Building a Smart Bangladesh

Hiren Pandit: In this age of information technology, only knowledge can transform this considerable population into a productive workforce. Following the path shown by the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s state-running, leadership skills, and humanity have been established in Bangladesh and worldwide. Digital Bangladesh was the dream name of the Prime Minister, the modern version of Bangabandhu’s dream of Golden Bengal. In this 21st-century world, there is no alternative to building a knowledge-based society and a knowledge-based economy if you want to stand tall in the world court. This is more important for a populous country like Bangladesh.

All the facilities are at our fingertips using information and communication technology today. Our path to this position in Information and Communication Technology was difficult. On December 12, 2008, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her determination to build Vision 2021, i.e., Digital Bangladesh announced Vision 2021, our country was at the back of information technology.

This proposal to create a digital Bangladesh was a groundbreaking step then. Digital Bangladesh is the first step to establishing a knowledge-based society. Bangladesh has already reached a strong position in the inclusive development index through the multidimensional use of digital technology.
Digital Bangladesh has fulfilled the dream that the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, wanted to establish a prosperous and better life for the next generation through the Great War of Liberation in 1971.

The whole world is currently going through a technological revolution, which we call the fourth industrial revolution. The fourth industrial revolution aims to make people’s lives easier. As a result, the way we live and communicate with each other is fundamentally changing. Gradually, everything in our daily lives is connected to the internet and internet-centric smart devices.

The impact of the fourth industrial revolution is changing technology and all aspects of our lives. Another timely plan of the present government is the ‘Smart Bangladesh 2041’ vision to meet the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution and to establish a knowledge-based economy and innovative Bangladesh.

The decision on the concept of ‘Smart Bangladesh 2041’ was taken at the Digital Bangladesh Task Force meeting held under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. On December 12 of the same year, the Hon’ble Prime Minister announced on Digital Bangladesh Day the construction of ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by 2041; the main pillars will be four – thoughtful citizens, competent government, innovative economy, and intelligent society.

Digital Bangladesh is coordinating with Smart Bangladesh initiatives to adopt the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Smart Bangladesh-friendly plans, policies and strategies. An initiative has been taken to create ‘Smart Bangladesh: ICT Masterplan 2041’, where through the use of modern and new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Machine Learning, Internet of Things, Blockchain, Nanotechnology, 3D Printing, Energy, Healthcare, Communication, Agriculture, Education, Various sectors including trade, transport, environment, economy, governance will be managed with greater efficiency. Smart Bangladesh 2041’s action plan is to develop the youth’s talent, innovation, and creativity and build a knowledge-based economy and an innovative nation by creating skilled human resources in modern technology.

By 2041, we will be able to create an affordable, sustainable, intelligent, knowledge-based, innovative Smart Bangladesh based on four key pillars. The blueprint for a Smart Bangladesh is technology-driven everywhere.

The government has already taken several important decisions for the implementation of Smart Bangladesh 2041, among which one of the decisions is to take a self-employment-based training program under Digital Inclusion for Vulnerable Exclusion (DIVE); Ensuring online education of students under ‘One Student, One Laptop, One Dream’; Setting up of Digital Leadership Academy to build an intelligent government. In this era of robotics and artificial intelligence, we have significant challenges ahead of us. We must find alternative ways to compete with technologically advanced countries in our labor-dependent economy.

Gradually, the use of machinery in labor-intensive work is increasing and will continue to grow worldwide. To survive in this technological world system, it goes without saying how desirable a talent and knowledge-based economy has become in building a middle to advanced Bangladesh. For this, skilled and efficient manpower is required. The knowledge economy is changing rapidly. According to the World Bank, the knowledge economy has four main pillars. Institutions, Universities, Laboratories, Incubators, Innovation ecosystems, Quality Education, and Adequate and Modern Information Technology Infrastructure.

These four pillars will provide structural facilities for the large-scale creation of skilled manpower and the improvement of products and services of entrepreneurs.

In this changing economy, adjustments and restructuring will occur in the country’s labor market. To survive in that changing labor market, the country’s people must also be ‘smart’ and efficient. Therefore, the most essential thing should be creating skilled manpower to build a Smart Bangladesh. The traditional education system must first be changed to make the population engaged in conventional education into efficient knowledge workers. Our large population must reduce dependence on natural resources and manual labor and transform them into digitally skilled and knowledgeable workers.

