Every morning, just after Fajr prayers, a long queue of readers can be seen in front of Shahbagh's Central Public Library or Dhaka University library, waiting for their turn to enter. The Central Public Library holds an enormous collection of more than two lakh books, some of which are quite rare, and countless magazines and newspapers, but these aren't what most people go there for. Instead, they take their own books with them, and the library's air-conditioned space is just a better place for people to read them. The readers are mostly young, those who have graduated recently or a few years ago. To describe them more precisely, they are BCS examination candidates, and with them are their BCS guidebooks. AHM Kamruzzaman, the librarian, told me that he has seen this trend develop rapidly over the last four to five years.
And, the last few years in particular have been quite extraordinary. Since 2007, Bangladesh has been enjoying a precious demographic period, the much-talked about “demographic dividend”, meaning we now have more working-age-people than their non-working counterparts. Some South East Asian countries have accelerated their economic development and growth by harnessing the power of their youth population. A country in this period of its history is expected to invest heavily in education and health (not on gigantic infrastructure projects, as we do) because they will help this window of opportunity last longer and create long-term jobs. It has been consistently predicted in too many indexes to mention, that our economy will perform well in the ensuing years, considering the fact that we are currently growing through this demographic dividend. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the largest professional service networks in the world, predicts that reaping this demographic dividend largely lies in our ability to create jobs for the growing number of young people.
We, however, are failing to live up to the expectations on that front. This is evident by the upward trend in the interest of young graduates to sit for the BCS examinations. Over the years, vacancies in government organisations have remained more or less the same, but the number of candidates has only increased. This year, the number of students registered to sit for the BCS examination stands at nearly four lakh—highest in history and nearly 40 percent higher than that in the previous year and is equal to the entire population of the Maldives. As many as 171 candidates are fighting for a single vacancy.
One could legitimately argue that several factors contribute to this new phenomenon. First, as most analysts puts it, interest in government jobs surged in 2015, when the government restructured its pay-scale to increase the salaries and benefits of public servants nearly twofold. Second, security in government jobs is impregnable. Third, the typical family pressures force young people to incline towards the public sector, even if they have good prospects in the private sector. Such attitude largely derives from the presumed insecurity in the private sector, the lucrative post-retirement benefits of government jobs and social status one gets to enjoy in government jobs.
These are expected and valid arguments. One could also credit a number of motivational platforms and personalities on social media, who encourage candidates and help them prepare for the battle. The role of these motivators behind this phenomenon remains largely underreported, but to understand their influence over job seekers, let me tell you that their work earns them hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook alone.
One unintended consequence of their apparent honest endeavour is that too many candidates had received too much motivation and took up the aim of becoming a civil servant way too seriously. Often described as “Sonar Harin” (golden deer), first class gazetted jobs, however, remain elusive for many students, particularly because the motivators fail to tell them that no matter how hard they try, only a fraction (one percent) of them will succeed. In the process, countless number of students will have spent the invaluable time of their youth, in the endless and vain pursuit of gaining their dream job—“Sonar Harin”.
Yes, preparing for the BCS examination increases the possibility for one to succeed in other public examinations. But that an entire generation of brilliant graduates are desperately flocking to get a government job speaks volume about our inability to generate good quality jobs in order to capitalise on their endless potential. Experts agree that investment in the private sector is far from enough, resulting in the creation of less employment in the sector than expected. The education system, with little public investment, produces graduates less interested in pursuing research or building their own enterprises, than seeking government jobs.
While we must explore how best to utilise our current demographic dividend, we cannot afford to overlook the possibility of a demographic chaos looming large on the horizon should we continue on with our failures. The growing number of BCS aspirants is a symptom of a larger problem, one that we should best address sooner, rather than later.
Nazmul Ahasan is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.