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    Volume 9 Issue 25| June 18, 2010|

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An Optimistic Generation

Anika Hossain

Twenty-one-year-old Meher Nazmun Tisha from Munshipara, Rangpur District was troubled when she noticed that the street children from the slums in her area were not enrolled in school. With the help of her youth unit and support of her community, she established a school called "School under the Sky” and started teaching these children in an open-air classroom.

Shain was a frustrated political campaigner, who became a non-political youth leader after attending a workshop organised by the Hunger Project. He and his friends formed a unit and focused on reducing the use of plastic bags, which were banned by the government but still widely used in the community. Through raising awareness about the impact of plastic bags on the environment the group was successful in their endeavour and has gained recognition and acceptability in their community.

When was the last time, you saw a young person, with a spiky haircut, baggy jeans with headphones on, seemingly oblivious to the world and thought "what does this person know about the social, economic, political and environmental concerns of the country? Does the current generation even bother with issues that concern the future of Bangladesh?" Before judging them by their appearance and assuming they are ignorant and indifferent, try talking to some of them. You may be surprised at what goes on in their young minds, how badly they want to be heard, and how much they want to make a difference.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Dipu Moni launches the survey, 'Bangladesh-The Next Generation' along with the British High Commissioner and Director of British Council'. Photo: Zahedul I khan

The most wonderful thing about Bangladeshi youth is that they are not hardened by cynicism and they dare to dream. They have the mental and physical capacity to set goals and strive to achieve them instead of resigning themselves to the present state of affairs. This makes these individuals a huge asset for Bangladesh if utilised the right way. To find out what goes on in their minds about issues concerning the development of Bangladesh, the British Council commissioned a survey titled 'Bangladesh - The Next Generation.' About 2,167 men and women aged 15 to 30 were interviewed in their homes, work places or educational institutions and every effort was made to include youth from different social, religious and ethnic backgrounds. The results were startling.

The next generation seems to have a happier outlook about Bangladesh compared to their elders. Photo: Zahedul I khan

The findings showed that contrary to popular belief, 79 percent of young people are interested in development issues and 70 percent think the country is headed in the right direction. The current generation seems to be ready to play a larger role in building a better future for their nation, but cannot find enough opportunities to get involved. Farah Kabir, Country Director of ActionAid and member of the task force that helped put the survey questions together, says, "Whether in politics, business commerce or education, it is from the present generation of our youth that leadership will emerge. The outcome of the last election was commonly held to have been decided by the 'youth vote'; 18-30 year olds cast a third of the ballots. Knowing their core values and exploring their concerns is vital in shaping the future of our nation. What they think counts." The results show that 76 percent of our nation's youth either believe they have no influence over the government decisions or are unsure of their capacity to influence them. The survey also shows that 95 percent of the youth say that they are ready to work with their community and engage in nation building, 98 percent of youth believe that they should be involved in social work. However, the results also show that 70 percent of youth are not involved in neighbourhood or community work and 94 percent of youth could not identify a youth based organisation, which is involved in community development activities or movement. So why are these findings so contradictory? It is obvious that the current generation is interested in contributing to their community, but do not know how they can go about doing so. According to Dr. Baidul Alam Majumdar, Global Vice President of the Hunger Project-Bangladesh and secretary of Shujan- citizens for good governance, the current generation needs proper guidance, assistance and resources in order to contribute to the betterment of their community. Dr. Majumdar states, " If each of these 55 million youth could be motivated to participate in social work and take one daily action, big or small to make their community a better place, we could reach the tipping point in the transformation of Bangladesh."

