Interview: Smart Bangladesh – Vision and Reality

To achieve digital prowess and all the other smart initiatives, education is key.

4 mins read
Dr Chowdhury Nafeez Sarafat [Photo: Sri Lanka Guardian]

A vision. Set to become a reality in 2041. That is what the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Ms Sheikh Hasina, has embarked upon after achieving the successful tag of Digital Bangladesh. It is not merely a slogan, but a significant decision taken by the country.

Smart Bangladesh is an initiative taken up by the government to transform the country into a technically advanced and sustainable society with a high-income, developed country and with a per capita GDP of 12,500 US dollars.

Critics say though the government’s goal of setting up ‘Smart Bangladesh’ is a bold decision; its implementation is not easy and will be a major challenge.

In this respect, education, digital progress, and the economy will be important factors in its run for development.

Speaking to the Sri Lanka Guardianfrom Dhaka, one of the country’s leading entrepreneurs, investors, investment bankers and philanthropists, Dr Chowdhury Nafeez Sarafat, said,” Smart initiatives have been taken by the government on several sectors including banking, insurance sector, coal sector and infrastructure among other sectors.”

“The Padma Setu (bridge), metro-rail, highways, Chittagong tunnel, are many such initiatives that have been fulfilled by the government and with still 18 years to go, much more will be achieved,” he said.

“There has been a great growth in the 7.5 percent GDP growth and without Covid and the Ukraine-Russia war, it could have climbed to 8.5-9 percent,” he also said.

Bangladesh aims to make information and communication technologies (ICT) one of its main pillars of revenue-generating pillars of success by 2041. Estimates say the government is aiming for a $50 billion US dollars in the ICT sector with several successful start-ups.

Speaking exclusively to the Sri Lanka Guardian, the Bangladesh State Minister for Information and Communication Technology, Mr Zunaid Ahmed Palak, said, “Our journey to Digital Bangladesh has been enlightening and we have witnessed the transformational potential of digital technology in various sectors of our nation. We are now envisioning a future where our country stands as a beacon of digital innovation in South Asia.”

He also said, “Our primary objective is to ensure that every citizen, irrespective of their location or socio-economic status, can harness the power of digital technologies and contribute to the nation’s growth.”

Regarding the progress of the digital sector, the Minister said, “We are emphasizing on strengthening our digital infrastructure which is a core foundation of ‘Smart Bangladesh’, where high speed internet connectivity reaches every corner of the country. We have already extended the fibre optic network to the union level. Now, our next phase involves partnering with the private sector to connect even the most remote villages. Our goal is not merely connectivity but high-speed, reliable, and affordable internet for all Bangladeshi citizens, enabling seamless access to digital services.”

The government has also created an enabling environment for the growth of e-commerce, digital banking, and mobile health services. Bangladesh provides 16% of the globalonline workforce, making Bangladesh the second largest source ofthe digital workforce.

“We see the future of our digital sector as a vibrant ecosystem of start-ups, tech giants, and digitally empowered citizens all working in harmony towards a prosperous Bangladesh,” he said.

Speaking regarding the digital advancements made in the country,Dr Chowdhury Nafeez Sarafat, said, “The country is moving towards a cashless society. Apart from the Internet of Things, mass usage on secure net connectivity will be done. As an entrepreneur, I can say that this is shaping the future of the country in a very good way and strategically, it will be a digitalised future with generations to come. We lay importance on new ideas and creativity that empowers people to start their own businesses with an innovative mindset and develop their ideas into actual business.”

To achieve digital prowess and all the other smart initiatives, education is key. There is still a gap between the academia and the industry, which is being minimised with time. So, how exactly is Bangladesh getting ready for this?

Speaking in an exclusive chat with the Sri Lanka Guardian, the Minister for Fisheries and Livestock of Bangladesh, Mr SM Rezaul Karim, said, “Bangladesh has traversed a long distance in economic development under the Prime Minister, Ms Sheikh Hasina, and education has certainly been a key. We are giving good education in technical, digital and agricultural level to the youngsters with a practical view. A time will soon come when there will be no need for any doctor, engineer or agricultural specialist from abroad.”

Speaking on the same issue, the Bangladesh State Minister for Information and Communication Technology, Mr Zunaid Ahmed Palak, said, “When we talk about ‘Smart Education’, we envision an education system that leverages digital technology to its fullest potential. We are planning to integrate cutting-edge EdTech in our classrooms, ranging from digital textbooks to advanced learning platforms that provide interactive and personalized learning experiences. Our initiatives also include teacher training programs, where educators are equipped with the knowledge and skills to integrate digital tools into their teaching methods effectively.”

“We understand the importance of developing digital literacy from an early age. So, we are looking to introduce basic coding and digital skills into the curriculum, helping our youth to be well-prepared for a future increasingly dependent on technology. We are also building the Sheikh Hasina Institute of Frontier Technologies (SHIFT), to support the youth, especially from the 6th to the 12th grade, in developing their 4IR knowledge and skills. We have also rolled out various initiatives, such as 35,000 Sheikh Russel Digital Labs across the county, 300 Schools of the Future, in every parliamentary district of Bangladesh. Our vision is to create a future where every student, irrespective of their location, has access to quality education that can equip them with the necessary skills for the 21st century,” he added.

Dr Chowdhury Nafeez Sarafat, who is also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Canadian University of Bangladesh, said,” There is an aim of having private universities in all districts in the country, where there will be good education in less prices. Education is key to development as per the vision of the Prime Minister.”

As Bangladesh moves forward, it aims to intertwine the growth of digital and education sectors. By promoting digital literacy and using technology to enhance education, the government plans to create a future-ready generation of individuals that can drive the nation’s digital revolution.

Ayanjit Sen

Ayanjit Sen is our Special correspondent in New Delhi. He is an International Affairs expert, international-award winning senior journalist, consultant on Media Diplomacy and author. He has worked for over 24 years as a digital and television journalist with CNN (Delhi and Hongkong), BBC News (London and Delhi), ESPN, ABP, The Statesman, India Today Group & Times Now. Nearly half of his career, he has worked with international media organizations. He is currently working as a professor of media management in Bennett University, Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India (part of the Times of India Group). He has worked in several parts of the globe including Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, France, Pakistan, Bangladesh, UK and Afghanistan.

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