National Youth Conference 

LGED Auditorium, Dhaka. Feb 08, 2020


Statements by the Resident Representative, UNDP Bangladseh


The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez has recently a call for a DECADE OF ACTION to remind us that we are now already counting into the last decade for achieving Agenda 2030 – we must realize that we have already spent five years preparing for it and must now already be moving to implement with a mission mode.

As for Bangladesh, this means getting all this within the upcoming  8th Five Year Plan and later the 9th Five Year Plan and ensure that we really plan and resource them adequately,  do not falter in our commitments, and of course taking into full account all possible economic, social and environmental risks that we may confront.  We have to mobilize everyone of 170 million who reside in this country to ensure that not only they are not left behind but everyone of them based on their capabilities have the opportunity to contribute in the Decade of Action and beyond.  Undoubtedly this must involve all young people and who should not only be seen as the future of Bangladesh but also as the present.  Their ideas, aspirations, thoughts, energies, interests must all be factored in fully in the way we plan and execute actions for achieving the SDGs.

We want to create a more sustainable world, with stable economies and more just and inclusive societies. A difficult but not unattainable target if we can count on the involvement of the government, institutions, businesses, and, above all, responsible and committed citizens, a third of whom in Bangladesh are young.  As is the central theme of today’s event, I will focus on the Youth and their Role in Agenda 2030 and what to my mind will help ensure that we are able to get the best out of them.

Let me to that end highlight a few statistics:

First Globally:

·       Over a third of the 169 targets of the SDGs highlight the role of the youth.

·       Today’s generation of adolescents and young people are close to 1.8 billion – more than at any other time in history – approximately 90% of whom live in less developed countries. More than one fifth of young people are not in employment, education or training; one in four is affected by violence or armed conflict.

·       The Asia-Pacific Region alone is home to 60% of people aged between 15 and 24 - that’s about 700 million youth. Over 85 million young people in the region live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day.

In Bangladesh

Around a third of Bangladesh’s current total population is classed as youth. This is estimated to fall to between 10 and 19 percent by 2050.  In other words, it is imperative that the country prepares its youth not just for the challenges of today, but also to take care of the elderly going forward as well.

According to the Bangladesh Labour Force Survey 2016-17, while nearly 40% of the working age population are youth, the proportion of them who are actually having some employment is far less.  In other words much more needs to be done to harness them in the economically productive sectors.

Now to a fundamental question both to Policy Makers and the Youth? As a society, how do we measure our collective success?  Do we measure success with military power, GDP/Per capita income -economic prosperity; scientific and technological achievements, levels of literacy, how many PhDs produced per year, or how many get GPA 5.0 each season?  Do we also measure success with how slum dwellers, people with disabilities, transgender/hijra, old parents are taken care of? Do we take into account how many days in a year that see no acts of violent aggression, no fatal accidents, or the number of heinous crimes that are committed or the number of criminal and civil cases that are satisfactorily disposed off by our Judiciary?

Rightly, if one looks at the 169 indicators of SDGs, you cannot but note that the progress monitoring and performance system does consider the stability of human social groups as a fundamental requirement for achievement of Sustainable Development and that this to fairly large extent depends on all of us as citizens subscribing to at least some standards in this way.

At the very least, people must be committed to not killing or causing harm, stealing or extorting, lying or cheating, and to treating others fairly, keeping their promises and helping those in need. These standards make up the core of our common morality.  The question is that whether across the globe and in Bangladesh, we are fully aware than an exemplary citizen is made and not born and are we investing enough in that direction?

Just as we learn mathematics and languages, we should also become specialists in those lessons that are fundamental to living in harmony and social progress such as respect, empathy, equality, solidarity and critical thinking. Without these and other ethical principles that define us as human beings, it will be difficult for us to build a better world.

If one reads the newspapers every day or watches television news, there is no escape from the strong feeling that in the present times there is a crisis in character formation.  

The recent disturbing trend of increasing deviant behaviors among youth (remember what happened in BUET or in Feni where most of the perpetrators of a heinous crime were young persons) emphasize the need for education that promotes among youth the values of discipline, respect, self-control and peace.

The Constitution of Bangladesh encapsulates the ideals of Socialism and freedom from exploitation; Democracy and human rights; Secularism and freedom of religion; etc as fundamental principles of state policy.  But are they being practiced widely enough and on a daily basis?  What more needs to be invested in for these fundamental principles to be imbibed fully within our individual and collective conduct?

