Pakistani youth: challenges and opportunities
It is not rare to hear the phrase; “Pakistan’s future is very bright, because we have a seven crore youth population.” Most don’t even know whether the exact number is six, seven or eight! Yet, this has become part of the most widely used rhetoric about our country’s future and this rhetoric is even more prevalent on our national days. But, the problem with this assertion is quite simple, an army can have the best weapons in the world, but if it doesn’t use them properly and effectively it still loses the war.
The same is true for our youth; I would be stupid to deny the fact that our youth in a large percentage of our population (66% in fact) and that it is full of talented people who have great potential.
Yet, the problem remains the same if they and their potential isn’t used and channelised effectively there won’t not only be anything to gain but also there would be much to lose.
We must remember that, it is misguided youth caught in empty rhetoric that is donning suicide jackets, turning to crime, committing fraud and killing in places like Karachi. So what does this “proper and effective” using of their potential mean and what challenges stand in the way of doing so?
The first challenge is the education emergency that Pakistan is facing. Seven million children are missing out on primary education in Pakistan, enrolment in secondary schools stands at a mere 23% and only a mere 5% of Pakistanis make it to university. 25 million children are being denied their basic constitutional right to a free and compulsory education.
Furthermore, those who are being educated face the issue of attaining a quality education. According to the Education Emergency report, 50% of rural school children cannot read a sentence and only 35% can read a story compared to 25% of school children.
The second challenge is that of employment and economic prospects. According to the Next Generation Report, Pakistan will need 36 million more jobs in the next 10 years with our population increasing by 44% over the next 20! Our current unemployment rate stands in excess of 20%. This also partly contributes to the much talked about brain drain, because there simply isn’t enough room to accommodate a large part of our youth and what is more unfortunate that most of our talented students end up doing menial jobs abroad.
The third challenge is one that became more apparent to me over the past two weeks. Through interactions over facebook, emails, twitter and sms the level of depression, confusion, differing perspectives and the degrees of these segmentations became hauntingly clear. It is also not the varied opinions that are the challenge. Varying opinions and different beliefs are healthy and encourage diversity; however, it is the extent of blind faith and a lack of willingness to engage in dialogue, which is alarming. There seems to be no consensus on even the most basic of issues ranging from systems of governance, education and to some extent even terrorism.
The responsibility for creating and now meeting these challenges of course primarily lies with the state and its leadership, where leadership does not just mean the government, but it also includes: politicians, civil society, and the media. However, it is unfortunate that many a times the youth has just been reduced to a brand name that has been exploited by the same. The government holds one event a year, and then dismisses the youth until the next. Political parties only use young people for their street power and rallies, never including them in the decision making process. The media tries to use the youth for ratings; it calls them but by engaging them in rhetorical and conclusion-less debates only
These rhetorics lead to the hopelessness or the false hope that the youth are engulfed in today. The government needs to work on education with a solid political will and create economic opportunities. Political parties need to listen to the youth and not just exploit them, and the media needs to engage the youth in more productive debates. But what about the youth’s own role?
It is time that the youth realises its own role and tries to mark out its own path. The time for waiting for messiahs, leaders or anyone for that matter is over and we have to start addressing our issues ourselves in whatever capacity we can.
Depression in a way is a sign of good, because it shows love and a strong connection to and concern for the country.
However, at the same time depression coupled with hopelessness and very strong opinions becomes an impediment to the successful resolution of issues. Opinions are good and we hold them because they are a means to an end. We all are working towards the same end, a prosperous Pakistan, then our opinions should be formed after dialogue and though not inherited or accepted blindly.
The youth needs to come out of this endless cycle, and act. This action doesn’t mean coming out on the streets, protesting and falling prey to empty rhetorics, but on the contrary it means developing capability, capacity and competence.
If Jinnah wasn’t a lawyer, if Iqbal wasn’t a philosopher and poet, if Dr Abdul Qadeer, Dr Abdus Salam, Dr Samar Mubarak and Dr Umar Saif weren’t scientists and Babar Iqbal, Ibrahim Shahid and Zohaib Asad weren’t good students could they have done what they did for Pakistan? Education needs to be the top priority for all those who are luck enough to receive it. Only after developing themselves will the youth will be able to develop Pakistan. I am not suggesting a total disconnect from politics or the ongoing situation of the country but the right priorities, where “jalsas”, talk shows, protests and political “chaskey” come only after educational responsibilities. Those lucky enough to receive an education must not waste it and they should also encourage and follow the work of people like Master Auyb (who has been teaching children free for the past twenty years in a park).
Action for young professionals can mean trying to excel in their respective fields, to become entrepreneurs and create jobs and economic opportunities for others as well. There are so many startup companies doing well in Pakistan and there is room for a lot more. The journey isn’t going to be easy. A lot of people talk about the fact that conditions aren’t welcoming or fruitful for their purposes, but this is more or less true for everyone.
No one has ever had everything handed to him or her on a silver platter. Neither did the Prophet Muhammad SAW have the ideal conditions in Mecca to spread Islam nor did Muhammad Ali Jinnah had the ideal conditions to form Pakistan, yet they like so many others persevered and succeeded in time. Change is never overnight and it takes time, but is a worthwhile endeavour to work for.
There are many countries, which are going through or have gone through times similar to the one Pakistan is going through; Singapore, India and even the United States all come to mind.
There is light at the end of the tunnel but only if we have the will and patience to pass through. The youth of this country is undoubtedly its biggest asset and it is up to all of us to make sure it serve its purpose in the best way possible. The purpose of writing this is to not spread despair but to highlight the challenges that lie ahead and to resolve our capability of meeting those challenges, a capability, which is more than adequate only when combined with hard work and patience.
–The writer is Youth Ambassador of Geo and Jang Group