Digital Bangladesh and the young
The honeymoon period for the newly installed government is yet to be over. Various analyses of the electoral results have revealed that the young generation, who were more than one-third of the voters, had indeed brought this overwhelming victory for AL. Presumably, the visionary approach of AL's manifesto might have allured the young voters, especially its "Vision 2021" which envisions a "digital Bangladesh."
What does digital Bangladesh really mean? It does not imply that the urban youth of the country will be consumers of high-tech devices and promote the d'juice culture. Instead of this superficial notion, we need to consider the term "digital Bangladesh" objectively.
Broadly speaking, a digital society ensures an ICT driven knowledge-based society where information will be readily available on line and where all possible tasks of the government, semi-government and also private spheres will be processed using state of the art technology. In other words, we have to establish technology driven e-governance, e-commerce, e-production, e-agriculture, e-health etc.
Due to globalisation, more specifically due to the boom in ICT, Bangladesh is already connected to the outside world. Yet, our only success lies in mobile telecommunication, which has brought a huge change in telecommunication scenario of the country. However, in the other spheres of ICT, we are still far away from transforming ourselves into a knowledge-based society.
Building a strong ICT infrastructure is a pre-requisite for making Bangladesh a digital society. For this, we need to focus on the following relevant issues, assessing the harsh reality that hinders our development in this context.
Power deficit: Latest statistics reveal that Bangladesh faces a power deficit of up to 2000 MW against a demand of 5000 MW daily. Uninterrupted power supply is a must for proper ICT development.
Network infrastructure: Outside Dhaka, only a few computer network infrastructures have been developed so far. Apart from some educational institutes, observation finds that most of the LAN setups are Dhaka-centric. This shows that there is a digital gap in the country.
Use of Internet: The number of internet users must be increased for ICT development. The latest statistics (ITU, 2007) reveal that internet penetration in our country is only 0.3%, whereas, in Pakistan and India, it is 7.3% and 5.3% respectively.
Submarine cable: Since 2006, Bangladesh has been connected with the worldwide Internet Super-Highway through a submarine cable. But this single submarine cable frequently faces disruption, resulting in slow bandwidth.
Network readiness: Networked Readiness Index (NRI), developed by the University of Harvard, measures the propensity of countries to exploit the opportunities offered by ICT. The NRI has three components: the environment for ICT offered by a country or community, the readiness of the community's key stakeholders (individuals, businesses, and governments) to use ICT, and finally the usage of ICT amongst these stakeholders. Unfortunately, the latest survey (2006-7) revealed that Bangladesh's NRI ranking is one of the lowest among Asian countries.
Use of open-source software: Many countries have started using open-source software in ICT development projects. Unfortunately, in our ICT development domain, the culture of using open-source software has not yet been introduced.
English literacy rate: English literacy rate in Bangladesh is less than 1%, whereas, it is 60% and 20% respectively in India and Pakistan. There is a strong correlation between English literacy and ICT development because English is the lingua-franca for ICT. On the other hand, we have not localised Bengali in the domain of computing.
For achieving digital Bangladesh by 2021, the government must address the above stated issues effectively and efficiently. We need to reformulate our policies (e.g. education policy, ICT policy) in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals. In reformulating the ICT policy, we will need to take a pragmatic and visionary approach so that it can remove the prevailing digital gap in the society.
Moreover, the journey towards a digital Bangladesh needs the incorporation of the technologically savvy, innovative younger generation. If the leaders of our country objectively guide this generation, they can do wonders for the nation. After all, the young generation always looks forward, and they can help bring about positive changes in the society.