In the constant quest for progress, nations frequently encounter critical moments, grappling with the task of fully harnessing technology’s immense potential to propel economic growth and development. Bangladesh, with its ambitious vision of achieving a SMART future by 2041, stands as a shining example of this global endeavour. As we delve into the intricate fabric of economic transformation powered by Information and Communication Technology (ICT), it becomes clear that this journey has only just commenced.
A Decade of Digital Advancement
The seeds of Bangladesh’s digital revolution were sown with the establishment of Union Digital Centers, a visionary initiative aimed at connecting every corner of the country to the digital network. This seemingly magical endeavour promised villagers the ability to obtain birth certificates, access government services online, and save precious time and resources.
The power of the internet was poised to rejuvenate a bureaucratic system often criticized for its sluggishness. Remarkably, over the years, Bangladesh witnessed the transformation of its bureaucracy, as bureaucrats embraced the potential of digital technology and social media. Government services underwent a remarkable conversion, with innovation becoming the cornerstone of service delivery. Private sector growth paralleled these advancements, with companies like bKash, Chaldal, Pathao, and Surokkha becoming synonymous with the digital way of life.
A Digital Resurgence Amid Challenges
The unexpected catalyst of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated Bangladesh’s digital transformation. Lockdowns and restrictions drove widespread adoption of digital technologies in areas such as banking, healthcare, education, and commerce. The market demonstrated resilience and adaptability, swiftly meeting the surging demand for remote services. Simultaneously, Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government set a deadline for realizing Digital Bangladesh by 2021 under ‘Vision 2021.’ ICT was declared the ‘product of the year’ to boost export earnings, backed by a robust public-private partnership. Honourable ICT Advisor Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed played a pivotal role in guiding this vision, leading to substantial progress and turning promises into achievements.
Navigating the Path to Prosperity
As Bangladesh aspired to graduate from a least developed country to a developing one, the United Nations recognized the nation’s progress. The government’s declaration of a SMART Bangladesh under ‘Vision 2041’ aimed to elevate the per capita income (GNI) from US$ 2,765 (FY2022-23) to US$ 12,500. This ambitious endeavour paralleled Bangladesh’s commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, driven by the same digital revolution.
Currently, Bangladesh boasts more than 187.48 million SIM card users, with nearly 40 percent of them having mobile financial service accounts. The ICT industry contributes approximately 1.25 percent to Bangladesh’s GDP directly (FY2022-23), with an estimated 13 percent indirect contribution through its enabling chain-impact. This success story is a testament to the rise in labour productivity and total factor productivity catalysed by Digital Bangladesh.
Besides, once unimagined– the domestic Software and ITES market is valued at US$ 1.54 billion, promising further growth and employment opportunities. However, it is essential to recognize that the digital revolution is an ongoing process, requiring substantial investments in both technology and human capital. While over 25,000 students pursued computer science and related subjects in 2022, the need for skilled ICT professionals is ever-increasing as the ICT sector directly created 0.3 million jobs so far and is predicted to reach 0.5 million by 2025.
Balancing Quality and Quantity
Efforts must focus on not only increasing the quantity of ICT professionals but also enhancing their quality. Currently, an ICT resource contributes an average value addition of US$ 9,800 per year, a figure targeted to triple by 2041 through skills development. To meet ICT export target of US$ 5 billion and capture a larger share of the local market, Bangladesh must produce at least 0.37 million ICT professionals with global and future-ready ICT skills by 2025.
Envisioning the Future
While establishing the groundwork for a digital revolution represented a relatively manageable task, the true challenge now lies ahead. Converting the digital promise into a tangible and impactful reality necessitates unified efforts, unwavering dedication, boundless enthusiasm, and unwavering perseverance. Bangladesh’s demonstrated resilience and innovative spirit have enabled it to surmount formidable challenges in the past, providing ample reason to believe in its capacity for triumph once more.
As Bangladesh embarks on the journey toward realizing a SMART Bangladesh by 2041, guided by its four foundational pillars – SMART Citizen, SMART Government, SMART Society, and SMART Economy – it does so with a profound understanding that the digital revolution is not a finite destination but an enduring process. This sweeping tide of transformation promises not only to enhance education, generate employment, and elevate incomes but also to propel Bangladesh into a fresh era of economic diplomacy, geopolitical prominence, and global significance.
Charting the Path Forward for ICT Transformation
Unlike other sectors, the ICT sector’s core competitive advantage exclusively and entirely depends on human resources equipped with global and future-ready ICT skills, for which the endeavor should be made considering the following recommendations,
A. Cross-Country ICT Skills Demand Study:
Undertake an extensive cross-country comparative study to assess the demand for ICT skills. This study should be financed through government grants, with the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) serving as the primary implementing trade organization. The objective is to restructure the computer science education system effectively.
B. Re-evaluation of National ICT Competencies:
The national ICT competencies as administered by the National Skills Development Authority (NSDA) necessitate re- evaluation and augmentation in alignment with the dynamic requirements articulated by contemporary ICT industry stakeholders.
C. Early-Stage ICT Education:
Commence early-stage programming and coding instruction within the primary education framework in an interactive and enjoyable manner.
D. TVET Modernization:
Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions should assume a pivotal role in augmenting competencies and facilitating the adaptation of recent graduates. Modernization of TVET curricula, along with the refinement of training methodologies and the enhancement of trainer competencies, is imperative to address prevailing skill shortages.
E. Synergistic Partnerships:
Forging synergistic partnerships between TVET institutes, the private sector, and educational institutions is of paramount importance.
F. Targeted Training Initiatives:
Formulate targeted training initiatives designed to cultivate competencies that mitigate the graduate unemployment levels prevailing in Bangladesh, especially with unemployment numbers rising to 2.59 million in the first quarter of 2023, up from 2.32 million in the last quarter of 2022.
G. Paid Internship Program:
Introduce a remunerated internship program with a monthly stipend of Taka 20,000, with the objective of facilitating the transition of participants into industry-ready professionals. This strategy, previously implemented in India, played a pivotal role in their technological advancement.
H. Promoting Gender Equality:
Institute a policy of offering a 15 percent supplementary wage to female ICT professionals, with the intent of motivating greater female engagement within the sector. India previously adopted a similar policy with successful outcomes.
I. Support for Micro and Small-sized ICT Firms:
Establish a dedicated grant fund, backed by government and developmental agencies, aimed at supporting Micro and Small-sized ICT firms in their recruitment of fresh university graduates. This fund should contribute 50 percent of the salary for the initial year of employment.
J. Incentives for IT Enterprises:
Provide income tax incentives and streamline the process for IT enterprises to enlist in the stock market, incentivizing them to employ recent graduates.
K. Comprehensive Roadmap: Formulate a comprehensive roadmap, inclusive of an intricate demand-supply assessment pertaining to ICT engineers. This initiative should consider the exponential expansion of the ICT industry.
In the grand drapery of economic transformation, Bangladesh has unfolded a vibrant thread woven with the promise of a SMART future, one that beckons not only progress but also prosperity. The road ahead may be long, but with unwavering commitment, Bangladesh is poised to seize the boundless opportunities that the smart-verse age offers, leaving no doubt that its brightest days are yet to come.