We’re in an economic emergency! This message is a stark one and indeed, with unemployment set to surge, we’re yet to see the full extent of impact on the economy. For those of us in the education and skills sector, we know the important role that upskilling and education play in economic recovery. But sadly, we were left underwhelmed. Time and time again the Meghalaya government talks up the need for skills but fails to commit to anything transformative. And this time was no different – demonstrating once more that the government still doesn’t have a long-term and sustainable plan for skills to both stem unemployment and fuel economic recovery.
With Meghalaya’s unemployment rate at 3.56 per cent last month as compared to 2.28 per cent previous month, there is an overwhelming need to shift youths’ efforts from seeking conventional employment to creating marketable opportunities for themselves. However, the lack of employment opportunities is a serious concern all over the country, but the situation in Meghalaya has been considerably one of the worst!
Whilst re-focusing existing funding is sensible right now, Meghalaya Labour Laws and Policies feel outdated and lack any detail about how we’re going to support people to retrain and reskill now. It would serve no one, least of all those trying to get back to work, to see a rehash of the unsuccessful planning. We are at a pivotal moment in time and we need to use this as an opportunity to make radical changes to our education and skills system to help Meghalayans get back into meaningful work and ultimately, make strides towards getting our economy back on track. This year we witnessed Meghalayans enter into a “great depression” mode with many losing their jobs and many many more deprived of one. Glimmers of hope are needed to help us tide through this collective despair. As the year draws to a close, here’s a look at the unemployment movement that shook the State and beyond.
Teachers should stay in school: The city came to a standstill after hundreds came out to participate in a public rally led by FKJGP as well as other NGOs, including the KSU, the RBYF and the HNYF. Hundreds of youths marched from Motphran to the Fire Brigade Ground as part of the rally raising their banners; their stated gripe being that “no positive steps have been initiated by the government to increase employment for the youth”. Loud slogans also echoed the streets of Shillong even as the protest took an unfortunate turn when police vehicles were vandalised and violence ensued amid flaring tensions. The protestors demanded the state government to come up with a policy to safeguard the future of the youths of Meghalaya. The never ending agitation by contractual teachers outside the Meghalaya Secretariat demanding for the restoration of service took an ugly turn after the police lobbed three tear-gas shells at the agitating teachers, including pregnant women, to prevent them from staging a protest outside the gate of the State secretariat. The Meghalaya police however, had to face severe criticism for lobbing teargas shells and lathi-charged the teachers.
Hacker caught in his own Web : In April, a frustrated unemployed youth angry with the government over the lack of employment opportunities in Meghalaya sent shivers across the north-eastern region of the country for attempting to execute a series of bomb attacks on various educational institutions across the State in retaliation for the rising unemployment in Meghalaya under the name of ‘Lawei Ba Phyrnai’ (Bright Future). Reliable sources from the police department said that the accused is a hacker and has been involved in unlawful computer hacking since 2010. They further stated that he has been under the radar of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) since 2016 for various hacking crimes. The accused, currently locked up at the Shillong District Jail, was — with the assistance from the CID (Cyber Cell, New Delhi) — finally traced and arrested on April 13th this year by a twenty-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) consisting of highly experienced investigators from the CID and the Crime Branch of Meghalaya. The hacker has now been booked under the stringent UAPA for attempts to unleash terror in Meghalaya, as well as the Information Technology Act, 2000 for hacking into the email accounts of several senior government officials, for spying, stealing confidential documents and sending threat mails directly to the Chief Minister of Meghalaya and other high dignitaries of the State. Unemployment in Meghalaya certainly is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode if effective interventions are not put in place to mitigate the unsavoury impact of high youth unemployment.
Corporations in need of Correction : To join the joyride, this year contractual workers of Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited (MeECL) under the banner of MeECL Progressive Workers’ Union (MePWU) took-out several protests against the state government for failure to regularise their services. The employees of the Mawmluh Cherra Cement Limited (MCCL) too under the banner of the MCCL Employees Union (MCCLEU) staged a sit-in-protest against the state government’s failure to clear their pending salaries. The employees were compelled to come out to the street and protest against the failure of the state government to clear their pending salaries. A spokesperson of the Union said, the government would require Rs. 200 crore for payment of salary and clearing other pending dues to the employees. KHADC EM and Nongshken MDC Grace Mary Kharpuri also extended support to the agitating employees and urged the government to address their grievances at the earliest but till date no such aid has been received.
The list goes on and on… Over the past several years, Meghalaya has witnessed the most severe economic crisis. Poverty issues may not be the major agenda to tackle in Meghalaya however, the unemployment rate among youths in the abode of clouds has been on the rise particularly, in comparison to other regions. Unemployment has been seen to be one of the causes of poverty and that the unemployed should not just rely on the government jobs but instead, they need to think further ahead – they need to venture into the entrepreneurial fields (social entrepreneurship in particular) to gain a sustainable income and thus, help the society to further improve the standard of living of a country.
We need to create an environment where lifelong learning can flourish and be appealing and accessible for all. And to do this, we need an outside-of-the-box solution which is more robust and flexible. Not only should this include increased online opportunities – utilising existing schemes and employment infrastructure – but also a programme focused on ‘taking learning to the people’ to give learners the chance to access shorter, sharper courses – and learn in a time and place that suits their own lifestyles. There has never been a more important time for us to focus on reskilling and lifelong learning. Unlike the current ‘NPP Quick Fix’ solutions in place, we need a plan with longevity to address unemployment, skills shortages and ongoing productivity issues. We need to think differently, and we need to act now!
(The writer is a private teacher and skill trainer. He resides at Mawlai Nongkwar, Shillong)