As Bangladesh celebrates the golden jubilee of its independence, a retrospection of the country’s journey suggests an upward trajectory in terms of various development attainments.
The nation has attained the three criteria to graduate from least developed country status to become a lower middle income country. Recording a steady GDP growth over the years, Bangladesh is faring better than many other countries even during the pandemic. The country was also on track to attain global development goals until Covid-19 hampered the progress.
However, the country still has to overcome some challenges in terms of people’s participation in policymaking and improving overall governance.
As members of younger generation, our focus turns to the year 2071, when Bangladesh will celebrate the centennial of its independence. Where will this nation stand in that point in history? We can at least try to visualise a future Bangladesh to some extent.
Riding on the Demographic Dividend
Bangladesh has been blessed with demographic dividend, with people between 15-24 years of age making up 20 per cent of the population (UNFPA). However, garnering the benefits of demographic dividend is not guaranteed as it requires investments in education, technology, and infrastructure.
This is why one must raise the question of whether or not the youth have a role to play in making the country more people-centric by 2050.
Faiaze Kabir, a final-year student at the international Relations department, BUP, expresses his expectations, saying, “Since Bangladesh has a younger population, in order to transform this country into a model republic, the youth must take the lead. In the next 50 years, the youth will play a prominent role through intellectual revolution and active participation in policymaking and politics.”
Ensuring effective participation of the youth in fields such as policymaking, research, and innovation will be a decisive factor, Kabir believes.
“This will determine whether they can appear as a pressure group, which in turn will help them get directly involved in the decision-making process. If today's youth can ensure their participation in the decision-making process and set the benchmark for inclusion, we will be on the right track to becoming a much prosperous nation in another 50 years.”
Education will excel in quality
Access to quality education will be a prerequisite for involvement of the citizens in the policy-formulation process. From the Kudrat-e-Khuda Education Commission Report of 1974 to the National Education Policy 2010, some significant education policies have been formulated only to see them not implemented. In 2019, the country only invested 1.3 per cent of its GDP on education which happens to be one of the lowest in the world.
Expanding compulsory primary education for all till 8th grade has never been contrived due to infrastructural scarcity, and the education system still remains exceedingly fixated on exam-based learning. Students of 5th and 8th grades are subjected to the ordeal of sitting for board exams, exposing them to detrimental competition.
Emphasis on memorisation and theoretical education, even at the tertiary level, gives students little scope to ponder problems and draw logical deductions, leaving their critical thinking skills unstimulated.
In 2071, if the citizens want their perspectives to have an actual impact on governance, critical thinking skills should be made an essential part of our curriculum. This will help them ensure that their voices are heard and they are motivated as more tolerant people.
Therefore in another 50 years, one can sincerely hope that people will move from making prejudiced slanders in news portal comment sections to forming ways to have their opinions heard in the policymaking process instead.
Innovation in terms of technology and infrastructure will play a vital role in ensuring the fate of the nation in 2071. Although much-anticipated infrastructure megaprojects are constantly being implemented, one might question the efficacy of these projects towards improving the overall infrastructures, as well as raising concerns about the possible adverse external effects on the communities.
The government has set up union digital centres (UDCs) countrywide, and envisioned hi-tech parks in every district of the country. However, in a Digital Bangladesh students are still struggling to access online learning even after the deadline of this target.
Sazzadur Rahman Rafi, a data analyst at Wabash National and part-time lecturer at Purdue University, draws a hopeful picture while talking about Bangladesh in 2071.
“In 50 years, we would see the transformation in lifestyle, culture, and how people interact with the advent of technology like AI, Blockchain and Machine Learning. At the same time, a country like ours will experience online disparity due to resource constraint,” he said.
However, if we can invest our human resources to make them skilled like Singapore and similar other countries, we can enjoy the fruits of technological revolution by designing digital economy-friendly policies.
A society to let free flow of opinion
In order to create a people-centric approach towards policymaking, it is vital that the people have a robust and unfettered voice in the first place. Scrapping draconian laws to restrict free-speech will be a major step towards removing impediments towards reflecting the citizens’ perspectives in governing the country. Kazi Ashfaqul Haque, co-founder at Youth Policy Forum (YPF), suggests that the scenario is changing slowly yet steadily, as voices, especially younger ones, are being taken into account much more now.
“We now see an ecosystem filled with organisations by the youth, for the youth, who take to streets and social media alike to participate in civil discourse. Fifty years later, this will be a generation of adults with an experience of how important their voices were and consequently, how important will be the voices of the youth then.”
In 2071, a century after the glorious war of independence, our nation will have the wisdom of a sage centenarian. The nation will still have its fair share of limitations, like any other country in the world; however, in 2071, the lawmakers of the nation will join hands with its citizens, working towards moulding the exemplary republic, as it was envisaged during its birth. That will be the triumph of the people and the country.
Nabila is a second year student of economics at Dhaka University.