Thursday, 9 February, 2023

Smart Bangladesh: Courageous Move Based on the Success of Digital Bangladesh

Liton Chandro Sarkar

Smart Bangladesh: Courageous Move Based on the Success of Digital Bangladesh
Liton Chandro Sarkar

Digital Bangladesh, which once seemed impossible, is a reality now. Think what might have happened in the country if it was not Digital Bangladesh during the coronavirus period. Everything might be obstructed. We have not only implemented Digital Bangladesh successfully but we have been able to set some examples for others to follow us. It is now encouraging us to build a Smart Bangladesh. The idea of Smart Bangladesh is to create a more developed and modern Bangladesh. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman laid the foundation of Digital Bangladesh during his three-and-a-half years of rule. In 1973, he launched a ground satellite station at Betbunia in Rangamati hill district. Bangladesh attained membership in the Universal Postal Union and the International Telecommunication Union during that period. Bangabandhu took initiatives for reforms in all sectors, including IT, for the country's advancement. But two years later the assassins killed him along with his family members on August 15, 1975. As a consequence, the country lagged behind for a considerable period. However, finally, after the government of Sheikh Hasina assumed power in 1996, the country again started moving forward. In her hands, the achievement of Digital Bangladesh which was sown by Bangabandhu in 1973 turned into a grand success. The country has made a remarkable journey towards mass digitisation.

The government of Bangladesh is working to transform the country into "Smart Bangladesh" by 2041. The successful implementation of the ‘Digital Bangladesh’ encouraged the government to set the new target of building an innovative and knowledge-based ‘Smart Bangladesh’ coinciding with the ‘Vision-2041’ meant to turn Bangladesh into a developed country. “Smart Bangladesh” is a term that refers to the use of technology and innovative approaches to improve the lives of people and the overall development of the country. In Smart Bangladesh, everything will be done through technology where the citizens will be efficient in using technology and the entire economy will be run through technology. Smart Bangladesh is a vision that aims to leverage the power of technology to improve the quality of life for all citizens, create new economic opportunities and drive viable development to build a digitally enabled, smarter and more sustainable country.  It refers to the use of advanced technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics to improve various aspects of various sectors, such as healthcare, education, transportation, energy, agriculture and governance, as well as the development of policies and initiatives that support the use of technology to drive innovation and progress.

Bangladesh made tremendous success in the field of technological advancement last year, which was reflected in the World Bank (WB) GovTech Maturity Index (GTMI)-2022 as Bangladesh is ranked in GTMI’s “Category A: Very High Government Maturity”. According to the WB GTMI- 2022, Bangladesh is implementing new projects to provide various government services using digital technology and creating an ecosystem to involve citizens in receiving these services. Besides, the country moved up eight notches in this year's UN E-Government Development Index while it has made 20 steps up to rank 75th place in the E-Participation Index. At this stage, the government should heavily invest in infrastructure, education, health care and economic development to achieve Smart Bangladesh vision. These investments will pay off in the long run, and thus Bangladesh will become a model for other developing countries to follow. It also hopes to create more jobs and improve living standards for all Bangladeshis.

At one time, Bangladesh was known throughout the world as a poverty-stricken, drought- and flood-affected country and distressed towns. But in the course of the last few decades, the people of this country have achieved many impossible things. Now Bangladesh is considered a role model of development in the whole world. Even though the whole world is going through an economic recession, the country’s economy is still quite dynamic and safe. The current per capita income of the people of Bangladesh stands at $ 2,824. Over the last four years, we have witnessed the burgeoning of the ICT sector in the country. The more our young community learns to use these digital devices, the faster they can move the country forward. Initiatives have been taken to train young people in various aspects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Specialized labs will be established in every university in the country. The establishment of 57 such labs is in progress. The establishment of the Sheikh Kamal IT Training and Incubation Centre in 64 districts and 10 digital villages is in progress. 92 Hi-Tech Parks, Software Technology Parks are under construction. More than 16,000 entrepreneurs are currently working in around 8,800 digital centres across the country to deliver services to people's doorsteps, where 50 percent are women entrepreneurs. As a result, on the one hand, the inequality between men and women, between the rich and the poor and between rural and urban areas are being eliminated. More than 13,000 Sheikh Russel Digital Labs have been set up across the country. The present government took various effective steps including tax reduction in computer imports and providing subsidies and incentives to hardware and software industry producers. As a result of various policies and support of the government, currently, 14 local and foreign companies including Samsung, Walton, Symphony, My Phone, and Xiaomi are producing mobile phones and laptops in Bangladesh and exporting to different countries of the world after meeting 70 percent of the country's mobile phone demand.

Currently, exports in the ICT sector are $ 1.3 billion. Bangladesh ranks second in the online workforce. About 650,000 freelancers are earning about $ 500 million from the outsourcing sector. 166 domestic and foreign companies have started business activities in hi-tech or IT parks already built. In this, the investment is 1 thousand 500 crores and employment has been 21 thousand, human resource development has been 32 thousand. Nearly 20 lakh jobs have been created through information technology. Currently, the number of mobile phone connections in the country is more than 18 crore. Internet users are currently around 13 crores. In collaboration with Bangladesh Bank, Financial Institutions Division and various commercial banks, the a2i launched the "Sathi" network in March last year, aiming to expedite the financial inclusion activities of the government and increase women's participation in financial inclusion. Eight more financial institutions were added to the payment channel of EkPay to bring all the utility bill payment services, including education fees, under a single umbrella. 2500 start-ups including bKash, Pathao, Chaldal, SureCash, Shohoz, and Paperfly are actively working. These start-ups have created about 1.5 million jobs. Our youth was not familiar with this culture even 10 years ago. However, 700 million dollars have been invested in this sector in just seven years. To ensure the rights of reading books for people with disabilities, Bangladesh ratified the 'Marrakesh Treaty' last year and all websites under the Bangladesh National Portal were made accessible for people with disabilities. An integrated and world-class data centre has been developed in the country under the Four-Tier National Data Centre scheme. By sending the Bangabandhu-1 satellite into space, Bangladesh today has the honour of becoming a member of the elite club of satellites.

