12:00 AM, November 30, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 30, 2010

Human resources development in Bangladesh

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Mohammed Abul Kalam

She needs help to go further. Photo: Mahabub Alam Khan / Drik News

The concern for policy and action planning guideline for human resources development in Bangladesh stems from the recognition that the economic progress of the past several decades, notable as it has been, has not led to the eradication of widespread poverty in the country. This is due, in part, to the limited attention paid to human resources as a crucial means as well as the ultimate end of development.
The concept of human resources development emphasises the integration of human capital and human needs aspects of human resources in development. The various components of development -- health, education, environment, employment, manpower development, and science and technology -- are not new. What is new is their combination in a unified approach to development policy making and planning that focuses on the role of human beings as both a critical input to, and the ultimate beneficiaries of, the development process.
In Bangladesh, development programmes touch on virtually all aspects of human resource development, but the integrated approach has not yet been generally adopted. There has been a tendency to emphasise either economic-dominated or social welfare-dominated strategy -- the human capital approach or the human needs approach. In several cases, a strong commitment to social development concerns has encountered serious budget constraints associated with disappointing performance. Where there has been a strong human capital orientation, failure to address the critical quality-of-life issues have contributed to manpower bottlenecks, low productivity growth and social instability.
Few national development plans currently include any explicit human resource development. Human resource development is dealt with sectorally in separate sections of national planning documents and typically implemented by several agencies. There is currently no single unified policy or plan for the development of human resources. Thus, the essential element of integration is generally absent at the conceptual stage of policy making and planning.
A central goal of development should be to effect an equitable distribution of human resources development opportunities and benefits. At the same time, priority should be given to those population groups which could benefit most from such opportunities by virtue of either the emergency of their needs or their ability to put them to best use, not only for themselves but for the development of priority sectors.
Bringing the concerns for equitable distribution opportunities for the fullest possible development of individual potential into balance would be an important strategic challenge in human resource development policy and planning. Priority should, therefore, be given to the disadvantaged, including the rural and urban poor, women, youth and ethnic minorities, who generate the highest social rate of return on human resources development investment.
Human resources development strategy changes would be appropriate at given stages of socio-cultural and economic development. Human resources development programmes based on different strategies would bear fruit at different points in time, and their impact over time would vary. For example, narrowly focused skills development programmes might serve certain immediate development objectives, but such skills could quickly become obsolete.
On the other hand, programmes designed to develop basic and self-regenerating capabilities would be effective over a longer period of time and their human resources development impact might be wider ranging and longer lasting.
While the participation of public and private institutions in human resources development overlaps in Bangladesh context, non-market human resources needs (for example health, education, housing) falls primarily within the public domain. If human resources development policy and plans were to be effective, they would need to incorporate a carefully thought-out role distribution between the two sectors and their respective sub-sectors, as well as a method of coordination between them.
Human resources development activities were recognised to be most effective in the following types of social environment: (i) when the impulse for individual or collective self-development received stimulation under a favourable social estimate, such as in the aftermath of the war; (ii) when the national leadership was responsive to the majority needs; and (iii) when the interest of various sectors converge with overall development needs.
Given the social environment a human resources development strategy could take either an active or a passive stance. In the former case, creating the social conditions favouring the attainment of desired human resources development goals could be an important aspect of a human resources development strategy. In the latter case, existing social condition might be taken as given and the best possible use might be made of them.
Top-down rather than bottom-up development policy and planning appeared to continue to be the general rule, rather than the exception. For a human resources development strategy to be effective, direct participation of a broad cross-section of the people in the formulation of the pertinent policies and plans will be necessary. The people should, therefore, be provided every opportunity to participate in human resources development policy and programming decisions as well as in the feedback processes.
The quality of human resources in Bangladesh remained very low despite the fact that policy and planning infrastructures existed and certain facilities were available. That suggested the necessity for a demand-oriented human development strategy. It was necessary to ensure that the socio-cultural constraints on human resources demand, particularly among disadvantaged population groups, be removed. The question also arose whether capabilities development should always be subject to available employment opportunities, which tended to turn servants of employers.
We can consider the following issues in guiding policies and planning for human resources development: (a) sequential and long-term approach; (b) assessment of the efficacy of formal and non-formal approaches; (c) strengthening of political and administrative infrastructure for promoting and supporting popular participation; and (d) ensuring adequate levels of resources.
Public awareness concerning the people's participation as an aspect of human resources development is relatively new in Bangladesh. Almost all government and non-government agencies operating in the social development sector are currently organising people at the grassroots and even competing in their effort to enhance their delivery of service. This competition is not necessarily promoting the people's welfare or self-reliance.
This calls for a policy decision as to whether or not to lodge the responsibility over capability building for popular anticipation with a single parent agency. An important consideration in this respect is that community organisation requires specialised skills. As such, the question is raised about whether the agencies which are manned by staff with the necessary specialisations and which are basically concerned with the socially disadvantaged sections of society should be turned to as the "natural" implementation of this aspect of human resources development.
In Bangladesh, most of the development projects are financed through external assistance, so the role of international support for human resources development is significant in terms of both funding and of introduction of new ideas and strategies. Internal human resources development has already made an important contribution to national capacity in realising the potentials of human resources.
Significant opportunities exist for further expansion of this contribution. However, the implications of the role of international support for integrated, participatory and multifaceted nature for human resources development need to be carefully considered and incorporated into future programmes of international assistance.

Mohammed Abul Kalam, PhD, is Principal Scientific Officer and Head, Department of Medical Sociology, Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR). E-mail: makalam@btcl.net.bd

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