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It is said, “The future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth.” Our predicament is to figure out by looking at the state of our youth, “what promise does our nation holds for the future?”

We would get old before getting any richer, as a nation this fear must confound us now. We have a youth bulge, but the risk is that the precious source of having young population is being wasted. Having young population is a great asset as you have far more hands to work, far more young minds to train and utilise for the development of the country but that means first creating an environment which respects and elates learning, excellence, innovation and technological entrepreneurial risk taking.

Greek philosopher Diogenes said, “The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” In the modern economy any nation that needs to lift its population out of poverty and generate economic surplus to develop and improve the living standards of its population, it is very important to become innovative, train its workforce with utilisable skills, upskill the existing workforce and improve the quality, impact and reach of the education.

Nelson Madela said, “No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.” Investing in skill development makes perfect economic sense; according to a report by UNESCO, “$1 invested in youth skills can pay back fifteen-fold in economic growth.”

A large youth bulge may lead to unemployment, poverty and civil unrest. Or lead to economic development and prosperity. We can find examples of both outcomes in the world; Southeast Asia was able to harness its youth bulge and convert it into the successful economic growth of the Asian Tigers–South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Tunisia’s youth bulge coincided with that of Hong Kong. These two could be properly compared to understand how a resource could be used or wasted. While Hong Kong’s working population peaked at 70 percent in 2005 and 2010 almost like Tunisia’s that reached 67 percent in 2010. Yet we know that both countries experienced dramatically different outcomes.

Hong Kong focused on health, education, social welfare, and public-private partnership to deliver most of the infrastructure needed for economic growth. With these interventions of developing social infrastructure Hong Kong created a fertile ground for entrepreneurship.

How Tunisia wasted that opportunity is part of history. Its youth bulge coincided with highest rates of youth unemployment in the university graduates, adding to the problem was skill gap that made young population unfit for few jobs that were available and the country faced extremely low productivity of its work force. We don’t need to delve into further details to make our point but surely in that time of youth bulge the country faced extreme political activism and unrest.

We have grave reasons to be very concerned as to where we are headed. As per UNICEF, Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children. It is estimated that 22.8 million children aged 5-16 are not attending school. This is 44 per cent of the total children of this age.

Unfortunately, our youth is either busy in utilising the broadband for consuming or creating the social media slush, aka TikTok, dances or memes. They are not getting quality education and training. We have seen mushrooming of higher education institutions in the form of private universities and colleges that are turning graduates of all kinds in all subjects with very limited or almost no utility, as the standards very low. IT graduates in Pakistan do not possess requisite skills that would put them at par with the international competition. The rate of return on upskilling and education is too low and it is the responsibility of the policymakers to give direction to the youth by enabling them to learn and upskill themselves.

While we have talked about youth, education and upskilling, it is pertinent to talk about innovation. A recent global innovation index published for 2023 shows that the leaders in the innovation in business, science and technology and education are mostly from the western world. In Asia, Singapore has ranked the highest because of its high education standards, skilled workforce and its quality of research and development.

Unfortunately, as a country we don’t stand anywhere in this innovation index; our ranking is at par with many African countries far below any respectable economy of our size.

Innovation cannot work in vacuum; we need an enabling environment in the form of an ecosystem that comprises of access to required infrastructure, including communication technology and availability of information. Regulatory environment and the policies play a vital role, if the regulators are not mindful of removing the hurdles and bottlenecks that stifle new ideas then innovation cannot happen.

We talked about skill training and upskilling in another article, and I would just point out again that we can rise from the ashes if we really utilise the great human resource that we have at our hand in the form of the young population. Although providing quality education must start through government intervention with the help of the private sector and there are no two ways about it but in the short term, we need some drastic measures to earn foreign exchange.

The easiest way for that is upskilling the already trained manpower. To begin with we can provide certification courses from renowned global providers to our youth. These courses could in the form of certifications which are readily available through Internet but to safeguard form our age-old problem of wasting such initiatives through nepotism, commercialism and outright corruption, the government can engage with world class credible players to provide these trainings. We can focus on all those skills that can be taught online in the first phase, so the mode of delivery doesn’t need any infrastructure apart from what is already available and possessed by most of the young people.

Our youth is a great resource that is fast transitioning into older generation. We must utilise this resource to lift ourselves out of poverty. We must act fast otherwise we will get old before getting any richer. In a few decades the demographic scale will tilt with more older people than young, and we will face new challenges of how to provide health care and subsistence to an ageing population. We must act on a war footing now before it gets too late.

(Writer is a Harvard Alumni and tweets as @kashifmansari)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Kashif Mateen Ansari

The writer is CEO of a wind power project and can be reached at kashifmateen [email protected]


Comments are closed.