Digital Bangladesh has shown remarkable success in implementation over the past decade. There is no doubt that the implementation of Smart Bangladesh concept will take the country to new heights. Various preparatory activities have already started for this purpose. Various activities of the government have made us very optimistic. The government of Bangladesh has set 4 milestones. The first is Digital Bangladesh by 2021 which is moving towards Smart Bangladesh to be achieved today, the second is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030, the third is to build a developed Bangladesh in 2041 and the fourth is the Delta Plan for 2100. The government's current targets are to increase ICT exports to $5 billion by 2025, increase ICT-based employment to 3 million, and ensure 100 percent of government services online. But to build a smart Bangladesh, a lot of things are required to be done. For this, it is necessary to ensure an uninterrupted power supply system, extraction of internal resources of the country and its proper use.

The world is changing very fast and the same is true for the lifestyle of people. Appropriate high technology-driven digital connectivity and devices are essential for building Smart Bangladesh. If students are not given the opportunity to acquire digital skills, they will not be able to survive in the future world. The 4IR is now on the threshold of the world. The government is gradually moving towards achieving it by emphasizing industrial development, technological advancement, trained workforce creation and environmental preservation.

The effect of 4IR has had on education can never be ignored. The globalised world now needs a more active education system, one that is robust enough to meet every challenge. And this cannot happen without thoughtful action and proactive involvement of all the stakeholders. Education is not simply about imparting knowledge; it is about imparting knowledge in a manner that would help an individual find a means to make a living and survive in this world. Every industrial revolution had seen a subsequent revolution in the field of education. Bangladesh needs a high quality of education. 4IR also has a lot of opportunities for academic institutions to upgrade themselves to the next level. Institutions can develop an advanced plan to bridge the demand-supply gap of skilled labour in the digital economy. Educating emerging workforces with modern tools and techniques is the only solution to problems that will arise in the future. To respond to the needs of IR 4.0, universities must continue to play their role as test beds for educating future generations and innovation. Learning in the new age technologies is very important, and unless the teachers are trained, the students will be left far behind. Industry leaders need to be ‘Faculty 4.0’ with a combination of ‘Curriculum 4.0’ for Education 4.0 to be successful. Faculty 4.0 should go hand in hand with Curriculum 4.0. Teachers should focus their efforts on using technological applications that aid cognitive learning abilities. Learning outcomes should be based on personalised adaptive learning techniques. Intelligent digital assets should guide teaching concepts. Teacher-student interaction should be based on a smart approach to make the whole experience engaging and interesting. As such, new forms of learning models would be increasingly important to develop a holistic view of learners’ engagement and progress. A kind of enthusiasm is being observed among the young people of the country to study modern information technology-related subjects and make it fit and suitable with their time and era. It can undoubtedly be said to be of great help in building a smart Bangladesh.

Currently, the total population of Bangladesh is more than 16 crores. As the population pressure is higher than the total volume, poverty and unemployment naturally remain. If Bangladesh can convert its huge population into manpower or human resources, its economic, social and political structure will blossom and flourish in many ways under the pressure of the huge burden of the population. Bangladesh has to try to transform its population into manpower. Then it will become a public resource. If the talent, labour and mindset of the unemployed, unskilled youth are not utilized properly, many more disasters can befall our national life. There is no alternative to the expansion of technical education required for this. Technically educated youth can further change the face of our economy. Not only in the country but also they can easily find suitable and well-paying job opportunities in the international labour market. Thus, a huge wave can be created in our expatriate remittance stream.

Digital Bangladesh has always been about improving the country, about reaching ‘Sonar Bangla’ as dreamt by Bangabandhu. But unfortunately, corruption impedes its way to implementing the dream of Bangabandhu. The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2021 has ranked Bangladesh 147th among 180, having scored 26 out of 100, well below the global average of 43, the benchmark for moderate success in corruption control. We are embarrassingly the second worst performer in South Asia after Afghanistan and the fourth lowest among the 31 countries of the Asia-Pacific region. Statistically, a significant positive association exists between corruption and income inequality. The more pervasive corruption is in a society, the higher is income inequality which in turn, leads to a further perpetuation of corruption. A similar positive association exists between corruption and poverty; the higher the level of corruption the higher the level of poverty. The way things work remains to be changed. If the digital system is implemented, the corrupt bureaucrats of the government will virtually be crippled making the administration people-friendly. Alongside this, the economy, industry, intellectual property, law and order, law enforcement, and the military need to be digitised. Mass digitisation is a must to eradicate corruption from the country making it more efficient, equitable and prosperous.

However, in the building of Smart Bangladesh by 2041, several limitations are also coming in front of everyone. The dream of a Smart Bangladesh will come true if the future generation is raised from an early age as creative and patriotic citizens with humanitarian values. We need a knowledge-based society with access to information and technology and economic emancipation. As we started the ideological journey of making Bangladesh a sustainable smart state, every patriotic Bengali will surely play the maximum role in materializing this ideal for their own sake in the future. Smart Bangladesh is not just a program of a group or a political party; it should be the focus of the thoughts and thoughts of the entire 169.2 million people of Bangladesh. Everyone must be sincere about this.


The writer is Deputy Inspector of Colleges, Bangladesh University of Professional. E-mail: [email protected]