when trying to collaborate between different value sets as in industry and academia. Both the employers and higher education involve knowledge creation, dissemination and learning. Those involved in college recruitment can serve as a bridge to help industry and academia become collegially networked institutions.

The youth need to make informed choices about further education, based on realities of the labour market and must aim to obtain the skills and experience employers expect. Employers need to compete to attract the most talented individuals with leadership potential. They should attract, develop and retain talent for all job roles, not just future leadership. Educators need to integrate employability skills into courses and work more closely with employers to complement academic learning while society and policymakers need to ensure they have right data to make decisions and stimulate economy and foster job creation and also ensure young people have skills employers expect and link education to business.

The writer is Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent