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ENGAGING YOUTH FOR DEVELOPMENT BY Abdul Rashid Shakir

Youth is the most ambitious, innovative and energetic segment of a society. If educated and trained well, extended opportunities for economic growth, and encouraged to participate in socio-political decision making, they can lead a nation’s march towards development and prosperity by fostering a culture of peaceful co-existence through patience, tolerance and cooperation; but unfortunately, if denied better education and grooming, neglected economically and socially, they have the lethal potential to rip the social fabric into shreds by engaging in subversive activities like extremism and terrorism. The theme of International Youth Day, 12 August 2015: “Youth Civic Engagement” also signifies the engagement and participation of youth as an essential requirement for achieving sustainable socio-economic development.

World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1995 and complemented in 2007, provides over-arching policy framework for all nations of the world to better engage their youth for inclusive socio-economic development of their societies. It covers fifteen (15) youth priority areas: Education; Employment; Hunger and Poverty; Health; Environment; Drug abuse; Juvenile delinquency; Leisure-time activities; Girls and young women; Full and effective participation of youth in the life of society and in decision making; Globalization; Information and communications technology; HIV/AIDS; Armed conflict; and Intergenerational issues.

These 15 priority areas have been further collapsed into 5 broader themes by the United Nations System-wide Action Plan on Youth (Youth-SWAP), a platform developed to help bolster the work of UN entities on youth development issues in the light of mandate given by World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY). These themes include Employment and entrepreneurship, Protection of rights and civic engagement, Political inclusion, Education, including comprehensive sexuality education, and Health.

Pakistan is a country blessed with more than 180 Million human resources, almost 65% of which comprises youth. With this huge youth bulge, we are at crossroads. We need to tap this great human resource urgently by devising comprehensives strategies to channelize the innovation and energy of this vibrant segment of society for promoting literacy, eradicating hunger and poverty, inculcating civic responsibilities, and instilling spirit of mutual cooperation and competition.

Though after the passage of 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, all youth-related matters like education, health and sports etc have been devolved to the provinces, yet the higher education is the responsibility of federal government. Therefore, the present government rightly understood the importance of patronizing youth of the country for materializing its dream of development. Very shortly after coming to power in June 2013, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif announced in his address to the nation on 21 September 2013 a revolutionary programme for youth development: ‘Prime Minister’s Youth Programme’. The Program has broad canvas of schemes aimed at promotion of higher education and research in the youth as well as enabling them and poor segments of population to get good opportunities of economic empowerment through employment and entrepreneurship, by acquiring skills needed for gainful employment.

Prime Minister’s Youth Programme caters to the top most priority area of World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY), the education, through its two schemes: PM’s (National) Programme for Provision of Laptops to Talented Students, and PM’s Fee Reimbursement Scheme for Less Developed Areas. PM’s (National) Programme for Provision of Laptops to Talented Students meets higher educational and research needs of students, under which annually 100,000 laptops along with internet connectivity are distributed among talented students, both male and female, registered with an HEC approved public sector higher educational institution across the country. 100% coverage is granted to PhD and MPhil/ MS students, whereas Masters’, undergraduate, disabled and students of government polytechnic institutes get laptops purely on merit. This initiative is focused on enhancing the scope of research and quality higher education by increasing access to the international research facilities through the use of information technology.

PM’s Fee Reimbursement Scheme for Less Developed Areas is aimed at encouraging the pursuit of higher education (MA, MSc or higher level) among students, both male and female, belonging to remote and under-privileged areas of the country, as this scheme would re-imburse/pay upfront their tuition fees directly to the universities concerned. All Students registered in a Masters/MPhil/Ph.D program in an HEC approved public sector educational institution, and domiciled in interior Sindh, Southern Punjab (Divisions of Multan, Bahawalpur and DG Khan along with districts of Layyah, Mianwali, Bhakkar, Khushab, and Attock), entire Balochistan, less developed areas of KP (Malakand, Kohistan, DI Khan, Lakki Marwat, Batagram, kala Dhaka/Torghar, Hangu, Kohat, Bannu and Karak), AJK, GB and FATA are eligible to apply under this scheme. Almost 100.000 students have benefitted from this scheme since its launch in FY 2013-14.

The second important priority area of World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY) is employment. It is also taken care of very well under Prime Minister’s Youth Programme. Its four schemes: PM’s Youth Skill Development Programme, PM’s Interest Free Loan Scheme, PM’s Youth Business Loan Scheme, and PM’s Youth Training Scheme have been launched for not only providing the youth with the needful capital for venturing into a business project, but also to equip the prospective entrepreneurs with technical skills and required training to do so.

Under Phase-I of PM’s Youth Skill Development Programme, 25000 youth across Pakistan have been trained in 100 demand-driven trades as per NFC award quotas, whereas Phase-II, about to kick start, is targeting the same number of youth to be trained in 196 trades, as per the demand of local and international labor markets, during the current financial year.

PM’s Interest Free Loan Scheme has so far extended interest free micro credit facility to more than 64,000 poorest of the poor borrowers, both male and female, hailing from 36 less developed districts across country. Over Rs. 1 Billion has been disbursed under this scheme so far. PM’s Youth Business Loan Scheme has granted business loans of more Rs. 5 Billions to around 6500 young entrepreneurs in the country. 50% loans are reserved only for the female entrepreneurs. Under PM’s Youth Training Scheme, government is poised to offer year-long paid internship @ Rs. 12000/m to 50,000 young graduates per year, in reputed public and private sector organizations.

All these initiatives of the federal government are aimed at converting the youth of the country into a productive human resource, because only an educated and economically empowered youth is a real asset for the society he lives in. He becomes instrumental in eradicating hunger and poverty from the society. He indulges in healthy leisure-time activities, and participates fully and effectively in the life of society and in decision making. He understands and responds well to his civic responsibilities, and protects his environment. He maintains a healthy lifestyle, and refrains from abusing drugs. He makes himself relevant in the global context, and keeps himself/herself abreast with the global trends through the use of Information and communications technology; An educated and cultured individual learns to live peacefully in a cordial environment by becoming patient and tolerant to the view points of others.

However, need of the hour is to start coordinated and synchronized initiatives to engage youth in a better way for socio-cultural transformation, and economic uplift of the country; because in 2013, US published “Pathways for Youth”, a draft federal youth policy framework, in which it proposes three goals for effectively engaging youth for socio-economic development: Promote coordinated strategies to improve youth outcomes; Promote evidence-based and innovative strate¬gies; and Promote youth engagement and part¬nerships.
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