Sweety, Liza, Asad, Zulfikar and many others like them had a common dream – to have good careers and let their families have a better life. Realization of that dream should have been simple – incomes that matched their accumulation of skills and years of job experience. They however, found this hard to achieve because they did not have accreditation that could assure prospective employers that they could actually deliver. What was needed – for both sides in the employee-employer relationship – was a mechanism to open the pathway to professional empowerment. That mechanism came about in the form of the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) policy of the Government of Bangladesh. Sweety, Liza, Asad and Zulfikar can now proclaim to the world – openly and without reservation – that they possess skills and expertise certified by the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB).
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Bangladesh has set an ambitious goal to become a middle-income country by 2021—the year it celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence. Equally important to achieving the coveted middle income status is making sure that all Bangladeshis share in the accelerated growth required to achieve this goal, particularly the poor. The Government of Bangladesh’s Vision 2021 and the associated Perspective Plan 2010-2021 lay out a series of development targets that must be achieved if Bangladesh wants to transform itself to a middle income country. Among the core targets used to monitor the progress towards this objective is attaining a poverty head-count rate of 14 percent by 2021. Assuming population growth continues to decline at the same rate as during the 2000-2010 period, achieving this poverty target implies lifting approximately 15 million people out of poverty in the next 8 years. Can Bangladesh achieve this target? Not necessarily so. A simple continuation of the policies and programs that have proven successful in delivering steady growth and poverty reduction in the past decade will not be sufficient to achieve the poverty target set for 2021.
A number of incidents this year have highlighted the challenging circumstances in which girls attend school in developing countries. Nearly 300 adolescent school girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria by the Boko Haram group. Frequent attacks on schools have forced many parents to withdraw girls from education.
Development practitioners and donors are more convinced than ever that increasing opportunities, skills and resources for women and girls will lead to measurable improvements across a wide range of development indicators for all people, irrespective of their gender. The running assumption is that supporting adolescent girls is one of the most effective strategies available to achieve wider developmental outcomes.
The World Bank’s report, Voice and Agency: Empowering women and girls for shared prosperity launched two weeks ago, highlighted the close relation between female education and child marriage, noting, in particular, that girls with no education were six times more likely to enter into a child marriage compared to girls with high school education in 18 of the 20 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages. However, the case of Bangladesh shows that improvements in female education are not a sufficient condition for reducing child marriage among women: two out of every three girls marry before age 18 in spite of a big jump in secondary school enrollment and a sharp decline in fertility rate in the last twenty years.
If the deluge of trend pieces tell us anything, it’s that the millennials are the most fussed over demographic in history. But behind the hype, there is real a tectonic shift. We are now witnessing the largest youth bulge in history. Over half the world’s population is now under thirty, with the majority living in developing and middle-income countries.
A youthful population can be source of creativity, innovation and growth –but only if employed and engaged in their societies. Unfortunately, for much of the world’s young people, reality is very different.
A number of hurdles prevent young people from contributing as productive, socially responsible citizens. As Emma Murphy of Durham University notes, “Poor education limits their skills, poor employment limits their transition to adulthood and political obstacles limit their voice and participation.”
The longer young people are excluded from participating in their economic and political systems, the further we are from realizing the ‘demographic dividend’.
It’s a no-brainer. A youth agenda, focusing on the issues that affect young people, must be a critical piece of any post-2015 framework. Where do we start?
How much social mobility is there in South Asia? The intuitive answer is: very little. South Asia is home to the biggest number of poor in the world and key development outcomes – from child mortality to malnutrition – suggest that poverty is entrenched. Absence of mobility is arguably what defines the caste system, in which occupations are essentially set for individuals at birth. Not surprisingly, the prospects for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to prosper are believed to be gloomier in this part of the world.
And yet, our analysis in Addressing Inequality in South Asia, reveals that economic and occupational mobility has become substantial in the region in recent decades. In fact, it could even be comparable to that of very dynamic societies such as the United States and Vietnam. The analysis also suggests that cities support greater mobility than rural areas, and that wage employment – both formal and informal – is one of its main drivers.
When splitting the population into three groups—poor, vulnerable, and middle class—upward mobility within the same generation was considerable for both the poor and the vulnerable. In both Bangladesh and India, a considerable fraction of households moved above the poverty line between 2005 and 2010. Meanwhile, a sizable proportion of the poor and the vulnerable moved into the middle class. In India, households from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes – considered together – experienced upward mobility comparable to that of the rest of the population.