Promised digital Bangladesh and the young generation
Md. Anwarul Kabir
The honeymoon period for the newly installed Government led by Awami League is yet to over. The landslide victory of Awami League in the last election has given the new government of Sheikh Hasina an enormous task of meeting people’s aspirations. Different analyses of the electoral results have revealed that the young generation who consist of more than one third of the voters had indeed brought this overwhelming victory for AL. With many other reasons, implicitly it can be inferred that voters of this generation while exercising their franchise considered party manifestos seriously. Presumably the visionary approach of AL’s manifesto, entitled ‘a charter for change’ might have allured the young voters much, especially its ‘Vision 2021’ which envisions a ‘digital Bangladesh’.
Let us now explore the buzzword digital Bangladesh. What does it really mean? Moving towards digital Bangladesh does not imply that the urban young groups of the country will be more sophisticated consumers of high-tech devices like computers, digital cameras, latest model mobile sets or camcorders etc. based on high-speed Internet infrastructure and promote the dejuice culture. Rather discarding this superficial notion, we need to consider the term ‘digital Bangladesh’ objectively.
Broadly speaking, a digital society ensures an ICT driven knowledge-based society where information will be readily available on line and where all possible tasks of the government, semi-government and also private spheres will be processed using the state of the art technology. So, a digital Bangladesh must guarantee efficient and effective use of modern ICT in all spheres of the society with a view to establishing good governance. In other word, making Bangladesh a digital one, we have to establish technology driven e-governance, e-commerce, e-production, e-agriculture, e-health etc. in the society emphasizing the overall development of the common people, the major stakeholders of the country.
Due to globalization, more specifically due to booming of ICT like most of the countries on the globe, Bangladesh has already been connected with the outside world. Yet in the field of ICT, our only grand success lies in Mobile telecommunication which has brought an abrupt change in telecommunication scenario of the country. However, in the other spheres of ICT, our achievement is very insignificant and we are still far away from transforming ourselves into a knowledge-based society.
Building strong ICT infrastructure is the pre-requisite for making Bangladesh a digital one. For this, we need to focus on the following relevant issues assessing the harsh reality that hinders our development in this context.
a) Power deficit: Latest statistics reveal that Bangladesh faces a power deficit of up to 2000 MW against a demand of 5000 MW daily. It may be noted that for proper ICT development an uninterrupted power supply is a must.
b) Network infrastructure: Outside Dhaka, at present a few computer network infrastructures have been developed so far. Apart from some educational institutes outside Dhaka, observation finds that most of the LAN setups are Dhaka centric. This observation reveals the reality of the digital gap even within the country.
c) Use of Internet: For the ICT development Internet users of the country must be increased. In this case our position is the worst one among the South Asian countries. The latest statistics (ITU, 2007) revealed that Internet penetration in our country is only 0.3%. Whereas, in Pakistan and India, it is 7.3% and 5.3% respectively.
d) Under sea submarine cable: Since 2006, Bangladesh has been connected to worldwide Internet Super High Way through an under sea submarine cable. But this single submarine cable frequently faces disruption resulting in slow bandwidth.
e) Network Readiness: Networked Readiness Index (NRI), developed by the University of Harvard, measures the propensity for countries to exploit the opportunities offered by information and communications technology. The NRI seeks to better comprehend the impact of ICT on the competitiveness of nations. The NRI is a composite of three components: the environment for ICT offered by a given country or community, the readiness of the community’s key stakeholders (individuals, businesses, and governments) to use ICT, and finally the usage of ICT amongst these stakeholders. Unfortunately, the latest survey (2006-7) revealed that Bangladesh’s NRI ranking is one of the lowest among the Asian countries.
f) Use of open source software: Many countries (e.g. France and Malaysia) have started to use open source software in ICT development projects for cost effectiveness. Unfortunately, in our ICT development domain the culture of using open source has not yet been introduced.
g) English literacy rate: From different sources, it has been learnt that, English literacy rate in Bangladesh is less than one percent. Whereas, English literacy rates in India and Pakistan are 60% and 20% respectively. There is a strong correlation between English literacy and ICT development in the present context of globalization. In the arena of ICT English has become the Lingua-Franca. On the other hand, we have not localized Bengali in the domain of computing. Hence, English literacy is a must for our ICT development. Unfortunately, in this case our position is the worst in the sub-continent.
Though the above accounts seem to be frustrating one, these can be easily overcome within a reasonable span of time if we can establish good governance in the country. Since independence, Bangladesh has been critically suffering from poor governance. Lack of vision, corruption, lack of transparency, weak coordination, undemocratic decision making were the salient features of our past governments. These can also be marked as the major barrier to the overall progress of Bangladesh. However, the newly installed government which has called for changes, hopefully, will establish much expected good governance to keep up with people’s aspiration.
For making a digital Bangladesh by 2021, the government must address the above stated issues effectively and efficiently in transparent manners. In many cases we need to reformulate our national policy (e.g. education policy, ICT policy) in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals. In reformulating the ICT policy, we will need to take a pragmatic and visionary approach so that it can curb the prevailing digital gap in the society. Moreover, the journey towards a digital Bangladesh needs the incorporation of the technologically solvent innovative younger generation. If the leaders of our country objectively guide this generation, they can do wonder for the nation. After all, the young generation always looks forward and they can help bring about positive changes in the society.
Md. Anwarul Kabir is a freelance writer and he can be reached at [email protected]