There is no substitute for knowledge in this knowledge-based economy. The structural and educational transformation of the country’s economy should also be done, keeping in mind that the demand for work may increase and the demand for work may decrease worldwide in the coming years.

According to the July 2023 report of the international organization Okla, Bangladesh ranks 120th among 143 countries regarding mobile internet speed. And Bangladesh ranks 106th in fixed broadband internet speed. To implement Vision 2041, we need high-speed, affordable, and uninterrupted broadband internet connectivity, which will be widespread nationwide. It is also necessary to ensure continuous electricity connection throughout the country. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) ICT Survey 2022 report, internet users in the country are 38.9 percent.

According to The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020 published by GSMA, London, 86 percent of men in Bangladesh own mobile phones, while 61 percent of women use mobile phones. That means 29 percent of gender inequality exists here. Gender disparity is more pronounced among mobile internet users, about 51.5 percent. To achieve the goal of Smart Bangladesh, steps must be taken to eliminate this gender inequality. It will not be possible to reach the desired goal by leaving the women’s society of the country behind.

The 2021—Goal Ahead – Smart Bangladesh Vision 2041 vision has already been implemented. By adequately utilizing the country’s demographic dividend, we hope to build a cost-effective, sustainable, knowledge-based, innovative, and Smart Bangladesh by 2041. The government has taken multi-pronged initiatives to build a creative economy by creating a skilled and digitally-ready workforce and a technology-enabled agro-industrial and business environment.

More than five lakh graduates are produced yearly, of which about seventy-five thousand are trained as information technology-enabled services (ITES) professional manpower. According to the Oxford Internet Institute, Bangladesh has the world’s second-largest pool of online workers. About 680 thousand freelancers earn about 550 million US dollars from outsourcing. 166 domestic and foreign companies have started business activities in 9 out of 39 hi-tech or IT parks built across the country with an investment of one thousand five hundred crore taka. Over 20,000 people are employed in salaried positions, and 32,000 skilled workers are included in the manpower pool.

Additionally, 2 million new jobs have been created in the ICT sector, and 11,000 women have received training through women’s empowerment projects.

The rapidly growing ICT industry provides financial, telecommunication and healthcare services to people. More than 120 companies in Bangladesh are exporting ICT products worth about 1.3 billion dollars to 35 countries, which is expected to increase to 5 billion by 2025. In the future, the government is committed to providing 100 percent online services by establishing 300 more schools, 190,000 Wi-Fi connections, and 2,500 digital labs, a large-scale ICT-based employment of 3 crore.

Sustained growth of the ICT industry will contribute significantly to the transformation of Bangladesh into an innovative economy by 2041. The fourth pillar of Smart Bangladesh is building an intelligent society, which means the transition from an information society to a knowledge society. By implementing the vision of Digital Bangladesh, we have achieved the essential qualities of an information society.

Now is the time to acquire permanent skills in identifying, producing, processing, transforming, disseminating, and using information to create and apply knowledge for human development through the lifelong learning process. That requires a robust social philosophy that balances cultural pluralism, social and political solidarity, and civic participation. These characteristics are part of an intelligent society, and Bangladesh is moving towards them.

The government has adopted 14 action plans to implement Smart Bangladesh by 2041. Just as the vision of Digital Bangladesh has ensured Digital Education, Digital Healthcare, Digital Agriculture, etc., the essential components of Smart Bangladesh will be Smart Education, Smart Healthcare, Smart Agriculture, Smart Trade, Smart Transport, and Smart Management policies.

The tradition and continuity of technology-based development through the successful completion of Digital Bangladesh will guide the progress of Smart Bangladesh, which is a giant leap in Bangladesh’s development field. Suppose we want to meet the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution and use our demographic dividend best to build a growing economy and an unstoppable country.

In that case, Sheikh Hasina can achieve her goals. Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, tried to make the country’s ordinary people aware of love and affection. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina loves the people of Bengal like her father and wishes for the liberation and development of the people of Bengal. However, it is difficult for Sheikh Hasina to go door to door to make the people of Bengal aware. Therefore, we who believe in the spirit of liberation war should now build public opinion in favor of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The writer is an essayist, researcher, and columnist.

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