KU Nov 30, 2023 08:55am
In another country and people with conscience, this article would be understood and appreciated, not in our country. Ours country is now known as "no country for honest people", and our economy is a direct reflection of this.
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Waqar Nov 30, 2023 10:53am
We may as well benefit from publishing without grammatical errors/typos. How frustrating a reading becomes just because of this very factor. The highlighted gist of the article is a case in point. Strict English proficiency must be maintained!
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Nasim Beg Nov 30, 2023 11:04am
As always Kashif, good article
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Tariq Qurashi Nov 30, 2023 03:37pm
The youth bulge is only a benefit if the youth have the skills, education and brain power to create wealth. There are very few University and College books in Urdu, and very few students and many teachers no longer know enough English to understand the University books in English. You therefore have many University students learning a subject in English, and their English is so poor that they neither understand the English nor the subject being taught. The only option left for them is "Rata". This effectively produces "educated" illiterates. Either we need to shift our Universities and Colleges to Urdu, or start teaching English as a proper second language and not as literature. As far as I know, no technically advanced nation teaches people in a foreign language. The French teach in French, and the Japanese in Japanese. A person needs to have a command of a language to be able to handle complex abstract thinking. You cannot think in a language in which you are not competent.
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Ahsan Illahi Nov 30, 2023 06:07pm
Our tragedy is we know what we need to do but we don't want to do it. We are in a vicious cycle of low growth going back to basics like agriculture thinking it is a science to secure food although it is simple management and planning ahead. Forces of status quo will never let this country grow to its real potential. Kashif a very good article as always.
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Aam Aadmi Nov 30, 2023 06:50pm
'Get rich before getting old'. Please change the heading of your article. Few would read the full article or understand it's underlying meaning. However, every Pakistani youth will be over the neck of his/her compatriot in order to 'get rich', come what may.
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Tahir Munir Nov 30, 2023 10:31pm
Sir, you have raised very valid points. The percentage of youth in our country is high but our youth have been became social media freaks because our government has promoted it more than education. Even if you look at our local channels, there are no such campaigns at the private level that can motivate our youth to focus on education or on any skills. You have written a good article. May Allah bring people like you in authority who think about the children and youth of this nation.
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Tahir Munir Nov 30, 2023 10:32pm
Sir, you have raised very valid points. The percentage of youth in our country is high, but our youth have been turned into social media freaks because our government has promoted it more than education. Even if you look at our local channels, there are no such campaigns at the private level that can motivate our youth to focus on education or on any skill. You have written a good article. May Allah bring people like you into our government who think about the children/youth of this nation.
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Adnan Dec 01, 2023 12:35am
Nice article, subject line does not match though
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Usman Dec 01, 2023 08:45am
Stop blaming the govt.In present day you can get all the info you need on google to excel in this world.But out nation is busy on tictock,insta,facebook,snapchat.its our own fault and the parents fault.
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Afaque Ahmed Dec 01, 2023 02:26pm
Amazed to see there are comments on an article. Enjoying people thoughts.
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Fakher Dec 01, 2023 08:21pm
Dear Ansari, your article is beautifully articulated and was mesmerizing to read, we have resources like you and many other learned people, but unluckily such asset is not welcomed. We are at a loss and missing the opportunity you have highlighted in your article. Stay blessed, I enjoyed reading.
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Shafiq ullah Dec 02, 2023 12:20am
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Shah Khalid Dec 02, 2023 05:51am
@KU, well said
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Hyatinoor Dec 02, 2023 10:42am
Maa sha Allah sey very well written and very true but its sooo sad that all the government s have been busy getting rich themselves on the publics expense .
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Pakistani Dec 02, 2023 12:22pm
@Usman, in other countries, these social media also used even you may examine in our neighbor county India has more users for these apps, but also there the 2nd Bill Gate from India, Google head is from India, even if you study in master degree you will find the author of language books from India, these apps access use in our country as govt didn't provide the quality education and atmosphere here, how many professionals have leave this country, this is not due the social apps, only atmosphere, the only threat of education to the system handlers is if all youth get education, they will loss their elite class & "Chodrahat"
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Hassan Dec 02, 2023 09:27pm
@Waqar, I think we just need to rid ourselves from English excellence, just because we have been under the British rule, this legacy is still continuing. All Great nations have their own identity. English is an international Language but I think we should not be pre-occupied by Grammatical errors in English Text , if someone has made mistakes , one should ignore it as this is not an English writing contest.
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Hassan Dec 02, 2023 09:37pm
@Tahir Munir, please never forget that the plight of ours is the conclusion and end result of copy culture, not organic growth in terms of science, technology, Education because they have never been the priorities of the Ruling Elites of the country. How sad we are nuclear but not even a single scientist been ever awarded a NOBEL prize, or any Public University ever made to top 100 in QC Ranking. This county is riddled with Food shops, shopping plazas, but No library to be found
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Sohail Dec 02, 2023 10:25pm
I don't think without good political system Pakistan can progress.
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Sohail Dec 02, 2023 10:27pm
I don't think without good political system Pakistan can progress.
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Maznani Ahmed Dec 03, 2023 09:00am
@Waqar, yes it matters a lot but the gist and essence of the article is well articulated..
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MUHAMMAD Yaqoob Dec 03, 2023 09:45am
Exactly right. There is a big gap in our youth skills and modern world required skills. The education learned in our institute does not apply in our practical life. We are not training our youth to face upcoming challenges.
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Jaffar Dec 03, 2023 05:16pm
@Usman, have you ever wondered why youth in such a huge amount is busy in time wasting activities. Every human is born with 0 manners, 0 skills, 0 knowledge, 0 habits. It's the training or environment which plays a role to form the character of a human. Your words were like a blind arrow, which you shoot but didn't know where it went.
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Waqas Dec 03, 2023 10:53pm
@Waqar, During present fast world, talent does not give importance to Childish matters, but concentrate in Main matter and point. There is noting wrong from auther from his point of view, which can be understood by TALENTED AND Sharp minded persons.
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hafeezullah khan Dec 04, 2023 02:16pm
i am an android developer. i have ideas to build apps but couldn't do it alone. For this i have thought to teach in my native village girls school from above 6th grade for 2 years. with Chatgpt and others i'm pretty sure that coding would not be that difficult for them. Here they have to know enough English to code.
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