Diogenes, a Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy, once said, ‘The foundation of every state is the education of its youth’. To this day, his saying provides cue to how to cope with a fast-moving world driven by high technology. The words sound so true in our present context when Bangladesh, as an emerging economy, is making great strides in different sectors and progressing with flying colours. For any country to continue the legacy of development and keep moving ahead, it is imperative that the power of the youth be utilized properly. To that end, it is important to understand what’s going on around the world and devise customized policies and plans accordingly to ensure that the youth dividend is put to use to maximize growth.
If we take into account the current trends and the happenings that are shaping up the world, we can easily realize that digital transformation is the zeitgeist of this era, and this is expected to drive and catalyze future activity of all modes.
Just like all other emerging economies, Bangladesh is also going through huge digitalization in all sectors, and the ICT sector has been at the forefront of this changed landscape. Interestingly, even the growth in other sectors is being driven by the amount of progress we are achieving in the ICT sector. Because, during the pandemic, the whole world has realized how digital transformation can keep the wheel of economy and development running.
In such a backdrop, we are now on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) that will be heavily reliant on and accelerated by technological innovations and power. The revolution is already progressing at an exponential pace. Riding on the power of technological breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence, robotics and the Internet of Things, the ICT sector is impacting every industry. Bangladesh is also not lagging behind on this march.
With the vision of building a ‘Digital Bangladesh’, the nation has achieved commendable progress in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. Bangladesh is now even exporting software and IT-related products to many countries. About 500,000 active freelancers are working on a regular basis, and they are earning as much as $100 million annually, according to the information provided by the ICT Division of Bangladesh.
At a time when Bangladesh is registering a steady growth in this sector, experts opine that the next few years are crucial for Bangladesh as cutting-edge technologies are in the offing. The 5G technology, combined with AI and rapidly developing Cloud-platform technology, will revolutionize the whole world. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, being driven by tech and cutting-edge innovations, will have ripple effects on all the industries. Bangladesh will also have to adopt far-sighted policies and steps to reap the benefits of these technological innovations and digital transformation.
One of the major policies should incorporate elaborate programmes to upskill the youth. As the youth will be taking the helm of the country in the future, so, naturally, it is the youth who should be trained and skilled in the proper ways if Bangladesh wants to sustain its growth trajectory in the days to come.
An essential step would be to reconsider the educational approach. As the world is leaning towards digital transformation, emphasis should be put on STEM - science, technology, engineering, and mathematics - degrees. However, it is also true that only reading the textbooks and getting the lessons by heart are not enough for the new world in the making. Rather, the learners will have to keep developing future-fits skills that will be prerequisites for getting jobs.
With this end in view, the government needs to underscore developing skills by attending conferences, seminars, and training programmes. The government has already shown their willingness in this regard as they have decided to provide soft skills training to around 500,000 jobseekers and employees in the next five years.
To prepare our youth in the best possible ways, it is also important to consider public-private initiatives, where the learners, the youth in particular, must keep tabs on different programmes initiated by the public and private sectors and take part in those to broaden their outlook about future trends and market demands.
Techno-giant Huawei has much in its treasure cave in this respect. Huawei’s ‘Seeds for the Future’ programme in particular comes of great help. Participation in such a programme can equip the youth with future-fit skills and help them gather knowledge and insights about the transformations that are underway in the industry. A flagship programme, launched back in 2008, has churned out innumerable youths trained in and facilitated with industry-friendly skills.
So far, 30,000 youngsters from over 500 top universities in 130 countries worldwide have directly benefitted from this future-building course, while around 6,000 students have taken part in this programme since its inception in Bangladesh in 2014. ‘Seeds for the Future’ has contributed significantly to developing a pool of new-generation skilled youths who have the potential to carry on the legacy of digital transformation.
Other competitions such as ‘Bangabandhu Innovation Grant’ initiated by the ICT Ministry and Bangladesh ICT Skills Competition organized by Huawei are also good opportunities for the modern-day youths to hone their skills and develop new ones as well. To be specific, ICT Skills Competition has proved to be a humdinger for those learners who want to show off their mettle and acumen. This competition gives the students from technical universities a phenomenal opportunity to brush up their skills and master new ones as the whole competition is designed in a way that involves different online trainings and nerve-racking tests. This competition has been remarkable in inculcating a sense of confidence in the youth.
Meanwhile, Huawei, in collaboration with the ICT ministry, has launched ICT bus project with a view to facilitating young women from rural areas with proper ICT skills. This initiative has benefitted young women in the rural areas to a great extent as the buses keep covering most of the districts and give them an opportunity to acquire ICT skills. So far, 63,361 female students have befitted from this initiative.
Moreover, Huawei is doing its bit for ensuring educational facilities of the underprivileged groups by giving them devices necessary to continue study. As part of their initiative styled ‘In Bangladesh, For Bangladesh - We Are Here’, Huawei has donated digital equipment and other devices necessary for unprivileged children from time to time.
And earlier this year, Huawei signed an MoU with Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) to establish the country’s first ICT Academy. To develop insights, it’s important that the youth get proper exposure to the industry and get to learn firsthand how things work in real life. In this regard, an initiative like ICT Academy has great roles to play as the prospective future leaders will get the chance to not only master new ICT and industry-oriented skills but also get clear notions about future industry.
Well, it has been 50 years since our independence and Bangladesh is moving forward with a view to materializing ‘Digital Bangladesh’ dream. To achieve this, Bangladesh has set long-term goals. As a matter of fact, we will get to the goal someday. But at that time we will have other goals in place that will have to be achieved as well. The fact is that ‘Digital Bangladesh’ is not just a goal -- it’s a journey that will get bigger. And to remain steady in this journey, Bangladesh will need skilled youth who can maintain this growth momentum of the country.
Moreover, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will redefine the job market, so global ICT job market will change accordingly. Our youth will have opportunity to contribute to the global ICT ecosystem if they are trained and skilled in the right ways. To tap into future prospects, both nationally and internationally, it is significant to empower our youth.
In a nutshell, digitalization and technological advances are yielding huge opportunities for Bangladesh. If we want to cash in on these opportunities, Bangladesh must focus on utilizing the youth bulge. Equipping the youth with future-fit skills is the only way to maintain and expedite the current growth momentum.
Dr. Md. Rafiqul Islam Sheikh is Vice-chancellor of Rajshahi University of Engineering & Technology (RUET)
Bangladesh. He can be reached at: [email protected]