'Turning Humans into Capital'

Guest Post by Trisnha Rana, WB-SAES Youth Delegate from Nepal

Whenever economics in South Asia is discussed, two issues cannot be avoided: the youth bulge and our growing migrant and diaspora population. Both offer immense opportunities, but they are also imminent ‘time bombs’ as the panelists called them.

One-third of Nepal’s population is between 15-39 years. More than half of India’s 1.2 billion strong population is under the age of 25. As a region, one-fifth of South Asians are between the ages of 15-24. Our nations are very young and our youth have strength in numbers and can influence politics. Those currently living under autocratic regimes have the potential to steer their countries to the track towards democracy.

However, the challenges of dealing with this demographic currently outweigh the advantages. Despite making unprecedented progress in primary education, the quality of education and employability of young people remains poor. As a result, a staggering 90 per cent of South Asians work low-skill jobs in the informal sector. There seems to be a clear mismatch between the kind of skills and knowledge our children are learning in schools and the expertise required by industries. This is also compounded by a lack of jobs and colleges for those who want to pursue higher studies. The gap between those who can pay their way into colleges and jobs and those who can’t is also widening every day.

The solution then lies in rebuilding our education systems so that when young people graduate from schools and colleges they are equipped with skills that matter to the economy and provide competent human capital for the region. However, what will also be interesting to see is how countries create qualified manpower while promoting individuals’ productivity. On a national level, the panelists suggested that countries focus on promoting the manufacturing sector instead of consumer services, because that is what creates the most number of jobs. But as the experts were quick to point out two issues stick out as the biggest obstruction: the heavily politicsed education sector in all countries and the malnutrition affects millions of children every year and inhibits their performance in school and eventually in the workforce.