Another such contradictory finding is that 88 percent of the youth have reported, that they are either happy or very happy to live in Bangladesh. Only 1.6 percent have reported that they are unhappy. However, 41 percent have said they would prefer to live abroad. But if they are content with their life here, why do they want to leave? The main reason they stated behind this is that they can earn more money, study and find employment because of the scarcity of jobs in Bangladesh. Only four percent of our youth hold technical or professional roles in the job market. Only one percent is engaged in technical or vocational training and 28 percent of 15-30 year olds in the work force have no formal education. While 31 percent believe that higher education is the key to getting a proper job, 12 percent are convinced bribery is the way to go about it. Thirty-six percent of our youth believe that student politics have a detrimental effect on educational institutions; 30.5 percent believe they definitely should not be involved in student politics while the exact same percentage strongly believe that they should. Nazim Farhan Choudhury, Managing Director of ADCOMM and task force member opines, "A good education and preparing to work hard does not guarantee a good job. Factors such as nepotism, corruption, social stigma - all can have a distorted effect on the job prospects of an individual. And faced with such barriers, many young people give in and drop out of the job market; that 42 percent would like to live abroad is also a telling statistic. We are losing young people before their journey has even begun. This situation must change." According to Choudhury, "Our education system is not geared to turn Bangladesh's greatest asset into wealth. We need to focus more on creativity, logic and research orientation that the memorising by-rote system we have today. The emphasis should be on how to arrive at an answer rather than the answer itself." The youth of Bangladesh are willing to work and ready to learn. All they need is appropriate training and guidance and they will do the rest.

The survey shows us that nationality is one of the major issues that define the identity of our youth, irrespective of their gender, occupation or socio economic class. Who would have guessed right? Family origin is the second defining factor, especially for women. Even more surprising! The members of ethnic communities however stated that their ethnic identity as the second factor shapes their identity. According to Sheela Tasneem Haq, Senior Programme Officer, Rights and Governance, The Asia Foundation and task force member, it is up to the leaders of the next generation to tackle the issue of ethnic identity which creates conflict of socio-cultural identity between Bengali and Non-Bengali ethnic groups are often marginalised and gradually deprived of opportunities to engage in the broader arena of politics and state decision making. Haq also addresses the issue of the divided opinions of our youth on getting involved in politics. She says "Confrontational politics, de-politicisation of the political process and bad governance may have contributed to our youth's disinterest in getting involved in politics. Along with this, the present political system has somehow failed to create space for our youth to actualise their demands and rights as a citizen. There is hope though: those who view student politics as a positive phenomenon suggest that social, political and economic demands could be realised through student movements."

The result of this survey highlights many concerns the current generation has regarding their country, things you would never imagine they could spend time thinking about. You probably never thought that the three most pressing concerns for young Bangladeshis would be temperature extremes (84 percent), increased drought (69 percent) and air pollution (65 percent), or that 76 percent of the youth believe that women should play a greater role in the decision making process which affects their community, or that 38 percent of youth believe that ending poverty and hunger is the most important Millenium Development Goal. Thirty-three percent of youth believe it is the local community leaders who are most likely to listen to them and 47 percent believe their local murubbi to be the most influential person in their lives. At the launching ceremony of this report, Foreign Affairs minister Dipu Moni invited the youth of Bangladesh to come forward with their concerns regarding the welfare and future of the country and play an active role in the decision-making of the government in regard to the country's future. She expressed her disappointment over the survey result, which showed that only one percent of the nation's youth belong to a political party and expressed her hope that this would soon change.

Given an opportunity and the right resources, the current generation of Bangladesh has proven that they can be valuable contributors to their community and society. Meher Nazmun Tisha now has a permanent space in which she conducts her lessons and is taking steps to negotiate a formal education for her students. Tisha has recently been to Scotland as part of the bilateral exchange under British Council's Active Citizens Project. This helped build her confidence and gain the respect of her community. She continues to teach at the "School under the Sky" and says she has learned that when you have a plan, you must stick to it and you will achieve your goals eventually. Shain now campaigns on everything from preventing early marriage to tree planting, becoming a real advocate for change. He says, "I want everyone to realise that they have a responsibility to society. People should have dreams, big dreams and a chance to fulfil them. They don't need to belong to a movement to do this but it provides a platform from which to start and it is helpful to work as a team."

The British Council invites every concerned member of our country to join in a national debate on how to utilise the immense social and human resources which our youth provides and find ways to realise the hopes, dreams and aspirations and most importantly the rights of our youth and help them shape the future of our country.




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