The importance of participation is crucial

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One of the United Nations Development Project’s main conclusion is that Pakistani young are genuinely anxious about their futures, according to Pakistan’s National Human Development Report 2017. Employment possibilities, avenues for career progression, and the capacity to earn a nice living for themselves and their families were all major issues.
However, it was evident from both the surveys we conducted for the research and the numerous focus group talks we held with youth from around Pakistan that they were not optimistic about getting the opportunities they desired. They did not believe that the state and society were set up to give them with such possibilities. They lacked faith in most governmental institutions and did not feel particularly linked to the institutions or society.
One of the report’s main sections dealt with youth ‘engagement,’ or how to think about youth involvement in the country’s socioeconomic and political life. The empirical evidence showed that the majority of young people across the country, and across socioeconomic and political differences, were not ‘involved’ with the state and society and did not believe they had the opportunities to be so engaged. Many people believed that attempting to create involvement would be ineffective since the state and society would not be willing to allow such an incursion.
There was also apathy. However, the problem was not one of disinterest. It had more to do with the fact that young people did not believe the state and society provided enough possibilities for them to get involved; they did not welcome youth participation; and institutions, on the whole, were not structured to allow or encourage youth engagement.
How can today’s youth become tomorrow’s leaders if there are no chances available to them?
We observed a lot of cases of people who didn’t have much of a chance to participate. The majority of the kids polled had no social or other engagements outside of their families; very few were members of any groups, clubs, or societies; most did not have access to any form of amusement (cinemas, playing fields, music performances, etc.); and most did not have access to libraries.
Simultaneously, part of our future narrative is based on how we expect today’s young to propel Pakistan to new heights: the “demographic dividend.” I’m not sure how we’re going to square this one. How can we expect today’s youth to become tomorrow’s leaders if they are not given opportunities to connect with state and society’s institutions?
Young individuals under the age of 18 can drive, vote, marry, and have children, but they cannot form their own unions while in college or university. They are prohibited from participating in politics while attending university. We want them to be great critical thinkers who can easily take over the reins of administration, governance, politics, and the economy as soon as they graduate from university.
The case of university students and labour unions is one that should be investigated further. Only about 5% to 7% of Pakistani school children go on to university. As a result, we’re only talking about a small set of students – young people who will most likely take over many of the country’s most important administrative, political, and economic roles in the coming decades.
They are the doctors, attorneys, engineers, academics, and administrators of the future. However, while they are in university, we do not want them to be active in governance or other issues. We don’t think they’ll be able to run their own clubs, organise their own debates and conversations, think for themselves, or challenge what they’re learning and how they’re learning.
Our educational system teaches children how to do well on exams, but not how to engage with the information they read, comprehend it, and deal with its relevance in their life. It does not require students to internalise what they read in order to utilise it to make sense of the world in which they live. This is the fight. What good is it to read economics or philosophy if it doesn’t impact the way a person thinks about and interacts with the world? What good is education if it doesn’t provide people the tools to examine the status quo – to make them want to own it if they understand and agree with it, or to alter it if they don’t?
In higher education, we have an opportunity to allow students the time to learn things while they are still in protected institutional settings. But, as a society and polity, we are scared of allowing even this much space to young Pakistanis. It is hard to see how we are going to do so with youth in spaces other than the university.
Why do we fear the country’s youth so much? They must be provided early opportunities to participate in thinking about the country’s future if they are to make appropriate decisions about how the country should move forward. They must be ‘involved’ in all decisions affecting the country as a whole, as well as their own lives.
We, on the other hand, do not provide them with these possibilities, and this denial is intentional. We kept them at bay. We ensure that young people are not included in any decision-making process, even in institutions supposed to engage them, such as universities. If we don’t allow the youth to lead, how can we expect them to?

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