In this VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity & ambiguity) world, there is an even great need today to equip all individuals, especially our YOUTH with the requisite skills to deal effectively with such complexities. This calls for a radical change in human nature which can be facilitated only through moral transformation.  But how do get there?  Is our education system able to facilitate such moral transformation?

As Swami Vivekananda true education is one that creates good human beings; it implies that all education must stem from value education.

Societies need to work to improve access to quality education on sustainable development at all levels and in all social contexts, to transform society by reorienting education and help people develop knowledge, skills, values and behaviours needed for sustainable development. It is about including sustainable development issues, such as climate change and biodiversity into teaching and learning. Individuals are encouraged to be responsible actors who resolve challenges, respect cultural diversity and contribute to creating a more sustainable world. Unfortunately, many of the role models of young people are setting bad examples. These bad examples range from intolerance and discrimination, degrading of women, advocacy of violence, and the condoning of dishonesty to succeed.

Fortunately, the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the global community for the next 15 years include Education for Sustainable Development. Target 4.7 of SDG 4 on education addresses ESD and related approaches such as Global Citizenship Education.

In the words of an Indian Philosopher Dr Jiddu Krishnamurthy the right kind of education is not concerned with any ideology, however much it may promise a future utopia: it is not based on any system, however carefully thought out, nor is it a means of conditioning the individual in some special manner. Education in the true sense is helping the individual to be mature and free, to flower greatly in love and goodness. That is what we should be interested in, and not in shaping the child according to some idealistic pattern. The highest function of education is to bring about an integrated individual who is capable of dealing with life as a whole. Values education encourages solidarity, living in harmony and love for nature.

And so let us go out and see whether beyond pushing everyone to secure GPA 5.0, whether our education system is able to inculcate more, Love, Kindness, Compassion, Empathy, Forgiveness; values such as Honesty, Hard Work (When I was young, I learned that success was one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration) Empathy and Respect for Others, Teamwork, Respect for the Environment etc.

Unfortunately, in our highly competitive dog eat dog society, many people will tread on others to get ahead in life. Respect for others should include respecting different religions, races, sexes, ideas, and lifestyles.

And so let us ask ourselves whether our existing educational process that instils moral standards to create more civil and democratic societies.  Is our education system promoting tolerance and understanding above and beyond our political, cultural and religious differences, putting special emphasis on the defence of human rights, the protection of ethnic minorities and the most vulnerable groups, and the conservation of the environment.

Values education is the responsibility of us all and not just of either Governments or schools. The family, universities, businesses and sport, for example, are all ideal contexts to teach those ethical principles.

Finally some facts and thoughts for all of us to ponder upon:

If Bangladesh is to succeed in achieving the SDGs, leaving no one behind along the way, governments must seek out an active and substantive engagement of young citizens from diverse backgrounds in national-level planning, implementation, and monitoring.

When it comes to strategy regarding issues relating to youth (employment, education, etc.), we need to look beyond 2030 and look more towards 2041.

The government has taken some steps to address the needs of the youth going forward in recent years such as the National Education Policy 2010, National Skills Development Policy 2011, and the Skills for Employment Investment Program, under the MoF. Therefore to my mind, the National Development Skills Council and initiatives like the Citizens’ Platform are steps in the right direction.

Finally, one of the things to focus on is the fact that our youth population is not homogenous- there are differences in terms of age groups, gender, etc. as well as rural-urban divide (currently 28% of the total population live in urban areas, 72% in rural areas).

We cannot fit the youth of Bangladesh into a one-size-fits-all approach, and we will need different approaches to meet the needs of the youth. For example, if we look at gender, we see that girls are more likely to drop out of school after primary level compared to boys, so steps need to be taken to ensure that they continue their education.

In 2020, as Bangladesh celebrates the birth centenary of the father of the nation (Mujib Borsho) let us all engage in critical thinking on how Bangladesh can ensure that the youth graduating out of school/universities not only become productive economically, but also with kindness and goodness in them. Being productive is important but being kind is even more so.

The challenge is how schools can help young people to create a moral compass to guide themselves. We need to re-imagine the teaching profession and engage in out-of-box thinking.  Therefore it is critical that we work on embedding moral and ethical foundations in Bangladesh’s education system, of knowing and doing what is right.

Finally, in my view, student activism will also play a role in achieving the SDGs.  Since higher education institutions are leaders in education, research and innovation, they also have an important role in advancing sustainable development through well-articulated student voices as a lever for social and economic change.  We must therefore not suppress it bur rather encourage and channel it to be powerful transformative force.  But to start all this, let us first take our YOUTH seriously.



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