Unemployment statistics are hard to come by in this country, but a critical look at some data shows we have a huge a crisis.
Either we fix the problem of lack of jobs for our young citizens, the future doesn’t look good. We will continue to have a number of idle young men and women in the prime of their productive lives.
A few months from now the National Statistical Office (NSO) will conduct a Population and Housing Census. With elections next year, politicians often pay close attention to the segment that will have attained the age of 18 come voting day.
What is often overlooked is the composition of the youth that are now stuck in a vicious cycle of unemployment. Without pre-empting what it will show, it is true that most Malawians are youthful, unemployed and without a future positive outlook.
To understand a broader picture, consider the 2008 Population and Housing Census. The total population under the age of 20 was 7.6 million, 58 percent of the total population. The Malawi population is also fast growing, complicating matters. Now consider that most students finish their secondary education at the age of 18.
In the same census year, the population of 18 year olds was 268 000. Now if you consider that they were about 310 000 15-year-olds that by now have turned 18 and therefore expected to finish their Malawi School Certification of Education (MSCE).
In 2013, around 110 000 students are expected to write the MSCE examinations. Where are the other 200 000 teenagers? We surely have not lost a bunch of them to death or some natural catastrophe. Or I might as well ask what they are doing?
They are unemployed and with no skill at all. If we look at enrolment in universities and public colleges, the picture even appears even grim. Universities of Malawi and Mzuzu admit less than 3 000 students a year. A few hundred rich kids find their way into private universities or the costly parallel programmes.
In all this, I bear in mind that over half of the country lives below poverty, or something that is synonymous with destitution. Others end in the a few technical colleges and expensive private colleges, but most just idle at home doing nothing.
Now consider that in 2012, the pass rate at MSCE was a mere 57 percent and the rest 43 percent are probably idling. With these statistics, we surely do not need to figure the exact quantitative measure of unemployment in general. Each year, over 300 000 students are eligible to write MSCE and move to do specialised trades.
With government budget yet to be passed and billions allocated to various activities, fact remains that each year we continue to record number of youths that cannot get a good education. The few that do are not being absorbed into the formal job market. I do not think all these young people are interested in subsistence farming that is being promoted through a multi-billion fertiliser subsidy.
As an election year approaches, I am yet to see any aspirant embrace youth unemployment as a crisis that requires urgent intervention. The current situation breeds a fertile environment for all social problems that if not dealt with, 50 years of independence will mature into 100 years of lost time.
Investing responsibly in our youth holds the keys to unlock opportunities for inclusive growth where no one is left behind. Our youth are disillusioned, and we are fast grooming a nation of unproductive citizens. n