Digital Bangladesh: Goal or slogan? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 06, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 06, 2010

Digital Bangladesh: Goal or slogan?

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We shall turn our country into 'Digital Bangladesh' " has become a slogan of the present government. Since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said that, everyone belonging to the grand alliance has been echoing the slogan, like in a chorus. As a result, it has spread to the remotest corners of Bangladesh.
Does the general public understand the term "digital"? Here are some examples to show what ordinary people mean by digital. Last year, I went to a village mosque to offer Jumah prayers. While announcing the time of the Eid prayer, the imam of the mosque said: "The Eid prayer will be held at 8 in the morning according to the old time and at 9 according to the 'digital time.' "
If you complain about the high prices of essential items at a grocery shop, you may get this answer: "Sir, please forget about the old prices. Now all transactions are made at digital rates." Surely the word "digital" has created some confusion amongst the people.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina defined "Digital Bangladesh" while addressing the inaugural function of a workshop titled "E-Governance, Service at Doorsteps" one year ago. In her speech she said: "Digital Bangladesh does not only mean the use of computers everywhere. Digital Bangladesh is a modern philosophy of using appropriate technology in implementing all pledges of the government, including poverty eradication, ensuring quality education and health facilities, generating employment opportunities for the people."
The prime minister further said that the main aims of building digital Bangladesh were to ensure people's empowerment, establish transparency, accountability and good governance at every level and sector, and take government services to the doorsteps of the people. In this connection, she talked about introduction of e-governance, e-service, e-business and maximum utilisation of modern technology including ICT.
The intention of the prime minister to establish transparency, accountability and good governance as mentioned above is most appreciable. She is also absolutely right in her approach for using the most modern technology including ICT to achieve her objectives. She also confirmed that her final goal is to build "Sonar Bangla."
I do, however, have some reservations regarding the widespread use (or misuse?) of the term "Digital Bangladesh." The reasons for my reservations are discussed below.
What is meant by digital Bangladesh? Digital is a technical term that comes from the word digit (in Latin digitus means finger, used for counting). A digit is a symbol that represents a number like 0, 1, 2, 3, to 9. A digital system is a data processing technology that uses discrete, i.e. discontinuous, values whereas an analogue or non-digital system uses a continuous range of values.
A computer, a meter, a watch, a telephone system may be either analogue or digital depending on which technology is used. There are many devices which use a combination of both digital and analogue systems. We use digital telephone system in Bangladesh even though the handsets operate on analogue systems.
Digital technology does not necessarily mean computer technology alone. There are many devices/instruments which use digital systems and, naturally, we call them digital devices, like digital computers, digital watches, digital meters, digital cameras etc. Is Bangladesh analogous to any of the devices just mentioned? No, it isn't.
The slogan of "Digital Bangladesh" appears to be unique and naive. Is there any other country in the world which claims or desires to be called "digital"? The answer is perhaps in the negative. Why? Most probably, no other country is convinced about the "magical charm" of the term "digital." Then, why are we?
The prime minister, in her speech, justifiably referred to the use of modern technology, appropriate technology and ICT to achieve the desired objectives for the development of Bangladesh. The use of modern technology including ICT has been the policy in each and every country in the world. Does "Digital Bangladesh" include all such tools?
The scope of the modern technology including ICT will be drastically curtailed if it is confined to the philosophy of so-called "Digital Bangladesh." Most countries in the world are more advanced than us in application of modern technology and ICT even though they do not shout any digital slogan.
We are lagging behind because we believe more in slogans than in actions. If you want an example, just visit any office of the BRTA to get a fitness certificate of your car. You will be required to produce more than half a dozen photocopies of documents which are already available in their files or computers. This is what we have achieved in 22 months after having shouted the slogan of digital Bangladesh.
Can computerisation alone ensure transparency in all sectors? Are we not aware of large- scale frauds in e-banking, credit card purchases, e-business etc? Can modern technology alone bring about any change in Bangladesh? No, and the prime minister is aware of that. For this reason, she stressed the importance of human resource development, change in our mentality, positive thinking and application of innovative ideas.
A machine on its own can produce nothing. The man behind the machine is more important than the machine. Accordingly, Bangabandhu attached the top most priority to the development of human resources when he said: "We need men with golden qualities (sonar manush) to build golden Bangladesh." Why are we then putting so much importance on digital Bangladesh? By doing so, are we not attaching more importance to the machine than to the man? Is it not like putting the horse behind the cart?
Our goal was and remains the establishment of "Sonar Bangla," which was the dream of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the theme of our national anthem, "My golden Bangladesh." Do we need any other goal or slogan? No, we don't. Now we need only action, nothing more or nothing less.
Sonar Bangla, a happy and prosperous Bangladesh, is an all-pervasive goal inclusive of anything good, beautiful or desirable. It is easily understood by everybody, with or without any formal education. We are all tuned to this goal. For the realisation of this goal, we may fix and quantify our targets in terms of economic parameters, like per capita GDP, literacy rate, per capita calorie intake, child mortality, longevity, number of hospital beds/doctors/nurses per 1,000 people etc., that we want to achieve by 2021.
Any goal, other than sonar Bangla, will only derail the nation from its prime objective of materialising the dream of Bangbandhu. The undue emphasis now being attached to the slogan of "Digital Bangladesh" is overshadowing, if not bypassing, Bangabandhu's dream. The present government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is least expected to pursue such a course.

Dr. Abdul Matin is a former Chief Engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.

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