Disclaimer: It’s not about technique or textbooks
Every year, around four million people under the age of 30 enter Pakistan’s job market. According to an estimate, less than 25% of them manage to secure jobs. These young people are, in most cases, graduates from top-tier universities in the country.
This means every one out of every four graduates has a chance of getting hired. An undergraduate degree from a private university in the country costs at least Rs100,000 in tuition a semester. There are two semesters in a year and the degree is typically spread over four years.
Does that mean Rs800,000 and a good GPA are not enough to land you your dream job? Where are we going wrong?
According Sima Kamil, deputy governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, it’s the country’s education system to blame.
“We have witnessed that students are not functionally literate,” she said at an education seminar organised by Habib University on Saturday. “They (the students) are technically equipped but lack the ability to think critically or communicate properly.”
Kamil was backed by Mohsin Nathani, president and chief executive of the Habib Metro Bank. Workplaces are changing and employers have become more demanding than they were a decade back. They don’t just need technical skills anymore.
“A good candidate should have the ability to deal with people, and possesses interpersonal skills, a doer mentality, and a positive thought process,” Nathani pointed out.
Acumen Pakistan CEO Ayesha Khan said that organisations across the world are looking for candidates with multi-dimensional intelligence, and the ability to solve problems and come up with instant solutions.
But is that what varsities are teaching students today?
“Pakistan’s education system, as broken as it is, emphasizes on technical learning,” Khan said, pointing out that you can easily find someone to read financial statements but finding someone to analyse them is the real challenge. “This is because students are just taught to absorb not to question.”
Universities across the country are still offering wrote-learned and exam-based courses that create zero mental stimulation for students. The panelists said they were alarmed that as technology takes a more dominant role in the education sector, it’s very important for varsities to come up with diverse options for students. Otherwise, signing up for an online course at Harvard is not difficult today.
“We need a holistic and well-rounded education system in the country,” Engro Fertilizer Chief Nadir Salar Qureshi said.
Yes, organisations do need a technically sound candidate. But that is not the only thing they require.
“I come from an MBA background,” SBP’s Kamil said. “When my daughter completed her degree in history a few years back, I realized that MBA just taught me tidbits.”
This is why a shift to degrees in liberal sciences is coming today. “We need technical skills at the SBP but from a general point of view, we would want a person with a degree in liberal sciences rather than an accountant,” she said.
Liberal Arts isn’t a part of general education in the country. This means that the concept of debates and questioning is missing from the youth. Presently, Pakistan is just producing sub-par technical mindsets, Qureshi pointed out.
“You’re teaching students cookie-colored sanitised content with a hidden political agenda,” he said. “Essentially, to create good citizens it’s very important to provide holistic education and exposure.”
And this can only be done by increasing the quality of the curriculum at education institutions.
But as SAMAA TV CEO Naveid Siddiqui pointed out, this is hardly a government priority. Pakistan’s apex body responsible for higher education in the country, the HEC, says on its website that it aims to facilitate engines of socio-economic development in Pakistan. “After going through their website I was left wondering where were the parts about critical thinking, lateral diligence, or leadership?” he said.
To him, the HEC website reflects a very elementary and basic thought-process “literally from the previous century”.
The good news is that, for his line of work, Siddiqui remarked that in media studies is no longer considered a “last resort or an alternate career option”. Multiple universities are offering mass communication programmes today, both master’s and bachelor’s, but even he felt a more holistic approach is required.
Acumen CEO Ayesha Khan said that when fresh graduates are rendered jobless, it exposes them to multiple dangers. It is, therefore, important to incubate entrepreneurship in society. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Kamyaab Jawaan Programme is an example. “We don’t know how it will turn out to be but for now one can only keep their hopes high.”
Another solution is to enlarge the pool of youngsters who get to the tertiary level of education by giving sending more and more students to university.
Habib Metro’s Mohsin Nathani added that varsities should collaborate and connect with organisations to understand what the markets needs and then prepare courses and curriculum accordingly.