English Language & employability might be more closely connected than thought earlier. Here is what Pakistan Needs to Focus on for now.
Pakistan has one of the youngest populations in the world with nearly 60 % population under the age of 29.Yet surprisingly, the highest unemployment rates are found among young people educated above matriculation level. This is a growing challenge which unless addressed on emergency basis, has the potential to transform the young work force advantage into a tragic liability.
Per a comprehensive research undertaken by British council on Skill Disconnect in Sindh, “there are evident skill gaps across Pakistan & Sindh in particular”. One of the major Skill disconnect identified was English. This factor of English language inadequacy adversely effects the employability and earning potential of the young population of Pakistan. The negative impact is manifested in various dimensions of economic growth and balance of payment etc.
Therefore, it is imperative to improve English language and communication skills to improve on the present employability scenario for Pakistanis, both in and outside in the country.
The following areas must be given immediate priority with respect to imparting English language skills to the country’s population:
1. Vocational Institutes
As per an excellent research undertaken by Dr Ali Cheema as part of the Pakistan Human Development report 2017, about 350,000 trainees are enrolled in 3,580 public and private vocational institutes cross the country. But despite various efforts, the issue of earnings and employability remains.
Compare this with initiatives being undertaken in Malaysia such as the “20:50” programme. In the Malaysian programme, it is targeted that enrolled students undertake 50% of the technical and vocational education kill courses, especially for frontline services, in English. For Pakistan, English language training has a crucial role to play in the vocational education space by creating occupational standards cutting across sectors covering both technical and communication skills, with English forming a major part.
2. Migrant Economy
For Pakistan, overseas workers’ remittances have served as neutralising factor to keep current account deficit low. A high percentage of the young population of Pakistan consistently leaves for greener pastures abroad. According to research, primary destinations of Pakistan immigrants have been KSA, UAE, UK, EU and Northern America. According to official records, more than eight million Pakistani workers have migrated since the 1970s. In the last seven years, more than three million people have left the country for foreign-based jobs. Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and HRD normally finalizes National Emigration and Welfare Policy for Overseas Pakistanis. There is also an important Committee for Skills Up-gradation and Overseas Employment Promotion.
Saudi Vision 2030 holds many clues for Pakistan’s overseas employment future priorities. It is critical to include English language skills development as one of the key areas of the focus for the overseas workers as that would provide a competitive edge leading to higher wages & salaries.
3. Engineering & Computer Sciences Institutes/Universities
For many graduates of engineering universities the problem is not of unemployment, but lacking employability. And one of the key factors holding them back is a lack of prowess in English language. The need becomes all the more profound for students who have had initial schooling in rural areas or in small towns in Pakistan. According to a research undertaken by Quaid-e-Awam University of Engineering and Technology, “The findings showed that both teachers and students found very extensive needs of speaking and writing skills as their top priority.”
For these students at engineering institutions the need is to teach conversation management strategies, while placing key emphasis on teaching vocabulary and vocabulary-learning strategies as well as presenting grammar in natural contexts.
According to various researches, Pakistan is in the top five freelancing destinations, with over 150,000 freelancers in the market generating between $600 and $ 800 million a year. Yet the global freelancing market is getting sophisticated and competitive by the day with cost not remaining the only key success factor. Although IGNITE – formerly known as National ICT Fund and led by Yousuf Hussain – has recently launched an ambitious Digiskills programme for freelancers, there remains a need for further reinforcement of English language skills of freelancers; especially the English language as spoken and communicated in the western world. Such an added skill would not only be critical for specific services like transcribing, but also for the freelancing industry in general.
5. Women Employment and Empowerment
Although women represent around 48% of Pakistan’s total population, most estimates put the female employment participation at only 19%. Various government institutions such National Productivity Organization (NPO), Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) have initiated a range of training courses for capacity-building and skill development, but there remains a major need to build English language skills to increase women participation in the tertiary sectors as well as in international trade. This requires focus on integrating English language as a key component of the overall capacity building plans.
English language is the language of globalization. It is also one of the keys to unlock the employability potential in Pakistan. As aptly put by Hywel Coleman: Any ‘entitlement’ to English as a passport to development must be strictly available to all who desire it, otherwise it becomes a means of barring access to the less privileged.